How to recover a chair seat

As part of preparing for the family dinner that we hosted on Good Friday, I had to put new cushions on our dining room chairs.

We had our dining room set refinished just before we moved into the farm, and since moving in the chairs have been naked.

Naked dining room chair

Yikes, naked chair!

I know it’s not a hard core renovation, but it is DIY, so I’m posting a brief how-to. I should be clear though that this was my first true upholstery project, and I am sure I made a few mistakes along the way. There are lots of great tutorials online by people much more skilled than me. However, here’s the method that I used for our dining room chairs.

1) Remove the seat from the frame. In my case, this meant unscrewing the seat from four corner braces that were underneath.

Bracket

Brace under the seat that holds the seat to the chair frame.

2) Cut your foam. My foam was 1 1/2 inches thick. I cut the foam about a 1/2 inch bigger all the way around than the seat (no measuring, I just eyeballed it). If you’re fancy or a professional, you’ll probably want to use a foam saw for this step, or even an electric knife. I didn’t have either of those things. I tried a utility knife but ended up having the best luck with my kitchen scissors. The edge wasn’t perfect, but it was smooth enough for me.

Cutting the foam

I allowed about a 1/2″ border all the way around.

3) Using the tips in this video, I tacked the foam to the top of the seat. I stapled about every 3 inches around the three outside edges. Again, if you’re fancy or a professional, you will likely use a pneumatic staple gun for this. I am neither of those things, so I used my manual staple gun that’s a hand-me-down from my father-in-law (pictured in the upper right below). It takes a bit more muscle, but you can do this project without fancy (or professional) tools.

Foam tacked in place

Foam tacked in place

4) The next step is batting. Cut a square of batting that’s about 8 inches bigger all the way around than your seat. Lay the foam covered seat face down on the batting, fold the batting around your seat and staple it on the bottom. Make sure to pull the batting taunt. This is the moment to make a nice smooth surface for your fabric. Start on the straight edges in the middle and work your way out to the edges. Do the corners last. For the corners, I didn’t have a special technique. Usually, I just tried to smooth and squish the batting into position and then I stapled the heck out of it. Once you’ve stapled all the way around, trim off the excess batting.

Batting

Bottom of the chair with the batting stapled in place

5) Flip over your seat and admire the lovely cloud that is now your cushion. At this point, you’re ready for fabric.

Chair seat ready for fabric

Chair seat ready for fabric

6) The process for installing your fabric is the same as the batting. Make sure to allow yourself lots of extra fabric all the way around your cushion, start in the centre of the front edge and staple in place. Pull your fabric taunt as you go and make sure it’s square on your cushion–especially important if you’re using a plaid or striped fabric. I probably stapled every inch or so. For the most part, I used 5/16″ staples, but I switched to longer staples for the corners where I had to staple through a lot of batting and pleats of fabric. The corners are the spots where you’ll have to spend a bit of time figuring out exactly how you want your cushion to look. For me, because I had rounded corners at the front, the best solution seemed to be a double pleat. It took some time to get my fabric to lay exactly the way I wanted it. And then it took some more time to make sure the other corners all looked roughly the same as my first pleat.

Pleats on the front corner

Pleats on the front corner

At the back I did a simple single pleat that’s pretty much hidden by the chair frame.

Back corner pleat

Pleat on the back corner (ignore the wrinkle)

7) Once your cushion is complete, the next step is to reattach the seat to the frame. In my case, this meant rescrewing the seat to the corner braces. I ended up having to get longer screws for this because, with the batting and fabric, the old screws were too short.

Finished chair

A finished chair

As I said at the beginning, this is my first upholstery project (beyond sewing toss cushions for the couch), and my verdict is that this is a very easy DIY. You don’t need any sewing expertise, and you need very minimal equipment. My chairs are not perfect by any means, but I still think they look great, and I’m really pleased with the fabric I chose.

I picked a linen blend that looks very natural. It has a slightly rough texture that I think is appropriate for a farm setting.

Close up of the new fabric

Close up of the new fabric

We’ve had this dining set for five years (I’ll save the story of how it came to be ours for another post), and during all that time the cushions have been torn, mis-matched and not at all cushy. It’s so nice to walk through the dining room and see the chairs finally finished.

Dining room set with finished chairs

Dining room set with finished chairs

For a more comprehensive (and professional) tutorial, I recommend you check out this video which I mentioned in step 3. I used this as a reference when I was beginning my project. Jenny on Little Green Notebook also tackles a lot of upholstery projects and posts great step-by-step tutorials, including this one for chairs that are much more complicated than mine.

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