Saturday, February 12, 2011

Project: Recover a chair with a vintage fabric

I picked up this pair of metal frame chairs off craigslist a couple years ago, and I've been planning to recover them for a while.  I finally took the plunge a couple weeks ago and tore down one of the chairs and used the old fabric as a pattern to cut out the fabric I wanted to use.

I went with this barkcloth fabric, which I picked up online from a large fabric seller. Let me start by saying I have no training and very little experience recovering chairs, but I want to learn and decrease my dependence on upholsterers for the simpler jobs.

The old fabric had been attached with a staple gun and a hot glue gun, but the backs of the seat and seat back did not have the finished look I wanted to get.

So, to tear down I had to unscrew four screws holding the back, and four holding the seat.  The screws all went into a ziplock bag, and the bag got taped to the frame of the chair. If I don't do this, I always lose the screws.

One thing I noticed was, the screw holes had enlarged and really didn't hold the screws tightly.

To fix that, I used an old trick of adding wood glue to the holes and stuffing toothpicks and wood shavings into the old screw holes.  Let that dry and then I cut off the excess with a utility knife.  This way, when I go to reattach the newly covered cushions, the screws will bite into the wood better.

I used a flat head screwdriver to pry up the staples and used a pair of needlenose pliers to pull the staples from the wood base of the seat, back, and arms.  The padding underneath was good, the original padding is still decent and the last time the chair had been recovered, some white batting had been added.

Since I wanted to get a finished look, I knew from what I had seen that I needed tack strips.  I checked a couple fabric and crafts stores locally but couldn't find tack strips, so I ordered them online.  They were pretty cheap, so I got enough to do several projects.  I also got some half-inch cardboard strips to use to establish a straight line when attaching the back of the fabric to the first side.

With the fabric cut to size, I got out my power staple gun and loaded it with 3/8" staples.  It was pretty easy to attached the fabric over the padding and get the fronts of the cushions looking good.  At that point, here's what I had.

Next, I went to the nearby office supply store and picked up a couple sheets of this thick white art paper, it's like cardboard but thin enough for what I needed.  I traced the outlines of the seat and back onto the paper and cut it out a little smaller than the size of each cushion.

Then I used the cardboard to cut out the shape of the material to use on the backs.  I added about an inch all the way around and cut the fabric.

Next I used a piece of the half-inch cardboard upholstery stripping and with the staple gun I attached one flat side of the fabric to the back side of the cushion.

Then I folded the fabric over  and had one part of the back established.  

Next I tucked the white cardboard under the fabric and stretched the fabric so it was flattened against the white cardboard.  Now I needed to use the metal tack strip.  

To do that, I cut the strip a little shorter than the length of the side I wanted to attach next.  Then I lined up the tack strip next to the edge of the white cardboard, and carefully pushed the fabric down onto the tacks one by one.

Next I had to fold the tack strip under the white cardboard, and line it up along the edge of the back of the cushion.  With a tack hammer, I carefully tapped one tack at a time so they were each part way into the wood back of the cushion.  I wanted to make sure the fabric was taught and lined up evenly.

Now I had two of the four sides attached to the back.  I didn't want to use staples and I didn't have curved tack strips, so I decided to get out the hot glue gun.  With the glue hot, I tucked the fabric under the white cardboard along one of the curved sides, and applied the hot glue along the edge.  Then  I did the same for the final curved side.  

I didn't quite get the back oriented evenly, you can kinda see that on the right side, the edge comes right up to the edge of the cushion, while on the left, there's a little space.  I could have tried to redo it, but I didn't.  I'll do better with the second chair.

Next I did the two arms of the chair.  That was easier, I just stapled the fabric all the way around.

The last step was reattaching everything to the chair frame.  It was a little awkward to get the cushions lined up and hold the screw and the power screwdriver.  One of those times when a third hand was needed, but I got everything lined up and together.  

I like the neater look of the back and underneath of the chair.

And here's the end result.

Pretty sweet, huh?  And I probably saved at least $100 doing it myself.  Yay me!


  1. Yay you is right! Nice job. Thanks for the tutorial.

  2. WOW you did a great job!
    I like the fabric you chose, it fits perfectly.

  3. Great job! I like how you also "finished" the underside.

    I tried my hand at recovering chairs about 15 years ago and found it wonderfully easy. I have a couple chairs I covered back then that need a new cover, and I think I will try finishing them off on the bottom like you did.

    Nice job, they look fantastic!

  4. They look beautiful! Great fabric choice. I love it. I have a chair I need to do too. Thanks for the inspiration. I've been trying to decide between some Knoll vinyl fabric and barkcloth.

  5. That looks really nice! love the material!

  6. Fantastic job! I recently recovered a footstool and found it much easier than I thought I would, so I'm quite keen to look for something else to recover now!

  7. Thanks everyone, now I have to get motivated to repeat the process on the other chair.

  8. That turned out fantastic! I had never heard of the tack strips, that was a brilliant idea!