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How to Reupholster a Dining Chair – Seat & Back

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This guest upholstery tutorial is all about how to reupholster a dining chair with fabric on the seat and back. It was submitted by one of our regular contributors, Charlie Miller.

Scroll to the bottom if you want the printable instructions.


I inherited a number of antique furniture pieces from my Grandparents.

I have had this formal looking dining room chair – is it maybe called a Carver’s Chair? – for years now.

reupholstering an antique dining room chair - before
Photo: Charlie Miller

I’ve always intended to re-cover and re-upholster it but it’s taken me a while to get around to it. This was the week!

Materials Used – Reupholstering an Antique Dining Room Chair:

Step 1: Removing the Old Upholstery Fabric & Padding

how to reupholster a dining room chair seat and back
Photo: Charlie Miller

The first thing I did in my quest to reupholster my dining chair was to remove the old fabric by prying out the nails and staples.

I have a good staple remover but it still took me some time as they’d been in there awhile!

how to reupholster a dining room chair seat and back
Photo: Charlie Miller

I followed the advice in another upholstery tutorial on this site that says it is best practice to save the old fabric as you take it off so you can use it as a pattern piece for your chair.

how to reupholster a dining room chair seat and back
Photo: Charlie Miller

If you think about it, somebody ages and ages ago already did the measuring and calculating of how big that piece of fabric should be and how to cut out the corners – so it makes sense to just trace the old piece of fabric when cutting your new fabric!

how to reupholster a dining room chair seat and back
Photo: Charlie Miller

I also removed the old padding at this point.

Step 2: Armrests

armchair armrests made of wood - reupholstery proejct
Photo: Charlie Miller

When I stripped the fabric off of the armrests of this old chair I discovered that there were wooden blocks attached to the arms of this chair that seem to have been added after it was made.

They were probably added the last time it was recovered in the 1950s – most likely by my Grandfather!

dining chair armrests - diy reupholstery
Photo: Charlie Miller

The previous fabric on the armrests was well worn on the corners from these wood pieces so I decided to sand down the corners of these sharp rectangular blocks of wood with 60 Grit sandpaper.

Step 3: New Padding

New ‘creative’ padding for the Armrests

I knew before I started this project that I wanted some additional cushioning on the armrests as they always felt a bit hard to me – that will have been that hard wooden block underneath!

I did staple on some new padding but it still didn’t seem ‘cushy’ enough so I added in some old (but freshly washed!) socks.

dining chair armrests - diy reupholstery
Photo: Charlie Miller

I cut the socks into rectangular pieces that fit around the wooden blocks. Turns out they were just the right size for what I needed!

dining chair armrests - diy reupholstery
Photo: Charlie Miller

I put another layer of the cotton padding on top of the socks.

New Padding for the Chair Seat and Back

how to reupholster a dining chair
Photo: Charlie Miller

For the chair and seat back I went ahead and removed the old padding and replaced it with new cotton padding. I went as thick as I felt I could go with it and ended up adding a couple of layers.

I stapled it in place following the existing staple line for the old seat padding.

When all the padding was secured in place I cut off the excess padding around the edges with an exacto knife (craft knife in the UK).

Step 4: Re-Upholstering the Chair and Seat Back  

Art Deco Upholstery Fabric

I chose a bold blue and white art deco fabric. My apartment is mostly greys, teals and blue shades so it fits in well.

how to reupholster a dining chair - art deco fabric
Photo: Charlie Miller

I’m based in Vancouver, Canada and I ordered this fabric from Zazzle online.

You can buy the fabric in various weights. I went for Poplin which probably was a touch too thin. If I was doing it again I would go for combed cotton or linen.

There are similar Art Deco fabrics available on Etsy here too. If you aren’t sure what type of upholstery fabric to go for you can also check out this guide that helps you choose which upholstery fabric to use and when.

I wanted to leave the wood as it was rather than paint it as it is in good condition (plus my grandfather was not a fan of painted wooden furniture!).

I decided to pick a really bright and striking fabric so that it still ended up looking more modern even with the wood finish.

When I first started I stapled on the fabric and cut of the excess as with the padding however that caused the fabric to pull. So then I started to fold the edge under and then staple it to the frame.

I stapled into the same spots/lines that the previous staples were located.

how to reupholster a dining chair - stapling on the fabric
Photo: Charlie Miller

Tip: Be careful to line up the fabric and place staples at the mid lines on each side first and then staple along the edges.

Step 5: Adding Decorative Trim

Once you have your upholstery fabric secured you will still have a visible staple line so this needs to be covered with some trim.

how to reupholster a dining chair - stud trim
Photo: Charlie Miller

There are lots of different varieties on the market – I went with the hammered stud style trim.

These studs come in a long roll. Every fourth or fifth stud has whole in it and you also get a pile of loose studs with sharp nails on the end. These go through the holes and you hammer the whole strip down just at these points.

how to reupholster a dining chair - stud trim
Photo: Charlie Miller

The strip of studs cut and bend easily, so they are quick and simple to work with.

You simply measure, cut, place it over your staple line and use a hammer to hammer in the studs that have the nails/spikes on them.

Step 6: Re-covering the underside of the chair seat

how to reupholster a dining chair - adding extra padding
Photo: Charlie Miller

My last step was to re-cover the underside of the chair seat. 

I actually decided to add more padding at this point so I shoved it in from below under the springs and smoothed it out. 

how to reupholster a dining chair - underside

I used some of fabric I had taken off of the chair (a piece that was in the best condition) and added it to cover the underside.

I thought this was a little ‘added upcycle’ and also a way of keeping a bit of the chair’s history!

Finished Dining Chair Re-Upholstery Project

how to reupholster a dining chair - after
Photo: Charlie Miller

I am so pleased with how this turned out!

how to reupholster a dining chair - after
Photo: Charlie Miller

Obviously I was nervous recovering such a family heirloom. The new fabric just blends in so much better with my home decor and I think my Grandparents would be so happy I am keeping their chair in the family too!

how to reupholster a dining chair - after
Photo: Charlie Miller
how to reupholster a dining chair seat and back
Photo: Charlie Miller

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reupholstering an Antique Chair

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Printable Instructions

how to reupholster a dining chair - stapling on the fabric

How to Reupholster a Dining Chair - Seat & Back

Prep Time: 1 hour
Active Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: Medium
Estimated Cost: 10

How to update an old dining room chair by reupholstering it!

Materials

  • Old dining chair with padded seat, back and arm rests
  • Upholstery fabric (mine was an Art Deco design bought online)
  • Cotton padding
  • Old socks (optional)
  • 60 grit sandpaper (optional)
  • Staples
  • Upholstery stud trim

Tools

  • Staple gun
  • Exacto knife
  • Upholstery hammer
  • Fabric scissors

Instructions

  1. First you need to removing the old upholstery fabric. Take photos as you go and label each piece you take off. You will use these pieces as templates when you cut your new upholstery fabric.
  2. Sand down the armrests if needed and do any other repair work to the wooden frame.
  3. Replace seat cushion, springs and armrest padding if needed.
  4. Cut your new fabric pieces to the same size as the old ones.
  5. Pull the fabric tight as you staple the new fabric in place - try to attach it along the same line as the old fabric.
  6. Optional - add decorative stud trim both to add a polished look and to hide any less than perfect areas of stapling.
  7. Don't forget to replace the bottom cover of the chair if their was one.
  8. Enjoy your new look dining room chair.
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Carolyn

Friday 27th of November 2020

I love how simple you made upholstering chairs. How ever, I have 2 chairs that I would like to redo. The seats and everything is nice and firm and don't need new batting or anything,; just a change in material, I don't like the colors. The material is all original.

Kristen Hubert

Friday 27th of November 2020

That will be so much simpler in that case! Just follow the steps about removing the old fabric, cutting the new fabric to size and replacing it where the old material was attached. I'd love to see how they turn out!

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