The post with the Extreme Makeover: Chair Edition.

Once upon a Saturday morning, Rick and I woke up with nothing to do. After taking a few moments to look at each other in disbelief, we looked around our apartment and our eyes settled on this lovely chair left behind by the previous tenants:

We had opted to keep it instead of tossing it on the curb, telling ourselves that one day it could be--what's that scary little DIY word?--oh yes: reupholstered. Really, what better to do on a sweltering summer Saturday?

Although we learned a LOT, perhaps the biggest lesson we took away from this project is that no tutorial will 100% help you with your individual upholstery job. Every piece of furniture will have its own unique challenges that can only be conquered with many trials, even more errors, and some good old-fashioned patience (which will, inevitably, wear thinner than the old fabric that you're painstakingly removing). Therefore, the details below will not provide a step-by-step guide about how to reupholster this chair (because let's face it, not everyone has an armless, gold velour chair sitting around!) but, rather, several recommendations about reupholstering in general, that we hope you can apply to your own stab at the task. Oh--and they'll also provide a glimpse at our very own camera-loving cat who made it her personal goal to oversee just about every step of this process. Now if only we could train her to use the sewing machine...

*      *      *

Make sure you have the following supplies on hand: a heavy-duty staple gun, a big box of staples (we stapled and removed several hundred times more often than we'd care to admit), a hammer (we just used a regular one, but they do make mallets specific for reupholstering), some heavy-duty scissors (the ones we used reminded us slightly of hedge clippers), a tack remover for pulling out the old tacks and staples, a sewing machine, several tack strips (read more about these below) and, perhaps most importantly, an ample supply of patience and a good sense of humor. These two little "supplies" will come in just as handy as all of the others: if you can't laugh when the old batting that you tried to salvage disintegrates in front of your very eyes, you're in for a looong day.

Take tons of pictures of the "before." We got some from every angle. Gingerbread's favorite angle was this one.

She cried a bit when she discovered that we were not, in fact, creating a nice little tent for her.

Not only will these "before" pictures help you show off the dramatic change after all of your hard work, but they'll also provide you with the images upon which you'll need to base your reupholstering. Because believe me, once your chair has been stripped down to its bare bones, you won't remember exactly what it looked like at first--and not just because you blocked the disturbing image from your memory. Think of this collection of "before" pictures as the puzzle box that is helpful to look at while putting the puzzle together.

That looks like a fun toy...

Carefully and methodically take off each individual piece of the chair. Even though you're probably dying to just toss the old fabric in the trash, the pieces will actually need to become the pattern pieces for your new fabric. So avoid the temptation to shamelessly hack away at the old material. We found it helpful to make a list of each part in the order that it was removed, because putting the chair back together would require us to do the same in reverse order. For example, the first thing Rick did was remove the cording strip around the very bottom of the chair. This cording, then, was the last piece that we attached as we completed our chair.

Save money by reusing the upholstery tacks that were used to put together the chair originally. We found that ours were mostly in good shape and were up for our round two makeover. Putting them in a small glass dish as we removed them was also helpful so that they didn't get lost in the floor for someone to step on.

 Upholstery weapons tacks

Buy forgiving fabric. Especially if this is your first attempt at reupholstering, make sure your fabric will allow for--and, if possible, mask--beginner's errors. The zebra print we chose did not have to line up in any particular way, thus reducing our frustration and urge to sob when it didn't work out exactly as we wanted it to. Fabrics with intricate prints, in contrast, might have looked sloppy if it wasn't pieced together neatly and correctly. We were glad that we took our time selecting fabric (Rick especially--he loves to spend a good several hours staring at the home dec fabric under Joann's halogen bulbs) so that we ended up with something that was durable yet chic, and could match a variety of accent colors, since I change my mind about colors almost as often as I change my clothes. Almost.

Cut your new fabric several inches larger than the old pieces. We did this and were still maximizing the new fabric's stretch factor in some places. Give yourself the extra wiggle room so that you don't end up short: you can always cut off extra once the piece is on.

Do I want to know what those stains are from?

When attaching the new fabric, start in one corner and work your way to the other. This way, you can stretch the fabric as you go to get a perfect fit for your piece. If you start attaching the back by stapling first the top right corner and then the top left corner, for example, you'll have to work your way into the center and may end up with unsightly bulges. And on the topic of unsightly bulges, make sure your staples and/or tacks are close together and evenly spaced so that the batting under the fabric doesn't begin sporting, for lack of a better term, "love handles."

Save money by making your own tack strips out of cereal boxes. These simply help reinforce the seams and the curves in the piece of furniture, and we found that our Shredded Wheat-n-Honey Nut Cheerios versions were just as sturdy as the ones used to put together the chair originally.

Invest in heavy-duty tack strips for the very final piece that will need to be attached. Up until this point, the tacks and staples get hidden by the other pieces of fabric. With the very last piece, though, you can no longer let everything hang out. We snagged a tube of tack strips for less than $10 from Joann's and I'm fairly certain they saved our marriage. This video on YouTube was helpful for figuring out how to use the tack strips, but the tube we bought also came with its own set of directions.

Be prepared to make mistakes. Although it was a challenge, Rick really had to set aside his perfectionist tendencies when our back piece ended up being ever-so-slightly too small (!), despite us cutting the piece larger than the pattern suggested. So, as you can see in the picture below, we had to get creative, and ended up making three separate sections to piece together the back. We also left off the buttons that were on the chair originally, preferring the more modern look achieved without them.

Finally, take lots of time to step back and admire your hard work. And yes--the work will be hard. Especially if it's your first attempt, as this was for us. But considering we had never even heard the term "tack strip" before we began this project on that one sweaty Saturday, we are quite proud of our finished product.

So here is our new creation looking happy among my silhouette collage and side table trunk. And we're sitting happy knowing that this entire project only cost approximately $56 (for the fabric, tack strips, and rope for cording all purchased on sale at Joann's) and 18 hours of time (17 of which were spent at Joann's--Rick insisted). Not bad for a brand new chair!

If you have any of your own reupholstery advice, feel free to share! :)


Amy @ Journey Mum said...

Reupholstering scares me but it's something I would love to learn how to do. Do you have any idea how much it would have cost you to get that done professionally? It'd be interesting to know the comparison!

Erin said...

Hey Amy,

We didn't ever look into getting it done professionally, but have heard that around here, it generally costs at least a couple hundred $$ plus materials. At first, we really were wondering "Why on earth would it cost that much??" but then, after spending 24+ hours on the project, we said "oh...now we understand..." :)

I would say that if you want to try it, start with a piece of furniture that has relatively simple lines. We were glad that our chair didn't have arms or lots of difficult curves and gatherings, since they would have made the process more difficult.

Good luck! :)


Anonymous said...

I'd love some more details about how you did this. I take it you used a sewing machine to make a kind of slipcover that went over the back of the chair? Or am I reading this completely wrong? I'm hoping to tackle a similar chair in the next few weeks, though thankfully mine had a flat rather than curved back!

Erin said...

Hey anonymous,

We did use the sewing machine, but only to make the cording, which you can see in the close-up picture two from the end. Everything else (including the cording, after it had been created with the machine) was simply cut out and then stapled/tacked on as an individual raw piece, which is how the chair was put together, so the FRONT of the chair back is separate from the BACK of the chair back. We attached the very back of the chair (which is against the wall) using tack strips, since it was the last piece we'd be attaching and, therefore, there was no place for raw edges to be hidden. The video link I included in the post shows how tack strips work for putting on the back of a chair.

We're not positive (after all, we're new at this ourselves!) but we think a slipcover would have been more difficult, since it would have to be an absolutely perfect fit in order to avoid bulges. Having individual pieces really allowed us the wiggle room we needed to make sure that the fabric could be stretched to fit the chair snugly.

I wish we had more pictures of our "during" process, but we tackled this particular chair before I decided to chronicle our projects online. We will probably be tackling more reupholstering in the future, though, at which point we will be sure to take TOO many pictures. :)

I just added email contact info in my tabs--so feel free to contact us with more questions or pictures. Our biggest piece of advice would be to just make notes and take pictures of how the chair was put together as you take it apart, and then try to copy that for putting your new fabric on.

Thanks for visiting, and good luck with your project! Let us know how it turns out! :)

DaddysDIYgirl said...

So glad I found your blog! Thx for the YouTube link. I was up way too late last night watching all of them and trying to decide what to reupholster first. Did you buy supplies from that website or elsewhere? It's hard to do price comparisons on specialty tools and supplies like for upholstery. Thx for the tips and inspiration!

Erin @ My Rented House said...

Hey DIY Girl,

The only supplies we purchased were the fabric and the real tack strips for the back of the chair. Other than that, we just re-used the tacks and batting (it was in surprisingly good shape) that had been used the first time around. Oh, and we made our own tack strips out of cereal boxes (as I mentioned in the post). We got both the tube of tack strips for $6 and the fabric at Joann's for about $15/yard, which isn't bad for upholstery fabric--you want something durable, since you do WAY too much work for it to just get worn out easily!

Glad we can help! :)

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