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Re-Upholstering 101: How I re-upholstered my swivel armchair

Holy SMOKES……..this post is WAY overdue!  I hinted way back in October that I was working on re-upholstering a chair for Chloe’s nursery, from a chair that I bought from a thrift store about a year before that.  I finally tackled/finished it (except for the seat cushion) before the holidays and then I saved it to share until after the New Year.  But OOPS, it got pushed back.  And then other projects cut in line.  And then all that ugly sickness hit our home last week.  Whew! (P.S……we’re buying a home too.  Can I throw that in there, while I’m throwing out other excuses??  I know, I can’t believe it either!  Our very 1st HOME!!!!)



Anyway, that old velvet-y blue rocking chair is no more………and has been replaced by a clean textured white one.




And hooray……Chloe’s nursery is now complete!  Yeah, I know, a white chair??  In a nursery?!!  But our bedrooms are upstairs, where no food is allowed, and shoes come off once we walk in the front door.  Also, her nursery doesn’t get a lot of traffic…..just a lot of sitting and rocking.  So the white wins! :)



It took several days to re-upholster but once I got going, it was very satisfying.  And all the details came together so nicely.  And I think you’d be shocked how much sewing is NOT involved.  (So, don’t even tell yourself you can’t do this because you’re not a whiz on the sewing machine yet.)


***The fabric is from Joann’s. Isn’t that texture great?




Now, there’s a nice little upholstered chair, sitting in the nursery corner……ready to be cozied-up in.




It’s where we sit and do one of Chloe’s favorite things in life……Story Time!!!




So glad it’s done.  And I’m so glad I took the time to re-finish it!





Would you like a little mini lesson in Re-Upholstering??



WARNING:  There are tons of pictures in this tutorial.  TONS AND TONS!  Re-upholstery projects are all different shapes and sizes but the main idea is all the same.  If you pull it apart, one piece at a time, it’ll go back together the same way.  And watching the process unfold piece by piece, will hopefully help some of you tackle your own re-upholstery project.  So get ready for some serious picture scrolling!! :)


To get started, you need to buy fabric.  A thicker upholstery fabric works best.  If you use a printed upholstery fabric, keep in mind that if it’s a high traffic piece of furniture, the print will most likely fade.  So, if you want to use fabric with different colors for your upholstery project, try to find some where the colors are woven in.  (However, if this is mostly a decorative piece of furniture, printed would be just fine.)


I found this guide online at Restoration Fabrics that can be used as a quick reference:




I bought about 5 yards to finish off my chair.  I found my fabric at Joann Fabric and used a 40% off coupon but there are less expensive options.  Always check the discount rack in the back of the store, dig through your fabric stash, browse through the old curtains at the thrift store, etc.  If you think re-upholstering is too expensive……look harder!  You can probably make it work somehow! :)



Now…..the FUN begins!


Before you start tearing things up, take pictures.  Lots of them.  Take a picture of every corner and fold and pleat……just so you can reference it if you need to.  Lift the fabric, take pictures of how things were put together, and then take more.  Because you’ll thank yourself later. 



Now, start on the most outward piece of fabric and start taking the fabric apart.  You’re probably going to be shocked at how much a piece of furniture like this is NOT sewn.  So, don’t stress the sewing too much! :)  Layer by layer, your piece of furniture will come apart and you’ll want to take pictures of how you took it apart as well, because you’ll work backwards putting it back together.


For my chair, I started taking apart the bottom skirt first.  There were staples everywhere.  So I dug around and pulled out tons of staples……and kept a little bowl right next to me to drop them into.







Then, I took the back panel off the chair by sliding my flat head screwdriver into the side and pried it open.  I could see that it was a tack strip (a row of nails along a strip of flexible plastic) holding the back panel on… it all pulled up together.



I continued to pry it open…



And then started working on the side panels, which were attached with the same tack strips.  Then I kept peeling more and more layers off my chair.








Until whew, it was all bare.  Then, I started with the last thing I took off and decided to begin right there.  I placed the piece of fabric for the front base of the chair, right down on my new fabric, and cut around it.  There is only very minimal sewing involved with upholstery projects… cutting doesn’t have to always be exact.  ***Just be sure that you cut any sort of pattern or print in the same direction, if you can help it.  Floral or messy prints won’t matter.  But if you have something that is uniform and goes in a direction, be sure that it goes in the same direction every time you cut.



Then, I started to re-attach it, the very same way it came off.



For each arm rest, there was a bit of piping.  I unpicked the old piping because I wanted that sturdy plastic cording to use.  So I cut out a strip of fabric and re-sewed a strip of piping for each of the chair arms.  (Need help with piping?)


Then, I attached them the same way they were taken off.


Now……let me introduce you to a little secret weapon: Cardboard Tacking Strip (I bought mine at Joann’s).  This stuff will give you a nice crisp edge when you re-upholster something. Just take note when it was used in the original chair and then you’ll know when to use it.  (It may have been plastic in your furniture though……but the cardboard is common and still works really well.)



Here’s an example of how it works.  I cut out a piece of fabric to cover one of the arms and on the wrong side of the fabric, I lined up a piece of the tacking strip down on top of the fabric, and butted it up against the piping that I already attached to the front of the arm.  Then I stapled the tacking strip down.  The cardboard tacking strip will give the fabric a nice edge once I flip that fabric back over.  Without it, you’d be able to see where each staple was placed and it wouldn’t be a nice clean line.



And just like it was before, I folded over little pieces of fabric before stapling down the tacking strip, to give the fabric some fullness after turning the fabric over.



See?  And once the fabric is flipped back over……’s nice and clean.  It makes it look as if those fabric pieces were sewn together.  But really, it’s the tacking strip placed right next to that piping, from the underneath side.



Then, I pulled the fabric for the arm rest back and down and stapled it in place in all directions.





Next, I cut around the large piece of fabric for the tall section of the front of the chair.  And then attached it the same way it came off.  And tucked and folded and stapled around the top back of the chair.  (For some reason, I didn’t take many pictures of the process while stapling all those folds around the top back of the chair.  But it’s so unique, I’m not sure how many other chairs are actually done that way.)



Next, the outer sides of the chair.  I started on one side and cut out the fabric.



And used some tacking strip down below the arm rest and stapled the fabric down in place. 



See?  This stuff will give this a nice clean line.



This is what you’ll need next…….another secret weapon: Nail Tacking Strip (I bought this at Joann’s too).  It’s basically a sturdy piece of cardboard (that is still a bit flexible) with a bunch of nails embedded in it.  In my chair, it was a plastic strip with nails in it but I’ve also seen it as a flexible piece of metal with nails coming out of it.  If you can re-use your strip, great.  Otherwise, whatever variety you find is great.



This nail tacking strip will go in face down right below that line of piping.  But when I lay the fabric on top and before I turn it under, I will line it up right on top of the piping.  Play around with yours and see where you need to align it before attaching the fabric and rolling it under.



Then, I cut a piece that was just the right length for the side of the chair.


Then I placed the strip down right on top of the piping (and used the seam as my guide) and then started pulling the fabric down pretty snug onto those nails.



Then, once all the fabric was in place on the nails, I began turning the nail strip under and tucked all the extra fabric under to be hidden.



To get a nice pretty corner, fold the fabric under nicely and out of the way.



Then use a rubber mallet to pound the nails into place.  (If you don’t have a rubber mallet, cover a regular hammer in a thick towel.)



Then, I pulled the other sides tight and stapled them into place……..just like chair was done initially.



Next, I did the same thing with the back panel of the chair.  I stapled in the tacking strip up top…..



Then, pulled the fabric down and added some Nail Tacking Strip to both sides to hide the fabric edges along both sides.




Now, the skirt around the bottom of the skirt. 


Not everyone’s going to have a skirt for their chair and even if you do, the process would probably be different……so I’m not going to show super detailed instructions on how to put them together.  But here’s what I did.  I took all the pieces apart (label them with tape if needed) and placed them down.



Then, I took apart the piping and reused the plastic cording and made some new piping.  (I didn’t cut it on the bias because it didn’t need to go around any curves. I just straight strips of fabric for the piping.  More on making piping here.)






Then, I started pulling each piece apart, one at a time, and kept the lining from each pieces so that I could re-use them.


Then I cut around each piece of fabric.


And then re-constructed it the exact same way it was taken apart. (Take picture while you take it apart, if needed.)


Then, I pinned each flap to the bottom of the chair, spaced exactly how you need it.


Then, keeping that spacing exactly how it was, I pinned the piping right to the top of the flaps……which keeps the flaps all together in a long line.


Then I sewed the piping right down.


Next, I marked exactly where the flaps would go, minus the top raw edge of the flaps/piping.  Then, I marked a little line with a pencil all the way around.


Then, starting at the side towards the back of the chair, I placed the strip of flaps upside down and facing downward…….and then started stapling it down right below the line of piping.  The piping really helps with giving it a nice clean edge so you don’t need to use the tacking strip.  But also, if you used the tacking strip here, it would be really thick to staple through.


See?  Then, once you pull the flap down, it looks nice and finished.  Now, finish stapling all the way around the flaps and pull the flaps down for good.  (It helped me to run a hot iron along the flap, to give it a flat finish.)



And lastly, the seat cushion.


Again, every cushion will be a little different but here’s a few pictures of what I did.  I took lots of pictures of how the cushion was sewn together….


…..and then started picking it apart.


Until the whole cushion was in pieces.


Then I re-cut every piece:


And I even picked out the zipper to re-use it……but then ended up running the zipper of the end of the cut zipper and then couldn’t put it back together.  So if you’re re-using a zipper, be careful with it!  But I also pulled out the cording to use to re-make the piping.



And then re-sewed the center strip of the cushion back together.


Then, sewed the cushion back together.


Just remember, take lots of pictures while you take your cushion apart, so that you can remember exactly how it was put together.


Then stuff your cushion inside of it’s new cover……….and your chair is now complete.


Whew!  All that work.  TOTALLY worth it!!!! :)


Now enjoy!





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  1. bellroy wallets uk says:

    Everything is very open with a really clear description of the issues.
    It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

  2. Jackie Woodlee says:

    Amazing!!! I was looking for a tutorial on lined curtain panels and got side tracked because I have a chair that was in my moms house as long as I can remember and it is now in my master bedroom and needs to be recovered. It would be sooooooo rewarding if I could do it myself!!!

  3. Carrie says:

    Hello, I’m curious if you know about how many hours you put into this project? I’m wondering if I want to tackle a similar project or just buy a new chair. Looks great!

  4. Darlene says:

    I have a chair like that. What did you pay for yours at thrift

  5. Darlene says:

    What did you pay for your chair? I have one like it that I would like to sell. Don’t want to gouge but don’t want to give it away either. Love the pics and instructions.

  6. Sheila says:

    Hi! Excellent tutorial, as others have noted. Definitely the most helpful I’ve seen so far.

    I’ve read through the post (which I plan to do a few more times before attempting) and through the comments, but I haven’t found out what type of stapler you use. I’ve read others swear by a pneumatic staple gun but am wondering about that. If you use one, what do you recommend as I have never used one. Thanks for any help you can offer with this!

  7. Denise says:

    This is the best upholstery 101 tutorial! Your chair turned out so pretty! I found a really nice vintage glider rocker at a resale shop, and I have been wanting to put new fabric on it for some time now. After looking through this, I think I can do it! Thanks for taking the time to put this together :-)

  8. Tanya Wersinger says:

    Thank you. I think I’m going to dive in with a chair recovering project. I can’t afford to have it recovered professionally , and with your instructions doing it yourself doesn’t seem too scary.

  9. silvana says:

    I’m impress !!! That is more than beautiful!
    Thanks GREAT JOB!!

  10. Patricia says:

    Beautifully done! What brand staple gun do you use?

  11. Alanna says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! We’ll definitely be referring to this post when we finally try to reupholster our couch!

  12. Re-upholstered chairs says:

    We found a classic french style bed(with the curved foot board) at a flea market and had it re-upholstered for £350! I wish I found this article first it would of been really easy to re-upholster compared to this chair and I could of saved loads!..

  13. sewbeckyjo says:

    nice job. I covered my ottoman in that same fabric – I found a yard in the Joann’s remnant bin! I just got slip covers for my chairs in white, but you’re making me think this is much better….hmmmm.

  14. Larissa says:

    Exactly the post I’m looking for – I’m moving to a new place and we’re getting a few things from friends and family. One is an old chair with matching poof which looks really cosy but the pattern isn’t very modern so I’m planning on making a new cover!
    Good to know there isn’t too much sewing involved :) Hopefully I can make mine look just as good as yours!


  15. Sue V says:

    This inspired me to tackle a chair purchased from Goodwill. My chair turned out really good too. Couldn’t find the long tack strips for the last step on the back. I used tacks instead.

  16. Eryn says:

    WOW! I feel like I can reupholster my grandpa’s chair now! YAY!

    …and I’m guessing it won’t cost me $400-$500 to do so. Double YAY!

  17. Doris Monticone says:

    Best description I have ever read! I am about to start my chair and I will wash only the fabric I cut out for the cushion. I want all the other pieces to remain nice, but I do plan on washing the cushion. I only hope it will look as nice as yours!

    Thank you!!!

    1. Doris says:

      Having a real problem with getting under the staples! Geez, every 1/2 inch there is a staple. I’m have purchased a gadget from Joann’s and tried flathead screw driver, needle nose pliers too. :( Any other suggestions out there?
      i would greatly appreciate…ready to give up. :(

  18. Beth says:

    Just came across this through Project – I’ve been wanting to re-upholster our torn up love seat, still in great condition just the covers are falling apart. First tutorial I’ve read where it actually feels possible to do! Thanks!

    Really curious to know how many hours the chair took?

    Great job!!

  19. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the very detailed tutorial. Sometimes tutorials are so vague, I am left scratching my head, wishing I had a magic wand. This will make me look at chairs at the Goodwill in a new light!

  20. Shirley says:

    Awesome, your instructions are so easy to follow, lots of great tips!. can’t wait to start my project. Thank you so much.

  21. Anna says:

    Love the chair! I used your easy to follow tutorial
    To recover a wing chair I recently purchased at Goodwill. The main problem I had was with the t cushion. My needle kept breaking with the thickness of my fabric. What type of foot did you use on your machine? Any tips?

  22. Dani says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! This is the first blog post that I’ve read through that actually breaks down the steps of re-upholstering instead of assuming the readers know everything. I needed this! Now I have the courage to try it on my own :)

  23. Vanessa N says:

    AMAZING! Love it. Keep up the good work. I have a chair in my bedroom similar to yours but haven’t the slightest clue where to start. I will be watching.

  24. Pkae says:

    AMAZING job! I did this many many moons ago (like decades ago) and so I know what a huge undertaking it is! You did a fabulous job on the chair and the tutorial…KUDOS! Just want to add that one of my favorite “cheap” alternatives to buying a bolt of fabric is buying flat sheets. You can pick them up at amazingly low cost on sale at places like Big Lots or online at places like Even 200 count are sturdy enough and King or California King afford plenty of great fabric! Love your site and your energy! Keep on, keeping on! ;-)

  25. Danne says:

    It is such a great project! How long did it take you? I’m afraid I will never finish this project if I start.

  26. Kelli says:

    Wow! The tute must have been just about as much work as the chair! So thorough and helpful. Thanks very much for taking the time to put it together.

  27. Joan says:

    Your tutorial is the most helpful I have found! Thank you so much. You have really helped me alot in figuring stuff out!

  28. Sydnie says:

    I just bought some chairs from Goodwill that I plan to recover and this is the best post I’ve found so far! I LOVE your attention to detail— so many other posts don’t pay attention to pictures for every post or explain what things like nail tacking are our where to get it. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  29. Huma says:

    Thanks for this excellent tutorial! I’ve always wanted to reupholster my couch but didn’t think I could do it. The way you’ve shown everything gives me some hope. My couch however, has buttons on the back and is a little curvy on the edges too. Any suggestions on how to do the buttons?

    Here’s an example of a couch with buttons and curves on the back support:

    Is this something one can do at home?

  30. sonia constant says:

    This is a fab blog post, thank you for posting the tutorial. :) I am looking forward to doing my armchairs

  31. mar says:

    A great job !

  32. Amber says:

    Looks GREAT!! Now, how about an upholstery tutorial for a LaZboy sectional sleeper sofa that has a chaise on one end and a reclining seat with adjustable foot rest??? :)

  33. eelc says:


    Not only did you do an absolutely beautiful job, you documented the whole process in a clear, understandable, and easy to follow way.

    Thank you!

  34. Denise says:

    Wow!!! I stumbled upon your site today while looking up sewing tutorials and I haven’t been able to get off your page! There is so much you have inspired me to do!

    Thank you!

  35. Amy says:

    Just scored a new-to-me chair for $10. Can’t wait to take it all apart and customize it for our nursery!

    Is there a ballpark figure on how long it took? Thanks!

  36. Cynthia says:

    This is one of the best tutorials I have found! Lots of photos and each step is well documented. I have been working on a wing chair and have been trying to add a skirt…so I especially liked the skirt portion. Thanks for sharing and helping solve one of my problems!

  37. Melanie says:

    Wow! Great tutorial. I just recovered a chair and wish I had found this before.

  38. Mary says:

    Great job, and very inspiring.

  39. Eugenia says:

    Love all of this and will try to post pics of my project, which is very similar, but involves a huge comfy old chair and matching ottoman. Thinking of doing something a little in between a reupholstery project and slip cover… an attached cotton cover with some pinch pleats here and there to give it a whimsical look.

  40. Eileen says:

    Thank you! no really your amazing and THANK YOOOOOUUU! :))))))

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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