DIY chair upholstery

Firstly, thanks to everyone for the kind comments on my post about my new sewing room. It seems that the chair I upholstered caught most attention, so I thought I share some details on what I did. This is not going to be a step by step guide, but rather reflections on what I did and how, and it will hopefully encourage other to have a go.

Just to say upfront I've never taken on an upholstery project like this before. I have done some small bits and pieces, making cushions and re-covering drop in seats for chairs, but nothing on this scale. I've always wanted to try a more complex upholstery project, and I was on the look out for a suitable chair for my sewing room when I came across this one while charity shopping with my friend T. I had already spotted the bird fabric in the window of my local fabric shop, so there was no difficulty there.

Armed with the chair, the bird fabric, and plenty of enthusiasm, I still felt I needed a bit of expert guidance and for that I turned, as I often do, to my dad. He is a man of many talents and has dabbled in upholstery in the past. He lent me the book that had guided him, Vernon M Albers' The Repair and Reupholstering of Old Furniture.

As the cover indicates this is quite a 'retro' book, first published in 1969, the author was a University Physicist, who had an interest in restoring furniture and had, according to the back cover, restored a variety of items including 'three harpsichords, a grandfather's clock, a pair of Sheraton banquet tables, and a Virginia highboy'. Not entirely sure what a Virginia Highboy is but Prof Albers I salute your industry!'.

The book contains clear and practical instructions, with diagrams, on how to carry out the steps, and guidance on tools, including the important of the curved upholstery needle which turned out to be very helpful. Based on Albers advice I purchased 4.5 meters of fabric (I ended up used less than this but not much and I did have to 'waste' some fabric to get the pattern placement I wanted).

The first step was to strip back the chair, removing the legs and taking off all the fabric careful to keep the pieces in tact. I made notes as I was working of which pieces I was taking off and the order I was taking them off, so that I could then put the new covering pieces back on in the reverse order. Followings more of Albers' excellent advice I only stripped one arm of the chair so I could use the other as guidance when putting it back together

I used the pieces of fabric I had removed as templates to cut up my fabric. Making sure to get the pattern running the correct way, with the bird placed, as far as possible, in the center of the pieces. I also make several meters of covered pipping, which would be needed during construction.

The first piece to go back on was the bottom piece, which was stretched into place and tacked with upholstery nails underneath, and stitched into place at the back. I then build the arm back up piece by piece, in the reverse order to taking them off. The chair had originally been upholstered with A LOT of staples, and although I considered using a staple gun, in the end I went for upholstery nails and hand sewing - more time consuming but I think a neater and more complete job.

Sorry for the terrible quality of this picture, but you can just about see the pins holding the fabric in place at the end of the arm. I entirely hand sewed the end arm piece into place partly as I wanted to make sure I got he bird in just the right place and I'm really pleased with the result.

A rather better picture showing the half way (ish) point, with one arm in the new fabric and one in the old. 

It seems that I failed to take any work in progress pictures from this point onward, which is not very helpful for trying to illustrate what I did. But basically, having completed one side I then set to work on the other side, before covering the back. Once everything was in place I put the final piece of plastic webbed fabric back over the bottom of the chair covering all the raw edges tucked inside the chair during covering. My final task was to make the new cover for the seat cushion, a much easier task.

I'm so pleased with the final result. I made mistakes along the way, and there are faults in the final result. But, as with most self-made projects I suspect these are much more noticeable to me as the maker, than they are to most other people, so I won't be listing them now :)

The bird cushion was a very nice Cath Kidson jumper which had a slight tangle with a hot washing machine, and lost (so silly of me). As I couldn't wear it I cut a square out of the front, over-locked the edges and turned it into a cushion. A very successful up-cycle I feel.

I really enjoyed this project, it wasn't quick, it took me many evenings and weekends, but it was worth it. Despite the excellent advice of Prof Albers I made mistakes, which I hope I will learn from, I learnt lots of new skills, and I made a very nice chair. I would certainly undertake another upholstery project, indeed we have a three piece suite downstairs which I have my eye on (I'm nothing if not ambitious.) And I hope, maybe, I might encourage other to have a go at upholstery too, under suitable guidance (not mine).


  1. Damn you Harriet. Everytime I read your blog I add about 10 things to my "to do" list. Now I'm going to have to reupholster a looks amazing!! Natalie (your cousin btw!

    1. Sorry about that Natalie, but I'd certainly recommend giving upholstery a go :)


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