While it might be difficult to imagine your living room today without your comfy sofa or plush recliner, upholstery is a relatively ‘new’ craft in the history of furniture making. Whereas weavers have been making textiles for centuries, the earliest examples of upholstery can only be traced to the 1500s when fabric was first stretched across hard oak seats. With roots in the Middle English word ‘upholder’ –meaning a tradesman holding up his goods – the term ‘upholstery’ refers to the work involved in providing furniture with padding, springs, webbing, and fabric or leather covers.
Reupholstering a piece of furniture can be a time-intensive process, but it’s actually a lot easier than it looks. If you’ve got an old chair or ottoman that’s in need of a ‘facelift’, follow these eight easy steps and you’ll have a brand new focal piece in no time!
Pick the right furniture
Look for pieces that are made of solid wood – not veneer or plywood. Whereas solid wood maintains its value and lasts a long time, veneer and plywood tends to lose its shape and frame more quickly. Make sure to review the overall construction of the piece before getting started to identify any imbalance issues, major damage, or other problem areas.
Choose your fabric
Although you can technically reupholster furniture with any kind of fabric, it’s important to invest in high quality, upholstery fabric that’s thick and sturdy enough to withstand years of wear-and-tear. Once you’ve measured out the piece you’re upholstering, remember to buy a little extra fabric just in case you need it. I decided to go with a brocade-style fabric in a dark blue and cream floral pattern as I wanted something relatively neutral for my dining room chairs that would still give the space a pop of colour.
Get your tools and materials ready
While it is possible to reupholster furniture without these tools, they’re worth investing in as they’ll make the job a whole lot easier. Key things to pick up include a flat-head screwdriver or tack remover (sometimes called a combination tool), a good set of fabric shears or a rotary cutter, a heavy-duty staple gun with staples (the length of the staples will depend on the thickness of your fabric) as well as 2 inch upholstery foam and cotton or polyester batting.
Remove the old fabric
Use your flat-head screwdriver or tack remover to carefully pull out all of the staples/tacks/screws that are holding the old fabric in place. Start by removing the fabric from the bottom, working slowly so as not to hurt yourself on any nails or staples that might be exposed. You’ll also want to be careful not to rip the old fabric as you’ll need it to measure/cut out your pattern.
Prep your furniture
Depending on the age of the piece of furniture you’re reupholstering, you may need to remove the old batting and stuffing as well. Until you’ve opened it up, you never know what surprises you’ll find inside – to my shock, the chairs I reupholstered were stuffed with animal hair, straw and hay! This is the perfect time to check the springs and webbing, perform any necessary repairs, and sand, stain or paint the frame depending on the look you’re going for.
Cut out your upholstery foam, batting and fabric
Lay out your upholstery foam, batting and new fabric and trace the old fabric shapes onto the new. Once you have all of the pieces measured out and traced, carefully cut out each section, making sure to leave 2–3 inches of excess batting and fabric to grasp when stapling. I strongly suggest investing in a rotary cutter or a good set of fabric shears as it’ll make the job a whole lot easier!
Staple your batting and fabric
The final step is to assemble it all together. Lay the foam in the correct place, pull the cotton or polyester batting taut, and staple it on the reverse side of the piece of furniture being upholstered. Use your staple gun with staples of the appropriate length to attach the fabric securely to the furniture. I used 10 mm (3/8 inches) staples for my chair as the width of the wood was quite thick. Don’t be shy to use as many staples as necessary to attach the batting and trim any excess. Repeat the same steps with the upholstery fabric, making sure to fold/tuck the edges of each piece of fabric to give it a smooth finish.
Obviously the more elaborate the piece of furniture, the more complex the process will be, but those are the basics. One final tip? Several times a year, FabricLand has storewide sales across the city – the ideal time to stock up on all your DIY fabric needs!
Written by amateur upholsterer extraordinaire, Danuta Whetton.