This delightful step-by-step tutorial will guide you through the process of reupholstering dining chairs, ensuring you achieve flawlessly upholstered corners.
Reupholstering dining chairs stands out as one of the most accessible upholstery projects you can take on. Even if you’re an absolute novice, this task is well within your capabilities.
I recently embarked on the project of reupholstering the wooden chairs in our dining room. Remarkably, this is the second time I’ve taken on this endeavor. When I first acquired these chairs at a yard sale, they sported a rather traditional look with wooden frames and striped cushions. While they were undoubtedly well-constructed, their style didn’t quite align with my personal taste.
To give them a fresh and contemporary appearance, I applied a vibrant teal paint, complemented by new upholstery, and the results were nothing short of astonishing.
Now, more than seven years have passed since my initial reupholstery endeavor. During this time, my three rambunctious boys have certainly left their mark on these chairs. However, with our toddlers growing up and out of the house, I’m eager to rejuvenate the chairs with new fabric.
In this guide, I’m excited to share a straightforward step-by-step tutorial on upholstering dining chairs, complete with a video tutorial. Additionally, I’ll provide you with tips on economizing your materials and achieving those immaculate corners, which are arguably the only slightly challenging aspect of the entire process.
Choosing the Perfect Fabric
When selecting fabric for your dining chairs, it’s crucial to opt for something robust and somewhat stain-resistant. Upholstery weight or home decor fabric is your best bet, as these materials are thicker and more durable.
Another excellent choice is outdoor fabric, prized for its durability and resistance to spills. Don’t overlook unconventional sources like shower curtains, tablecloths, or window curtains for your upholstery projects. These options often provide high-quality, beautiful fabric at a fraction of the cost you’d encounter at a fabric store.
Personally, I’ve developed a fondness for shower curtains and outdoor tablecloths when reupholstering dining chairs. These materials typically offer the desired thickness and resilience against moisture and frequent cleaning. A single shower curtain or tablecloth can usually provide enough fabric to reupholster an entire set of 4-6 chairs, and you can often find affordable options at stores like HomeGoods and TJMaxx.
(For those interested, I’ve even compiled a comprehensive post on unconventional ways to obtain cost-effective fabric for all your DIY projects.)
Determining Your Fabric Requirements
For each chair you intend to reupholster, you’ll require a piece of fabric that is four inches longer and wider than the chair seat. This extra fabric ensures there’s enough material to wrap around the seat and secure it with staples. In the case of particularly thick chair seats, you may need additional fabric.
For example, my chairs measure 19″ x 20″, and I used 1.5 yards of fabric to reupholster four chairs.
Essential Materials and Tools
- Chairs to be upholstered
- Fabric of your choice
- Upholstery foam (you can reuse the existing foam, but fresh foam enhances comfort and longevity)
- Batting (reuse if it’s still in good condition)
- 1/2″ plywood, cut to match the old seats (necessary if the old seats are missing or damaged)
- Upholstery staple remover (invaluable for effortless removal of old upholstery)
- Flathead screwdriver and needle-nose pliers (if you lack an upholstery staple remover)
- Fabric scissors (highly recommended for precise fabric cutting)
- Staple gun (any type will suffice, air compressor not required)
- 3/8″ or 1/2″ staples
How Reupholstering Dinning Chair
1. Remove the Old Upholstery
Begin by detaching the seats from your chairs; they are typically secured underneath with screws. Once you’ve removed the seats, carefully extract the old fabric, usually attached with staples. You can employ a flathead screwdriver and needle-nose pliers to remove the staples. Alternatively, an upholstery staple remover significantly expedites this process, making it a worthy investment for those contemplating more upholstery projects.
2. Replace the Plywood If Necessary
Typically, dining chair upholstery comprises four layers: fabric, batting, foam, and wood. If you’re working with chairs in good condition, you may only need to replace the fabric. However, in cases where the other layers are aged, soiled, or absent, they should be replaced.
Inspect the wood and foam beneath the fabric upon removing it. If they are still in good condition, you can reuse them. In my case, the thin plywood seats of my chairs had developed cracks, prompting me to craft new seats from 1/2″ plywood using a jigsaw. This upgrade substantially bolstered the chairs’ stability.
3. Replace the Foam and Batting If Necessary
If your foam remains resilient, comfortable, and unmarred, reusing it is a sensible choice. Beneath the foam, you may find a layer of thin batting or an alternative type of padding. If this layer is clean and in good shape, you can repurpose it.
For those requiring new upholstery foam, a thickness of 2″ is ideal. Upholstery foam can be relatively costly, especially when procuring enough for an entire set of chairs. Shoppers at fabric stores like Joann’s should remember to employ coupons, which can result in significant savings. If budget constraints persist, consider obtaining affordable foam mattress toppers and resizing them as needed.
In my case, the foam on my chairs had begun to deteriorate, so I replaced it with surplus foam from a prior project. Months ago, I had preserved the foam I removed from an upholstered bench, anticipating its future usefulness.
You can utilize the old plywood seats as templates for cutting the foam. While I employed fabric scissors for this purpose, an electric knife or a bread knife offers superior control when cutting denser foam.
4. Cut Your Fabric
Cut your fabric at least four inches longer and wider than the chair seat. When dealing with patterned fabric, contemplate the desired pattern orientation and centering before making your cuts. If you’re also cutting new batting, matching its dimensions to the fabric is advisable.
5. Arrange the Layers of Your Seat
With all your materials prepared, it’s time to begin layering. Begin by placing your fabric face-down on your work surface, followed by the batting, foam, and the wooden seat. For patterned fabric, ensure that the pattern alignment meets your expectations.
6. Staple the Fabric in Place
To attach the fabric underneath the seat, use a staple gun. Any staple gun will suffice for this task, and manual staple guns may require slight pressure to secure the staples effectively. If a few staples protrude slightly, you can gently tap them into place with a hammer.
Commence by placing a staple in the center of each side. Pull the fabric taut around each side of the chair, using one staple to secure it. Once all four sides are attached with one staple, flip the seat over to verify that the fabric appears straight from the front.
If everything looks satisfactory, return the seat to its original position and continue stapling along each side, leaving the corners untouched for now. Ensure that the fabric remains taut throughout the process, as loose, wrinkled fabric is the primary cause of less-than-ideal upholstery.
7. Achieving Smooth Upholstery Corners
Upholstering the corners of your chair can be the most challenging part of the process. Excess fabric accumulates at the corners, and haphazard stapling results in an unsightly wrinkle.
After experimenting with various corner upholstering techniques, I’ve found a straightforward and effective method. First, you need to secure the fabric closer to the corner along the sides, being cautious not to cross an imaginary line drawn through the chair’s corner.
With the fabric now secure, it’s time to eliminate excess material. Lift the corner of the fabric to create a triangle and cut away one side of the triangle. Begin by making a 1/2″ incision from the fold of the fabric and another 1/2″ cut along the seat’s edge, creating a triangular shape.
Take care not to cut the fabric on the opposite side and avoid trimming too close to the seat. You can always remove more material if necessary, but you can’t undo an overly enthusiastic cut.
This will leave you with a triangular flap. The objective is to fold the remaining fabric to form a neat corner, free of unsightly wrinkles. Pull the flap of fabric downward, tucking all excess fabric into the fold as you pull. A flathead screwdriver can assist in tucking the excess fabric if needed. Pull the fabric tight and staple it in place.
Repeat this process for the other three corners. If you find this step challenging, refer to the video tutorial below for a more detailed visual guide.
8. Reattach the Chair Seats
The final step involves reattaching the freshly upholstered seats to your chairs. The result is almost akin to having brand-new chairs.
I opted for this fabric because of how striking it appears alongside the blue hue of my chairs. However, I am aware that it may not be the most stain-resistant choice, so I intend to apply several coats of Scotch Guard before putting the chairs to use.
For those curious about the paint color on my chairs, it’s Valspar Nightscape, and the fabric I used is Kelly Ripa Multipurpose Decor Fabric in Good Vibes Ebony.
Time and Cost of Reupholstering Dining Chairs
This project is remarkably time-efficient, especially if you don’t need to create new wooden seats for your chairs. Each chair takes around 10-20 minutes to upholster, with the duration depending on whether you need to cut new foam and batting. In my case, the entire set of four chairs took roughly an hour.
As for cost, it can vary widely based on whether you require new wood, foam, and batting, as well as the price of the fabric you select. The cost of reupholstering a single chair can range from as low as $5 (using the shower curtain method) to $35-40 per chair when purchasing new wood, foam, batting, and more expensive fabric.
In my situation, as I was able to reuse existing foam and batting, the total cost for my four chairs amounted to $50, with the new fabric and plywood being the primary expenses. This translates to just $12.50 per chair.
Learning how to reupholster furniture has opened up a world of DIY possibilities for me. If you feel ready to tackle more advanced reupholstery projects, I have plenty of tips for reupholstering simple armchairs, along with a comprehensive guide on how to reupholster an entire couch affordably.