How to Re-upholstery a Fixed-seat Chair
Last week was very busy for me. So busy, in fact, that I didn't check my emails but maybe twice and didn't post all week. I had a lot to do - from re-upholstering chairs that used to belong to my mother-in-law, to cleaning the entire house and preparing for my daughter's 16th Birthday bash with a sleepover. I'll be sharing it all with you this week as I took lots of pictures, starting with the re-upholstery of the chairs.
We have these Early American Federal Shield back chairs that belonged to BIg Bear's parents. They had this ugly gold upholstery that I am sure looked wonderful in the 60s, but didn't add much pizazz to our home decor. Also, the seat cushions were stained from being in storage for so many years, so they were in need of new cushion upholstery and a new look.
The first thing I did was to carefully remove the old upholstery. I used a razor blade on the backside of the chair and sliced as close to the nails as I could, making a clean cut so that I could use the old upholstery as a template for the new upholstery.
I pressed the old upholstery (boy did it stink) and then I layed it on top of some white muslin. I added a couple of inches to all sides of the pattern to make up for the part that I had originally cut away with the razor blade.
Before I cut out the pattern on the muslin template or the new upholstery fabric, I removed the old batting from the chair and placed it on some new batting.
I used it as a pattern to cut out the new batting.
I placed both back on the chair to give it more cushion.
After I cut out the muslin template, I placed it across the cushion of the chair for measurement. I wanted to make sure it laid nicely on the chair and that the corners were cut out correctly. I used a scissors to make adjustments. Just know that I have never done this before, so I am learning as I go along. "Trial and error" is what I call it.
I sewed the front corners together, making sure that when the muslin template was placed on the chair again that it still fit nicely.
After I made all the corrections to the muslin template, I removed the sewed corners of the muslin and used it as a guide for the final pattern on pattern paper. This time, though, I added an additional inch to the final pattern (3 inches extra from the original upholstery that I cut from the chair).
I used this paper pattern for my new upholstery fabric, which, by the way, was just some fabric that I had in my stash. It really isn't upholstery fabric at all. It is quilting fabric from Moda's Poetry Collection. I had just enough of this fabric to cover 2 of the chairs, so I opted to cover the armless chairs first. The 2 arm chairs I will cover in another, complimentary, fabric from my stash some other time.
Before I sew the front corners (which, by the way, is the only sewing I needed to do), I lay it across the chair to make sure it meets the corners nicely and that I can fold under the cut corners on the back legs about 1/2 inch so that the frayed edges don't show. It looks nicer too.
I sewed the front corners of the new upholstery, and I used a 1/2 inch seam.
Then I laid it across the chair and made sure the corners were sewed correctly.
I turned the chair over and started stapling the fabric to the underside of the chair.
I started with the back of the chair, stapling to about an inch of the legs. Then I stapled the sides.
When I got to the back corners near the legs, I folded the fabric under to give it a nice, clean crease near the legs and then I stapled it closer on the underside only.
When I got to the front where I had sewed the corners of the upholstery, I lined up the corner of the seam with the corner of the leg of the chair, measured to the outer edge of the leg, and cut the fabric to the bottom of the chair and then I finished stapling. I did the same with the other side.
I folded under the corner of the upholstery that wraps around the front legs and then continued stapling.
When I was finished I made a muslin template for the bottom of the chair, made sure it fit nicely, then I made a paper pattern, and cut out the pattern on my canvas for the bottom of the chair. The original chairs had this black netting that ripped right off in pieces, so I couldn't use it for a pattern. I wanted something heavier on the bottom and Big Bear suggested I use some of the linen canvas I had in my art studio. Great idea! That is exactly what I did.
The good thing about using that linen canvas for the underside of the chair instead of fabric is that I didn't have to fold under the edges to hide the cut, frayed edges.
I stapled on the linen canvas to the underside of the chair, turned it over, and wah-lah - I had re-upholstered the first of 4 chairs.
I wasn't as happy with the corners at the front of the chairs as I would have been had I taken more time to make them more custom to the curve of the cushion, but "what the heck" - it wasn't perfect, but it sure looked a lot better than it did before and that is all I cared about.
If I were doing a lot of this, I probably would have aimed for more perfection. Please accept my apologies - to all those talented upholstery people out there. I don't claim to know what I'm doing and I did this by the seat of my pants and some common sense. Hope you'll overlook my mistakes and make some suggestions for improvement in the comments. I would love to know what I could have done better.
Hope this inspires you to dig out some of your old, crappy looking chairs, and create a whole new look for your home. I put my new chairs in my music room where the new cushion fabric looks great with my George Washington Mount Vernon green walls.