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October 20, 2010


No project has seemed as intimidating nor as daunting as upholstery. I was determined to learn and with the support of my husband (who gave me the tools as a birthday present) and local thrift stores, I started my first project. I choose a simple chair (click to see the uglyiest of ugly yellow chair) from the Goodwill for $25, picked a delicious Joel Dewberry from our Upholstery section and stopped. Where to begin? How to begin? I took a moment to panic and then visited my library and choose a few books to help me get started and more importantly, finished.

chair welt.jpg

The best book that I have found is the Complete Step by Step Upholstery by David Sowle. It is filled with tools, notions, tips, detailed pictures and various projects. I could not have done my chair without this book. Every question I had, every stage I needed courage to complete was in this book. There are some tips and lessons I would like to pass on outside of books.

chair bottom.JPG

1)      Take pictures, before and during your upholstery. As much as you hate the old fabric on your thrift store chair, take detailed pictures of how it is pieced and where tuck and seams are placed. Continue taking pictures as you rip off the old fabric. You never know where some secret to securing the fabric or a special way of adding a nice detail will be hidden.

2)      Carefully remove the old pieces of fabric and keep them as patterns

3)      Do not skip the muslin and fleece step. It will really smooth out your piece and make it look amazing.

4)      Get the right tools but they don't need to be new. Check out eBay or thrift stores

5)      Don't ask your husband for his opinion on fabric. I did and he didn't like the thumbnail picture I showed him but he totally loves it in context on the chair.

6)      Don't be afraid to splurge on a print you will LOVE. You saved on the chair (only $25!) and you are saving on labor. Check out the prices of new furniture pieces online and set your fabric budget by that.  A comparable chair for $700, that $22/yd fabric is not looking so expensive after, especially if you know in your heart you will love it for years. A $5/yd fabric that you will change every year turns out to be not so cheap after a few years.

chair leg.jpg

I learned very quickly that upholstery is very little sewing and more hammering and folding. It is a great stress reliever. It does take planning and some creative manipulation. I recommend lightly tacking in your fabric as you go and then going back and really nailing them in once you are sure the fabric is where you want it. Also, once I figured out placement for fabric, I would take my scissors and snip into the fabric and rip it the rest of the way. This makes a nice straight line, no jagged cuts.

It took me about a month to reupholster this chair but with practice I can get the time down for next time. I also had to work in my living room, which meant cleaning up every time I had to stop. I ended up keeping my tools and notions in a large rubber bin with a lid for easy transport and to keep little hands away from needles, tacks and tools. Also, Prudent Baby's tutorial on double welt is awesome! I watched it while I sewed. Making my own welt really finished the project. I applied it with a glue gun and was really impressed with how well it adhered and finished the look.  I am so happy with my chair and am actively searching craigslist for my next project! I am thinking a wingback in a cool linen or houndstooth- Yummy.


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Amazing! I too have purchased "the ugliest Chair in the Salvation Army" for $20, with great intentions and once I have more space I will move it out of storage and give it a shot! Your chair looks wonderful and I can only hope to have similar results.

Beautiful! Especially for your first project! I LOVE the fabric you chose! I'd think seriously about the wingback chairs though. The arms can be difficult! I'm working on two, one of which I had done before, but was destroyed by my kitties because I didn't get kittie-proof fabric. And I'll never do another one! I strongly recommend two books: Singer Upholstery Basics Plus: Complete Step-by-Step Photo Guide by Steve Cone AND Simply Upholstery: Step-by-Step, Renewing Your Favorite Furniture by Editors of Sunset Books. They both devote a lot of information to wing chairs, and have very good photos, drawings and instructions. Actually, the first project I did--a sofa with three attached back cushions--turned out much better. And I had to match stripes on that! But once the bug has bitten, you will always find a project. I have!

I absolutely love Joel Dewberry! His fabrics are fabulous for so many types of projects from clothing to upholstery. I have used his cotton prints for handbags and totes!

Wow! I can't tell you how many times I've really, really wanted to recover an upholstered piece! I tried way back in the Dark Ages but didn't have the carry-through attitude. But this...

This piece, is beautiful, Tara! This piece is beyond beautiful and it's not just that gorgeous fabric, either! You have really set the bar high for us.

I think that I will start small--maybe an ottoman that I have in my living room. Thank you SO much for the inspiration! (AND for the book recommendation!)

it is the best for another. so keep baying this iron.Most orders will ship in approx.
Rhinestone Iron

How much fabric did you end up using for this chair?

Your chair came out beautifully! I also LOVE Joel Dewberry. I wish Fabric.com carried more of his new line of fabrics! Maybe I will try this too!

I currently have the ugliest chair ever sitting in my living room, with some Amy Butler draped over it. I can't wait to start. Thank you for all your tips!!

7 yds maybe little less

BEAUTIFUL job! Thank you for the pointers!!!

I love your perspective on splurging for fabric. So true, but I just couldn't justify it to myself before. Now I can! Awesome pictures, here I come!

I am wavering on doing my next chair because it is an arm chair. Thanks for the encouragement!!! And thanks for the link for double welting. I am DEFINITELY going to look at that.

Overall, a GREAT post!!!

I really want to use this fabric on an old chair in my parent's basement, but the closest I can find online is raspberry! Have they stopped selling this color, or is it just the lighting? Thanks!

Your chair is beautiful! I hope I can be just as successful!

Lovely piece, really well done/fabric matching/etc.

Tara, I was wondering - I assume this piece has springs...did you redo the hand-tying of the cylindrical coil springs? If so, did you have any trouble and/or have any tips?

I began an antique chair project long ago, and it is still sitting in my attic, as I could not seem to get the tension-ing correct. Perhaps I should have left that part alone, but I removed it, as only the frame was valuable enough to save (pest damage).

Plus...nailing webbing nails into old, dry wood is always a potential disaster: has anyone found a way around this? For example, is it better to use an air-powered brad nailer, sacrificing authenticity to avoid splitting the wood?

Any thoughts welcome. Way to go on your chair! Would that I had started w/ a Goodwill find like you...now *that's* smart! :-)

I haven't gotten to full reupholstery yet. I just ripped off the old fabric and applied new.

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This page contains a single entry by published on October 20, 2010 1:12 PM.

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