Upholstery Tutorial

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My biggest and most ferocious critics (a.k.a my children) pointed out to me that my “How Karma scratched up my chairs…”-post, wasn’t much of a tutorial and that I should actually talk less about the cats and more about the task on hand.  Since I am that super parent described in the aforementioned post, I will now try to explain how I actually went about my upholstery project:

As with so many projects, it appears extremely daunting and scary at first, and you wonder what your plan B might be if this went completely South.  The secret is, to have a good friend with you who is emotionally unattached to your chairs and who will remove the first staples to get you started.  It also helps when that friend has experience in upholstering and can give you some wonderful tips on how to proceed.

Aside from your trusted friend, here are the supplies you need (assuming your batting is intact and you are only concerned about the the fabric):

  • Seam ripper
  • Card board
  • Marker
  • Craft knife
  • Upholstery fabric (visit Fabric Calculator to find out approximately how much)
  • Fabric marker
  • Fabric scissors
  • Upholstery thread
  • Upholstery tack remover
  • Upholstery stapler
  • Upholstery staples

The most important thing is to go step by step, systematically, carefully, almost to the point of being obsessive-compulsive.  You basically peel your chair by removing the upholstery tacks with the tack remover (please, be very careful), layer by layer, until the batting is completely exposed.

While you remove the old fabric, take as many pictures as possible to show you later how it looked before and how it was assembled originally.  You also need to be very careful not to damage the old fabric, since it will serve as your template for the new fabric.  As you remove the fabric, label each part of the cover (for example “Seat”, or “Back Rest – front”), also make sure to note what side of the fabric was pointing towards to top, bottom, front, back, etc.

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Using your seam ripper, carefully disassemble the old upholstery.

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Now it’s time to create your templates.  I first used the old fabric pieces to transfer a pattern onto the new fabric, but that seemed extremely uneven and would have taken forever for 6 chairs.  So, I decided to transfer the pattern onto cardboard, which took a little while but made it super easy to lay out and transfer onto the new fabric.  This is also not the last time I will upholster these chairs and the cardboard templates will definitely be keepers.  To create a working template, you need to first trace around the old fabric and then add 5/8 of an inch all the way around it for your seam allowance (except where the fabric is going to be stapled to the frame).  Again, make sure to note the direction of your templates, and if you have new fabric that is directional (such as stripes), make sure to mark which way your fabric needs to be cut out. I found that using a craft knife was the easiest way to cut out the cardboard templates.

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The good news is, that all of this was the hardest part of the project.  Things will move much quicker now, so take a deep breath and let the fun begin…

With your new fabric face down, use your cardboard templates to trace the components of your new slip covers.  Make sure to use a good fabric marker instead of a regular marker to prevent any bleed-through to the good side of the fabric since you need to, once again, label every piece the same way as you labeled the templates (did I mention something about having to be obsessive compulsive?).  When everything is traced, just close your eyes (figuratively, of course, unless you have an endless supply of fabric) and start cutting your shiny new, possibly somewhat expensive fabric (unless you are like me and found yours for $60 in the bargain bin).  As a side note, if you do find a bargain, inspect the entire length of the fabric before you buy it to make sure it didn’t make it to the special part of the store because it had blemishes.  I had to cut around approximately a quarter of my fabric, because it wasn’t manufactured correctly.  Luckily I had enough fabric, but I also had absolutely no room for mistakes.

Now it’s time to sew.  I used a 5/8 quarter seam allowance, but found that it was really important to carefully cut away all extra fabric around the seams in the corners to prevent the seams from looking bulky when slipped over the chairs.  I also made sure that all the seam fabric was pointing in the same direction on all chairs.  Believe it or not, it does make a difference at the end.

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At this point, you are on the home stretch and all that is left is to pull the fabric tight (not too tight or you will see some unsightly bumps around your chairs) and use the stapler to attach the fabric to the chairs.  This is where all your photographs come in handy to see were the staples were before, and how to attach the fabric as inconspicuously as possible.

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There are lots of tricks that I still have to learn (for example using spray adhesive to make the fabric more flush with the chairs), but I definitely think I am hooked on this upholstery business.  Let me know if you have any questions, but as long as you are meticulous and methodical, you can do it.  Good luck!

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