How to Re-Cover Chairs

Written by: gadgetguru

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An easy way to fix up old or used furniture. Why didn't we do this earlier?

Step 1: Before

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Here's an old chair with a ratty seat cover.

We got it from Craig's List about three years ago. The seats had been re-covered in a neat red silk that looked good but didn't wear well. After months of ignoring the shredded red silk, we finally yanked it off to discover the original black fabric, which also looks pretty bad.

Since we were planning to have 40 people over for Thanksgiving the next day, it was the perfect time to start a new project. Right.

Step 2: Find your fabric

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We headed off to the local fabric store to find some nice, thick upholstery fabric. This will wear better than that thin silk, and hopefully stand up to years of daily abuse at our kitchen table. I chose some nice swirly blue stuff that should look good with the dark brown wood of the chairs.

Thrift stores are also a great source for material- pick up an old jacket, skirt, tablecloth, or anything else with a nice thick fabric and neat design. Just make sure it can stand up to the level of use you'll be giving it.

You don't need much fabric- just the size of the seat plus a couple of inches around each edge of the seat. Remember to measure your seats beforerunning off to the fabric store, or else you'll have lots of extra fabric, or worse, not quite enough. (I'm planning to make cloth napkins from my leftovers. Eventually.)

Remove the chair seat and place it upside-down against the back of the fabric. (Remember the good stuff should be facing up when you're done.) Make sure it's properly aligned with your fabric's pattern, especially if there are stripes involved. Trim around the edge to leave enough fabric to fold over on all sides. Depending on the thickness of your cushion, this could be 2-5 inches.

Step 3: STAPLE!

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This is the fun part- an excuse to use a staple gun. Ours is a sweet electric version that can punch through most anything. In any case, be careful- don't staple your fingers, your eyes, your leg, or anything else but the fabric and the seat back.

Start with the flat front side, and staple from the center out towards the edges. You want to make sure the fabric is smooth and tight, without bunches between your staples. This is much like wrapping a present- if you can do that, you can re-cover a chair.

Now spin the seat, and tug the back of the fabric into position. Pull firmly against the front row of staples to be sure you've gotten rid of any wrinkles or bunches. Again, start stapling at the center and spread outwards.

When the seat back starts to curve, take folds/tucks in your fabric. The goal is to have all the bunching UNDER the seat, not on top. Try a few different things, and see how it works. Remember, you can always pull the staples out and try again until you get it right. 

Staple the sides, again tugging firmly to make sure the fabric is tight over the top of the seat. 

Do the corners last. I found it best to take a fold on each side of the corner, then make a pleat along the diagonal- look at the pictures for inspiration, then do what works best for you. Again, yank staples and re-do anything you don't like.

Things to think about:
1) How many staples to use? My staples were kind of small, and I love stapling, so I used more than absolutely necessary. Scale as appropriate for your fabric, staple size, and entertainment, but make sure you use enough to share the strain across your fabric. 
2) Where do the screws go? If you have to screw your seat back on, take care not to block the screw holes with lots of fabric or staples. You can go through one layer of fabric easily, but staples are a problem.
3) Is it tidy? Be sure to hammer down any staples that aren't flush, and trim any extraneous blobs of fabric. 

Step 4: Stain protect

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We sprayed the new seat covers down with Scotch Guard. This little can held enough to do only six seats; luckily we only needed four. 

Set up some milk crates or other support structure, and spray the seats according to package directions. Be sure to do this OUTSIDE, as the vapors are pretty foul and probably carcinogenic. 

Let them dry overnight in a protected but well-ventilated area. If you can put them in a porch or garage this will protect you from the vapors while also protecting your shiny new seats from dangerously well-fed birds.

Step 5: Reassemble and use

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When the seats are dry, reassemble your chairs. 

These required a screwdriver, which made Eric fussy- I think he knocked his knuckles against the rail when installing the center-back screw.

Use and enjoy your newly-refreshed seating, and wonder why you didn't do this earlier. Start checking out the rest of your furniture, and wonder whether recovering a couch is really that much harder.