This is an instructable on how to reupholster a chair. I found this beat up gravity chair on its way to a landfill and decided to give it a total makeover. This will cover the basic upholstery process. Upholstery is much more complicated and nuanced than I ever expected.
Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.
Step 1: Tools
The basic tools :
Staple puller - you will spend more time with this tool than perhaps any other if you are reupholstering. They make specific ones for this purpose but you can also use a scribe. A small hammer (2ish pounds) can also be helpful to pry and drive out staples
Scissors - your teacher will make fun of you if you use junky ones. It is worth knowing that scissors can be sharpened
Measuring device(s)- Measuring will be critical if you want you pattern to result in a neat appearance around your furniture.
Temporary writing implement- To mark before cutting, sewing, etc. Chalk is often used.
Staple gun- To cause much pain for someone later in removing your over zealous use of staples. Also to adhere fabrics to frame. (may need air hose and compressor if you want the one that makes the cool noises)
Sewing machine- We used a nice one. You can probably use a less hardcore one for sewing thinner fabrics that aren't leather like
Fabric stretcher- To compensate for tight fits and slight off measurements when getting your pattern on your frame
Various adhesives- For foam bonding/restricting movement. Smells interesting
A teacher- Mine was a sassy hispanic gentleman. He will have much patience and snarky comments. While you can learn many things online (and I do). This is something that without a teacher for a non trivial project you will sink so much time into it if you don't know what you are doing.
A bunch of old ladies - Because apparently that is who takes the community college course on upholstery
Step 2: Bare Bones
This seems so easy. It was just one click and you ended up at this step. There were no f bombs and hours of staple pulling. No staples and scraps and random discoveries inside your project. If only this was how life worked.
Make sure to assess that the piece of furniture you are covering is structurally sound. Look for cracks. Listen for creaks. You are about to sink a bunch of time into this so make sure you have a solid base to work from. Honestly the gravity chair was fairly low quality but I didn't know better and you have to start at project 0 sometime. I threw some extra screws in to reinforce. The later into the project you get, the harder it will be to make corrections to your base structure without aesthetic implications.
Step 3: Pattern Making
So why is that staple pulling so time consuming? It takes time to salvage the fabric from the chair to make a pattern for your new fabric/pleather. A pattern is basically a template that fits to your frame and covers it. A gravity chair has a bunch of curvy bits so a lot of things are not straight or obvious. You also want to save your foam pieces since they will be your foam patterns. Once you remove the fabric from your piece you need to cut and separate each section. I chose this rich brown pleather (animal free) because it felt masculine and badass. It was also the coolest scrap bolt in the sewing closet. There wasn't quite enough which made everything harder. You can also go to a fabric store ( I like vogue in evanston) and pick out something that suits you.
Step 4: Sewing
While not the most time consuming step perhaps the most fine motor challenging (at least for me). I am a ok tig welder so I have used foot pedal controls but damn that machine can run away from you with the slightest rev of your ankle. You want to sew back and forth on the ends to securely fasten them. You then want to run a straight even line of tight stitches. It is hard. The perfect sample picture is the teachers. Mine is the spiders bundle. I did 75% of the sewing and got help from the ladies sewing circle. I think once you turn 50 as a lady an angel descends from heaven and empowers you with magical sewing abilities. Keep in mind also that there is .5 of an inch or more excess to allow for the face to be correctly sized while keeping enough to secure on the interior. In theory you could probably use a serger if the stitching was going to show.
Step 5: Base Face
This is a denim like material that you put down as your base layer. Kind of reminds me now of building a layer cake in that you will add several more layers on top of this and final frosting (the pretty fabric) at the end. I used lots of staples fairly evenly spaced and then trimmed
Step 6: Foam/Cushioning
There are various thicknesses of foam. I like the heavy duty plush feel of the several inches thick stacked. Think about how your butt feels on concrete. Don't let that happen to you. Use your fabric template for the major foam section. Spray glue multiple pieces together if you want. Use a foam cutter to cut your template out. Staple at the top to secure. Staple at the bottom. Wa-lah Foamtastic! This was one of the easier steps. You don't need the special foam cutting saw but it certainly was easier than a normal saber saw or reciprocating tool.
Step 7: Dress Up
Time to get your fabric on top of your foam. This can be a big ol pain in the be hind. A heat gun can help. So can a second pair of hands. Have the staple gun at the ready. You may also want something flat and hard to smooth wrinkles depending on the fabric. There are lots of wiggling and niggling things that happen here. Be brave. You are more than halfway. Staple as you go to secure each increment of progress. Don't overheat your fabric as depending on its constitution if can melt or catch fire (especially if you were overzealous with the spray glue earlier). Burnt is mostly not in this season according to one of the sewing circle.
Step 8: Backing
I don't really get why this is needed but doing a fabric insert does give the chair a fuller body and makes it more professional. If there was a step you could skip this might be it. Wasn't that hard but kind of a pain.
Step 9: Beautify the Back
Ok so this part was super cool. I had never seen or used a tack strip before. I mean you see them in use everywhere but you never even knew it. They are fasteners that secure inside the fabric to create attachment without showing. You staple them on and then put your fabric ends in and slowly hammer in with a deadblow or equivalent. I really love how clean and fairly effortless the process was while producing a nice line if you did things right up to this point. I get all geeked out for mechanical things and this was a fun little surprise.
Step 10: Bottoms Up
I used a different fabric to cover the bottom. Same technique as the previous step to secure the sides. In the case of the gravity chair it is worth noting that a counter weight is used inside the furniture. I think my chair may have been intended for a child so I modified the weight until I had the spring back I wanted on tilt.
Step 11: Finished!
I did it (and maybe now you did too)! Not so complicated. Only took infinite amounts of time and patience. Add this to the handful of sewing projects I have done. Not a fan of the process but the result is very pleasant. I think starting from scratch probably would have been easier but then you have to make your own pattern. See the next step for the various ladies sewing circle projects. Hope you enjoyed this basic 'structable on upholstery. See you space cowboy!
Step 12: Random Bonus Sewing Circle Ladies Projects
In case ya'll are curious what other people made in the class.
Runner Up in the
Leather Contest 2017
Participated in the
Furniture Contest 2017
Participated in the
Reclaimed Contest 2017