Hard, diligent work pays off eventually. This is a lesson I’ve learned so many times in my life. If you skimp by or do a poor job, you will reap a lesser gift, but when you put your heart and soul into something and give it your best, good will always come from it.
That lesson was reiterated as I embarked on my first attempt at re-upholstery. With no previous experience, I dove into this project in my usual fashion, with little thought or time spent planning. You may remember, I posted about this chair shortly before Christmas, about how I found it for a steal on Craigslist. Read about that here.
Now, about a month later, it has become the beauty I had envisioned. I’m so excited about this project, not only because I love the way it looks, but because I know it will become the place where I read stories for Jordan, we will warm ourselves by the fire, or watch the birds out the window.
I’m not a seamstress in any way. I hate sewing, so I was only going to do this if it involved (a.) no sewing, and (b.) it was cheap. I was on the right path towards affordability when I bought the old chair off Craigslist for $45, but when I started looking for fabric I was blown away. Upholstery fabric is ridiculously expensive! It would hardly be worth it in the end if I had to spend that much. So, with a picture in mind of a solid beige fabric, I thought outside of the box and found Painter’s Canvas Drop Cloth. We bought 9′ x 12′ for $20!
We also saved money with the “cording” that I used. Cording is the border that covers the staples around the edges. Usually people make it out of a rope and the same fabric from the chair. I didn’t want to go through the work of making it and wanted to use this as an opportunity to give the chair some character. Rustic twine came to mind immediately. I looked for it at the store and found something out. If you look for it in the craft section, it will cost you double the price of what it is in the hardware section. Literally double the price, just for being in another part of the store! I spent $2.00 on 90 feet of it and had plenty to spare.
When I started this project, I wanted to make sure to take a lot of pictures to share the process with you. I hope you find this tutorial to be clear and easy to follow.
Before you begin you will need:
1. Your fabric (Using canvas drop cloth will save tons of money)
5. Staple Gun
8. Hot glue
9. “Cording” (I used twine)
11. Sand paper
Step 1: Take the Chair apart
This was the most tedious and taxing part of the project. I won’t lie, I had some really sore muscles on the evenings I worked on it. That said, I will also mention that it had it’s fun parts. I may be weird, but there’s something about tearing into something that is oddly satisfying.
But wait! before you tear into your chair, label all the pieces! You will be using them as guides to cut the new ones, so labels like right upper arm, front, back, etc are going to be so handy. Another note, there are so many parts and layers to these chairs, that it’s a good idea to take notes as you go.
Try to begin with the outermost layer of fabric. For this chair, the outside arms were above everything else. I then took off the back, the back of the front, the upper arms on the front, then the lower arms, and finally the seat area.
This, being an older chair, instead of staples was originally done with nails. They were pesky little beasts to pull out. A glass mason jar is a good idea to catch the nails.
Under the outermost fabric layer was a layer of batting/stuffing and under that…
Were these pieces of fabric to cover the holes. I took these off, but probably didn’t have to. Here’s a look inside.
Under that last layer of burlap are the springs. I was definitely not going to mess with those. While pulling the fabric off, try to keep it as intact as possible.
We had to remove as many nails as possible in order to ensure the staples went in nicely. I was pulling them out with the needle nose pliers when my genius husband came by and showed me that it was much easier to use the flat head screw driver to lift the nails up. This took hours, but was a good winter evening project to do while watching episodes of Psych.
Step 2: Paint
Once all those boogers were out, I sanded to prep for paint.
The paint I used has primer in it, so I didn’t have to prime, however I did do 2 coats. A small paint brush was necessary for this project
Step 3: Prepare the fabric
While your paint is drying, get out a good pair of scissors and trace your old pieces of fabric onto the new ones. I ended up wasting a lot of fabric (good thing I got it so cheap) because of mistakes I made, so please, learn from my mistakes:
1. I read that you want to make your new piece a lot bigger than the old by tracing about an inch away from it. That works in theory, but when it came to navigating the fabric around all those corners and such, the extra got in the way. You need just enough extra to be able to fold it under, don’t go overboard.
2. However, you do want to go overboard on certain pieces so that you can tuck them in and have enough slack to staple. Those pieces were the bottom of the back of the seat, the inner parts of the upper and lower arms, the bottom portion of the lower arms, and the back end of the seat cushion itself. Sound confusing? It should make more sense as we go on.
When I said, “get your good scissors” I mean really good. I had terrible blisters from our dull scissors. It was terrible until I switched to a better pair we had in our attic.
Next, get out your ironing board out. The steam option was really handy here because the fabric is so thick. If your iron doesn’t steam, use a spray bottle with water in it.
Step 4: Reassemble
Now comes the really fun part of putting it all back together and seeing your work come together! You’re going to put your chair back together in reverse order of how you took it apart. Glad you took notes? I sure was.
I used the old stuffing and just added some extra polyester stuffing I picked up from walmart (The kind you put in stuffed animals). Normally people would use foam, but that stuff is expensive! I saw no reason not to use what I had.
Since the older stuffing was falling a part a little, after the layer of stuffing, I put a layer of fabric to hold it together, then the batting, and finally the last layer of fabric.
So, lay your stuffing over the arm and then the fabric over that.
I then stapled around the outside border, folding it under to make a nice seam. Don’t staple too much in these first few layers, because you’ll need the space and wood for the outer layers.
Now, my chair had these nice slots for the fabric to come through and attach to the back and out of sight. I don’t know if all wingbacks are like that, so just adapt to what you have.
Tuck the fabric in the back corner….
…and pull it out from the back. Now, make sure, when you staple it, not to “close the hole” by stapling the fabric to the “back” rather than the “side”. I did this and had to take tons of staples out. It was a bummer!
Next, do the lower arms in a similar order: stuffing, then fabric. Put extra stuffing on the arm.
The lower arm piece was a really funny shape and took a lot of playing around with to get it to staple on nice and flat without folds or wrinkles. I don’t believe there is a perfect method to make this easy other than just messing with it until you are satisfied (or at least mostly satisfied).
For the back I used the leftover cloth to cover it and hold it together.
Ok, now for the bottom piece that would hit the back of your legs. This is the only part that I was really tempted to do a little sewing. In order to get the corner right, you have to cut a slit, then re-attach it at an angle. I went ahead and used the hot glue gun…hopefully it’ll stand the test of time.
Put glue where the squiggly line is, then fold the other side under to give a nice seam, and stick it on.
For the seat I decided not to make it into a separate cushion that can be removed, because there was no way to avoid sewing doing that. Instead, I was able to make it look like it was a separate piece by stapling under (see the picture below).
Just leave that hanging there for now. That is the outer layer, so don’t let it wrinkle too much. Notice the side where the fabric comes out from underneath and attaches under the arm.
Now for the batting. I bought one roll, but can’t remember for the life of me how much was in the package. I do know that I doubled it up because it seemed really thin.
I just draped it over the chair,
and trimmed it from there to cover the back and sides. Again, staple minimally. I did every 6 inches.
Looking pretty good, eh? Nice and smooth 🙂
For the outermost layer, I started with the back and laid the fabric over the batting. I then tucked it in the back and sides to stabilize it for stapling.
Now start stapling. Take your time with this, because this is the layer you’ll see. Staple close to the edge and continue folding the fabric over and pulling it tight.
This is a view from above, to give you perspective.
Next do the sides. Tuck it in, and staple along the edge.
Then do the lower arms. I didn’t take pictures of this, but it’s the same as the layer before.
Here is what the back will look like. You can pull the fabric tight through these slots and then staple along the edge of the inside piece of wood where I put dotted lines. (Extra points for spotting my little boy with a banana!)
Place the seat cushion down, a layer of batting, and then fold the fabric over on top of it.
Tuck it into the back and sides as before and staple it there. I had to mess around with the corners a lot to get them just right.
See how it looks like a cushion that can come off?
I was going to do something really creative with the outside and back, like giving it a planked look with pallets or something, but that would involve a lot of cutting, sanding, staining, and screwing it in that I just didn’t want to do that much extra work.
Here’s the blank side.
Attach scrap pieces of fabric to cover the holes and give the bating something to sit on.
Then the batting. I didn’t use stuffing since the sides really don’t need to be that squishy.
To put on the fabric, I learned it’s a lot easier to lay the chair on it’s side so the fabric isn’t sliding all over the place.
I did the same for the back by leaning it over a couch arm. By the way, since this chair went so well, I probably will end up re-upolstering that couch and love seat that matches it. Not any time soon, but someday.
The last step is the cording. You’re almost there! Get the hot glue gun fired up and start gluing it down in sections. Since I was using the twine, I had to continually twist it to keep it looking cool.
Step 5: Enjoy your work
Sorry for all the pictures! It was just to fun to admire the hours of work I’d put into it. I think that’s ok.
Jordan had to get in on the action. He loved snuggling with that throw on our new chair. He was a huge “help” through the entire process.
I hope this was helpful to you and inspires you to dive into those affordable, DIY, no sew wingback chair re-upholster projects you’ve been waiting on.
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