Reupholstering dining room chairs

The saga begins.  Let’s see if I can document this in excruciating detail!  Here’s a before shot.  Oh, that’s right.  Can’t find it right now.

Well, take your chair apart, flip over the seat and check it out.


I learned the dark material on the bottom of the seat is called a “dust cover.”  You can buy more at Hobby Lobby.  Not sure what’s up with the black tape? around the edge.

Note there are approximately 40 billion staples holding the fabric in place.


My chairs have notches where the chair’s frame goes.  It also has rounded corners – this comes into play later.  (Spoiler alert – corners are a huge pain in the ass.)

First step – figure out how much new fabric you need.  What I did was cut the material off, lay it flat, measured/guesstimated, and bought new stuff at Hobby Lobby, which has a very decent array of upholstery material on big rolls back in the fabric department.  And added a little extra in case Something Bad happened.


Next, I learned how to pull staples.  40 billion of them, times 4.  You need a small but mighty straight slot screwdriver and either a good set of channel lock pliers or a pair of dykes (diagonal cutters).  What seems to work best is work the screwdriver under the staple and lift it up a bit. Switch to the dykes and with a lever action, pull them out. The lever action will save your hand. What I mean by “lever action” is clamp on to the staple, then with the pliers resting on the wood, lean them over and use leverage to pry the staple out.  If you try to yank them straight out with brute force because you’re just that bad-ass, your hand and wrist will hurt.

After 2-3 evenings of this, the staples were removed from all four chair seats.  This took some time.

Now we move on to cushions.  Oh, yeah – I should have realized that Hobby Lobby had the cushions. No, wait – they did, but they were the wrong kind and in my ignorance, I didn’t know that.  Buy cushions, return cushions, buy different cushions.  I ended up with high density foam cushions from Joann Fabric. Hobby Lobby did not have that.  High density will save your ass, literally.  More cushy.

I took the old seat cushions, laid them on top of the new cushions, and outlined them using a Sharpie.

Cushions are a huge pain to cut but what seemed to work the best was a very sharp, long knife from the kitchen. I tried the serrated bread knife thing but just got a bunch of wavy lines. When I switched to a non-serrated blade, it was better. Not having choppy edges comes into play later when you want a smooth surface under the fabric.

Here’s the choppy edge (on the wrong kind of cushion – yeah, burn and learn).


Much nicer edge with this straight blade.

Okay, let’s recap.  Old dust cover, fabric and 40 billion staples are out.  Multiple trips to the store to get the fabric, new dust cover and the right kind of cushion.  Oh, we also bought a Porter Cable pneumatic stapler, the wrong kind of staples (labeling error on the stapler manufacturer’s part), returned those, and got the right ones.  This project was doomed, lol.  And in looking back, I simply cannot imagine doing this with a friggin’ hand stapler.  40 billion times? Are you kidding me?

Now we get down to business.  I laid the newly cut-out cushions down on the fabric and just kinda cut a big square.  Made sure I had the right side of the fabric facing down, then the cushion, then the wood.  Get the stapler loaded and handy, and you stretch the fabric up over the cushion, over the edge, to the back side of the seat/wood.  Hold all that with one hand, reach for the stapler, and try not to staple your finger to the chair.  Tack a few staples in there, then go to the OPPOSITE SIDE.  If you look all over Pinterest for weeks like I did, you will see everyone says work the back, then the front, THEN right-left.

If you sew, you understand how to baste. Basting is fake temporary stitches to hold everything in place until you sew for real.  I ended up doing the same thing here.  Cardinal rule is – when you pull that fabric, you are going to get a workout and build muscle.  Pull it *tight*.  You will end up pulling out your fake basting staples, but I also learned if you hold the stapler somewhat crooked, the staple will go in but not all the way.  That makes it super easy to get the screwdriver in there to yank it out later.

Okay, at this point, you are tacking your fabric in place.  When you think you are ready to finish, think again.  Go get a beer or something and rest up.  You will now wrestle that chair.  I did see a tutorial on line where these upholstery guys basically have the seat vertically on end, jam it under their arm/into their armpit, and use their hand to smooth the fabric up from the bottom, over the edge of the cushion, pull tiiiight as they can – then BAM! with the stapler.  That actually works pretty well.  You may end up trying it, pulling staples, and doing it again, but it’s okay, the chair can take it.

Pull that shit as tight as you possibly can.  Get a friend to help if you need to.  If you think you’ve got it tight enough, trust me – you don’t.

Okay, so you’ve wrestled your chair seat and you have a bunch of fabric hanging out there.  Let it hang, because we’ve got to deal with those damn corners first.

I was bound and determined not to have pleats in the corners.  I should have re-thought that, because doing rounded, no-pleat corners is very hard and you end up with biceps like Popeye.  It can be done, but it takes patience and no two corners are alike.  You basically just pull, pull, pull, fold, tuck that shit in on the underside, staple, pull, pull, fold, etc. until it’s done.  I really have no other words for it. Couldn’t take pictures, either, because it took both hands.

Before you trip any extra fabric off, turn the seat over and check it out.  You may see little dimples along the edge – guess what, you didn’t pull the fabric tight enough AND you probably need to throw in a few more staples.  You will re-staple about 1/3 of what you originally staple.  In fact, I took some close-up shots on the screwdriver technique.

First, you start with the screwdriver just about perpendicular to the chair – it looks like you’re stabbing the chair.  Which you will want to do, after all this.  It takes some force, yet you have to be delicate at the same time so you don’t gouge and rip the fabric.  Good luck.   😉

Once the screwdriver is in, just lift up one corner enough so the pliers can grab it.  That’s really all you need.


A miscellaneous note – I also learned after the fact to use a Sharpie and draw small arrows so I would have a clue where the screws go back in to put the chair back together:


For my particular chairs, I did have to poke a hole through the fabric where the dot is so I could screw the seat back down onto the chair frame.

Here’s the finished product:

Oh!  Once you have all the corners done and you have stapled the everloving SHIT out of the fabric, staple on the dust cover (super easy after all you’ve been through) and you are done.  Put your chair back together and remember why you bought the high density foam – to save your ass.

Here’s my “after” shot. Yeah, I know – that front corner needs some work.  Look on Pinterest for the “necktie” or “butterfly” technique.  I see what they mean, but I didn’t want any pleats so I did pull this back off the chair and tried it again.


Hope this helps!