Upholstery 101: How to Repurpose Old Furniture

with Jewel Marlowe of Jeweled Interiors

JUN 18, 2021 updated Aug 6, 2021
Upholstered chair with butterflies

What’s more fun than buying new furniture? Making your own furniture! That old loveseat or bench in the corner of your storage room can have a brand new life with just a few materials and some basic upholstery skills. Join Spoonflower Ambassador Jewel Marlowe from Jeweled Interiors as she shows you how to upholster a drop-seat chair with Spoonflower’s Performance Velvet fabric. But why stop at a chair? You can use these tips for any upholstery project.

How to Choose the Right Fabric for Upholstery

Jewel: I fell in love with this fabric design by peacoquettedesigns and was excited to try it out on Spoonflower’s new Performance Velvet for my chair project. It was also easy to work with while upholstering. It comes in a 54-inch (137 cm) width, has a little stretch, and a very soft hand.

Spoonflower offers six different upholstery fabrics. Find the perfect choice for your next project.

Recycled Canvas

Woven canvas featuring REPREVE® recycled polyester.

Performance Linen

High-end linen fabric look with the easy-care qualities of polyester.

Cypress Cotton Canvas

Sophisticated basketweave texture that offers lived-in luxury.

Belgian Linen

Medium-weight linen fabric with a beautifully textured surface.

Celosia Velvet

Luxurious fabric with a short pile and elegant shimmer.

Performance Velvet

Super-soft and durable matte velvet.

How to Upholster a Chair

DIY upholstery is not only fun, but it can be empowering. So many times we see an old chair that needs a little love, and with a few basic upholstery skills, that chair can be given a second chance at life. Plus, the ability to customize pieces leads to unique and gorgeous rooms.

The easiest types of upholstery projects are drop-seat chairs. These usually involve a removable seat on a dining room chair. The beauty is that all of the stapling is hidden underneath the frame. Similarly, this particular project involved removing three pieces of upholstery, lining up the fabric on each and stapling BEHIND. So while this looks more complicated, it is the same basic principle.

Materials List

  • Staple gun
  • Scissors
  • Staple remover or standard screwdriver plus pliers
  • Iron (optional)
  • New foam and batting (optional)
Skill Level

Beginner

Pro Tip:

For your staple gun, a manual gun is the least expensive option. A pneumatic stapler and pancake air compressor, however, are especially great for larger jobs.

It is always helpful to have the right tools for a job.  DIY upholstery is no different. For any simple project, like this one, I generally rely on these basic tools.

Steps to Transform Your Chair

Figure Out How Much Fabric You Need

My chair required two yards of fabric. I was able to determine that amount by measuring around the widest part of each piece of my chair from front to back and side to side. I kept in mind that I would need a little extra fabric for stapling and compared those numbers to the width of the fabric I would be using. The larger the chair, the more fabric needed, especially if upholstering more than one.

Beige drop-seat chair
Beige drop-seat chair

Dissect and Tear Down

The very best advice I can give you during the “tear down” phase is to take pictures as you start to take apart any upholstery project. In the end, you will upholster the new fabric in the exact opposite order that you took it apart. I’ve had many times, especially while doing more complicated projects, where I was certain I would intuitively remember the order in which I was supposed to put the fabric back on. Unfortunately, I was sometimes wrong.

Luckily, for a drop seat, the order is often quite simple, and on my Mid-Century Modern office chair the only tricky part was remembering which direction the legs went back onto the frame. I used a socket wrench to undo the screws on the underside. Then I used a screwdriver to work up under the rubber banding. Under this banding were hidden screws that needed to be removed. Once unscrewed, the plastic backing came right off of the front upholstery piece.

In this situation, I wanted to keep it nice and simple and did not remove the old fabric. Technically, however, a professional upholsterer would remove all old fabric, and often replace the old foam and batting involved in a chair project. Removing the old fabric is especially important if your drop seat fits inside the frame of an old wooden chair. Extra bulky fabric puts pressure on the joints of the chair and can eventually make it wobbly and unstable.

Under side of chair being taken apart

Straighten and Cut Your Fabric

Once you have dissected the chair, it is time to plan the fabric. Think about the pattern printed on the fabric. Unless you are going for an asymmetrical look, find a center place on your fabric that will make your upholstery job look symmetrical. This is where you will want to line up the center of your upholstery piece.

Once you are extremely confident that you have a plan for where each piece needs to be cut from, you can either use your old fabric as a pattern, or drape the new fabric over the upholstery piece, straighten, and cut. However, as they say, measure twice and cut once!

Staple the Fabric

Now time for the fun part! Line up the center of the fabric to the center of the chair and begin stapling one to two staples in the center of each side of  the upholstery piece. Make sure to pull the fabric nice and snug, and use your hand to smooth out extra slack. With each staple make sure to double check that you are still centered front to back and side to side.

Once you have a couple of staples anchoring all four sides of your pieces, it’s time to slowly start working towards the corners. A common beginner’s mistake is to sink staples down one side of the piece, but this results in off-centered fabric. Instead, it is better to sink a couple of staples on each side, check for centering, pull gently (but firmly) and then move to the other side. Keep this rotation process until you get to corners.

 

Order To Stapling Upholstery:

Diagram with numbers marking where to staple down upholstery fabric

Corner the Fabric

There are several ways to staple down a corner, so refer back to your original images to see how the chair was originally upholstered. Here are some examples of a few types of corners and tricky areas, which you can read more about here.

Upholstery fabric stapled to corner of chair
Upholstery fabric stapled to corner of chair
Upholstery fabric stapled to corner of chair

Reassemble the Chair

Once you are done stapling, and have trimmed off excess fabric, it is time to put everything back together.  Remember to reference your earlier pictures.

Underside of chair being put back together

Enjoy it!

Congrats! Project complete! Pat yourself on the back and take a seat.

Finished upholstered chair with butterfly fabric

Check out my other upholstery projects with the help of Spoonflower!

Piano Bench

Featured design:
TRIANGULOS – green and ivory by marcador

Bunk Bed

Featured design:
Enchanted Bunny Prince by nouveau_bohemian

About the Author
Jewel Marlowe headshot

Jewel Marlowe

Jeweled Interiors

Jewel Marlowe from Jeweled Interiors is an interior designer, blogger, and Instagrammer with an affinity for color, pattern, and unexpected designs. Her unique looks have been featured in HGTV Magazine, Washington Post, Origin Magazine, and many online publications. She accredits her eclectic and gathered taste to her many moves and travels as a military spouse. Jewel now lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and their four children who she has ALMOST convinced that constant home construction and updates are a very normal part of life as they makeover their home for her blog.

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4 comments

Leave a Reply to Earl J (Maui Boy) Cancel Reply

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  • Earl J (Maui Boy)

    Aloha Jewel… and our favorite Latin lurker, et al. (wink)
    What a grand idea…!
    Now, IF I could only figure out how to disassemble my favorite computer/sewing chair, AND convince myself I could reassemble it… LOL
    * * *
    Superb concept… thank you very much for sharing your insight with we’uns… and us’uns… from the Ole North State… (grin)
    * * *
    “Born on Valley Isle,
    Home now, North Carolina;
    Aloha y’all…”
    * * *

    Until that time. . .

    • That’s great Holly! Thanks for sharing and best of luck with your projects.

      -Amy
      Spoonflower

  • Carrie Achilles

    I love finding the right thing in a resale store but sometimes it is the defect that has lowered the price that has me buying it. This time it was the solid dark puce seat cover. Spoon flower provided the love. Because I didnt want the pattern matchy-matchy but did want the colors to be the same, so I inverted the direction of the fabric but used the same end of a fat quarter