Upholstering Chairs from Fabric to Finish

Re-inventing an old chair is one of the easiest furniture makeovers, and it is so rewarding to create a one-of-a-kind gem like this!

Queen Anne Before After

Free Queen Anne chairs found through Craigslist: from worn and boring to fresh and elegant!

When I debuted my Queen Anne chair makeover, I provided some tips for painting. Today, I’ll cover the basics of reupholstering a chair seat. I had also mentioned in the earlier post that I had discovered a great fabric choice for seats, so let’s start there.

Choosing Fabric:

The secret is that this beautiful fabric, with its bold graphic pattern and textured weave, is not a standard decorator upholstery fabric but an outdoor fabric! It won’t stain, fade, or wear out. You can wipe or even scrub it clean! These days, the options for colors, patterns, and textures in outdoor fabrics are immense. I’ve used outdoor fabrics on several projects, and the results have been great!

P. Kaufmann fabric seat

“Muse” by P. Kaufmann in Aqua. A colorful outdoor polyester fabric with a linen texture.

Robert Allen fabric

“Lake Paradise” by Robert Allen in Spa. Another outdoor polyester with a whimsical print. These are our dining room chairs. More about them soon!

built-in bench

“Dupione” by Sunbrella in Sand. This acrylic weave indoor/outdoor fabric was on a built-in bench in our old house and was clearly toddler- and sippy cup- friendly. I’d love to recreate that bench in our current home. It was great for lounging and had lots of storage in those drawers underneath.

I bought the Lake Paradise and Muse fabrics from fabricguru.com. This is definitely my favorite source for online fabric shopping. They have good prices and selection, and they make it easy to search, which can be overwhelming with some of the other sites. I bought the Sunbrella Dupione from a marine supply store online.

A couple of caveats: the polyester outdoor fabrics are stiffer than cotton upholstery fabric, so they don’t feel as soft or wrap as neatly around corners as a cotton. Also, while fine for the upholstery, they would feel stiff on a cushion, so if you want to create coordinating pillows or other items, you might want to look for the same print in a regular decorator cotton. I found the acrylic was much softer to the touch, though I did not do the sewing on those fabulous bench cushions. I also have noticed some slight piling on our dining chairs, but it’s very minor, and I am sure that they would be in much worse shape by now, if I had used a standard cotton fabric, because we eat there every day.

Upholstering a Seat:

You will need:

  • flat head screwdriver and pliers
  • sheet of foam (unless you are reusing the existing seat cushion)
  • upholstery fabric
  • scissors
  • staple gun and staples

1. Use a flat head screwdriver and pliers to remove all the old staples. Argh! Look at all those staples. This took a long time!

remove staples

2. If you aren’t reusing the old foam, cut a new cushion from a sheet of foam from the craft store. I used two pieces of 1/2″ foam, one cut to fit the seat exactly and the other a bit wider, to wrap around the outside of the seat.

new foam

3. Center the fabric under the foam and seat bottom. For a large print, like the “Muse” on my Queen Anne chairs, pin the fabric in place, to make sure the pattern is centered.

Center fabric

4. Using the staple gun, tack the fabric onto the seat bottom on the center of each side. (Apparently, I forgot to take a picture of this!)

5. Next, staple from the center of each side towards the corners, stopping about two inches from the corner. Fold up the fabric at the corner and tack it to the bottom of the seat:

Tack the corner

6. Now finish stapling the fabric on the sides. Depending on the angle, sometimes you need an extra fold in the fabric.

7. Repeat for all sides and corners, and you’re done!

Let me know if you have any questions!


22 thoughts on “Upholstering Chairs from Fabric to Finish

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  3. I love your fabric choices! Beautiful results. You’ve inspired me, and I’ve always wanted to try this. I’m currently working on making box pillow cushions for our window seat (which is brutally hard for this intermediate sewer, lol), and this looks like it could be my next project for our dining room!

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  8. I need to reupholster my queen anne chair bottoms, so this DIY instructions are great for me. Question though. How much material will I need to complete 6 of these chairs?

    • Sorry for the late reply. It depends on your seat size and fabric size, and if your fabric has a pattern that needs to be lined up. I would allow for about 5 inches on each side to wrap around.

  9. Hi – found your blog because I’m thinking about buying an outdoor sofa with the Sunbrella Dupione Sand fabric on the cushions but I can’t find the fabric in person. I’m worried it’ll have too much yellow undertone. Can you remember what the fabric was like? Was it a true light beige? (What I’m hoping for).


  10. thanks so much that is so much helpful. I just want to know what’s next! how to glue it back to the chair? what glue do u recommend? Thanks,

  11. I just finished a chair..Paint and re-upholstered the cushion. I’m wanting to start selling some of my pieces. Where to start with pricing? What would I charge for a chair like yours? Thanks for the help.

    • Congratulations- that’s exciting. I’ve actually thought of selling pieces as well, though I haven’t done it yet. For what my theoretical advice is worth… I would look locally for price comparisons, because it’s pricy/ tricky to ship furniture. Look on Craigslist, at local antique shops, etc. to get a sense of what the going prices are and start from there. I’d love to hear more, when you get going. This is one of my retirement plans!!

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