I just finished recovering my estate-sale find Mission-style wood rocker. For my first upholstery job of this kind, the chair turned out fantastic. Looking back on it, however, there are definitely a few items I wish I’d done or that I would suggest for other do-it-yourselfers out there before you dive into a project like this. From my experience, below are my top 10 tips to consider before you reupholster a chair of your own:
The Top 10 Tips to Consider Before you Reupholster
1. Inspect your chair before you buy it
Finding an awesome looking piece of furniture for cheap makes my heart light up like Christmas. It can be thrilling to just go for it and assume you can take the project on without seriously considering the amount of time it’s going to take. Look over your chair thoroughly before you purchase. Make sure the wood is in good condition and that the springs are all there. If the frame needs any work, you’ll have to do that before you begin any upholstery. After inspecting all the ins and outs, make sure it’s still something you have the time to complete and want to take on.
2. Do your research
Before you dive in, do some research on the best steps to take for your redo. Springs seemed overwhelming to me, but they were actually pretty easy. Plus, a video tutorial I found was amazing and definitely gave me a good direction to move in, even if I didn’t follow it word for word. Research will give you a good starting place for what materials you will need and the steps to take to complete your project.
3. Take your time
Yes, it’s nice to move quickly and finish a project, but something like this, you’ll want to take your time to do it right. You may even need to redo something, I know I did. In the end, if you put the time in to do it well, you’ll be more satisfied with the outcome and have a more long-lasting end product.
4. Buy the right materials
If you bought something for your project, but it’s not right, go back and get the correct item. I had purchased a 4″ foam, and then sadly realized that was going to be way too tall for my chair and had to go back and get 2″ foam. Similarly to taking your time, using the right materials is going to give you a better final piece. If you can, return the unused item, or hold on to it for a future project.
5. If you can afford it, buy a little more than you think you’ll need
If you haven’t done a project like this before, you may consider buying more material/foam/batting/twine than you think you may need. This gives you some wiggle room in case of mistakes that inevitably happen. It’s easy to have a miss-measurement or a bad cut. For fabric or vinyl, the additional size will give you more grip to make sure you can pull the fabric taught easily. You can always cut away, but you can’t add more.
6. Use the existing materials as a reference
When dismantling the old upholstery, think of it as a guide for creating the new upholstery. Save a tack or staple to use as a size reference when you go to buy new tacks. Take it with you in a baggy. I’m visual, so bringing materials along is always helpful. Measure the old foam, batting and/or fabric to get an idea of what size you will need for the new upholstery. Make sure to add additional length width on fabrics; What came off the chair would be a trimmed size and you’ll need more to work with.
7. Make sure your staples are straight on your final layer
This actually caused me my biggest headache on this project and I wish it was something I had taken more time to get right while I was doing it. On the final layer it’s hard to go back and fix something without messing up your pretty new vinyl or the wood on your chair. Measure twice, staple once.
8. Mark your materials so you know where they came from
On my project there were large wooden dowels attached to the chair frame that I had removed at the beginning of the project. When taking them out, I quickly marked them with a permeant marker so I knew which side they came from when it came time to put them back in place.
9. Get creative
Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for to complete the project, or is that item out of your budget? Make use of what you have or what you can find. I used bias tape as a creative solution for creating a clean tack edge on the chair. I also used decorative tacks I had on hand from an estate-sale score.
10. Use the right tools
A big part of being a craftsman is having the right tools. Before you start a project, considering buying the right tool for your job. If it’s something you plan on using again, the tool could be a great investment. If you don’t own it, or can’t spend the money to buy it, see if you can borrow the tool from a friend or family member to complete the project. About half the tools in my garage came from my mom or dad’s house. The right tool is going to save you from huge headaches.
Want to learn more about my process?
For more on my personal reupholstering process and my Mission rocker makeover check out: Mission Rocker Reupholstery: Part 1 for advice on removing the old upholstery, replacing and hand tying springs. For the final covering, including cutting and adding foam, batting and vinyl, check out Mission Rocker Reupholstery: Part 2. I hope you found these tips to consider before you reupholster your own chair useful as you take on your next project!
Already done upholstery? Are there any other words of advice you’d add to the list?