I just couldn’t let my chair sit sadly in the corner anymore. I had to do something. With a broken arm and fabric stained with age, my poor little reading chair had seen better days. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. It’s been a part of the family for as long as I can remember. My mother made a new cover for it when I was still a child. It earned its place in our household as a companion to epic novels and countless pet cuddles. It deserved a second chance, a comeback. And today, I’m finally ready for my chair reveal.
You see, my mother (and grandmother) raised me to take care with my things. I like to think it’s because the more love you put into your things, the more love returns to you. When I moved into my own place three years ago, my favorite reading chair tagged along as a gift from my mother. As its health gradually decreased, I just couldn’t bring myself to ditch it. In my heart, I knew this chair was meant to be a comeback kid.
In recent months, I rediscovered my love for carefully taking things apart and trying to breathe new life into them. So, I set to take apart my chair to fix its arm and dress it up for the next chapter in its life. You can read all about that here. I’m happy to reveal the results of my first major upholstery project!
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Creating a Comeback Kid
I remember my mother saying once that the cheapest things are the things you already own. On a limited budget, we don’t always have a couple hundred dollars to throw into new furniture. Plus, my little reading chair held so many memories between its seams. I read the final chapters of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows* with my legs kicked up over the arm. It’s where I’d sometimes sit listening to my grandpa telling stories about the war or playing the piano. This chair had witnessed too much to be tossed aside without a second glance.
So, I did the unthinkable. I took it apart. And I couldn’t be happier that I did.
By any standards, I had no right taking apart that chair (which you can read about in this post). I’ve never re-upholstered more than a dining room seat. My sewing skills are maybe slightly above the basics, but I’d never done something of this magnitude before. Still, the chair begged to be brought back to life again. It pleaded with me to love it again. I couldn’t resist a piece of furniture that held so many memories.
Plus, who doesn’t love a little redemption? 😉
Just to remind you. This is how it looked after I took it apart.
My Upholstery Tips for Newbies
I personally believe anyone can tackle any DIY, given the right attitude. Still, there was a clear learning curve for this project. For one, I’d never tackled an upholstery project of this magnitude. I knew it required more than just a staple gun and a bunch of fabric, like all my previous upholstery endeavors. This project required finesse, patience, and attention to detail.
I already shared my tips for taking apart and upholstery project like this one in this post, so here I will only include those tips I discovered for helping with put it back together. I will also say that I’m still working on the seat cushion, due to my hand-me-down sewing machine needing some minor repairs. My hand sewing just isn’t up to snuff for this kind of project, so I’ve opted to wait until I can repair my sewing machine to re-cover the seat.
Buy Extra Fabric
For this project, I bought the remainder of the roll of fabric, which equaled 6 ⅜ yards. This ended up being the perfect amount without having to re-cut any pieces. I highly suggest buying extra fabric in case you need to adjust the size of any pieces as you go. If you saved the old pieces you took off (like I suggested in my last post), then just make sure you cut the pieces a little big. You can always trim pieces, but you can’t add volume to it once it’s been cut. That being said, an extra quarter to half-inch on all sides should be sufficient excess for a beginner.
If you choose a patterned fabric, like I did, you will definitely want to buy extra fabric, because lining up the pattern will determine the pieces of fabric you have to use. Before you cut a piece, drape it over the part you’re working on to determine how you like the way the pattern goes. If you’re just using a solid color fabric, you can deal with a little less excess. If you’re worried about the extra complications with using a pattern, choose a small patterned fabric, one that looks the same no matter what direction you turn it. Or, go with a solid color you love.
Use the Old Pieces as a Guide
If you followed my tips in taking your project apart, you already have a pattern to follow for the new fabric. I went as far as to label the old pieces of fabric by the part of the chair they covered, so I knew where to put each new piece. Since I took pictures of the deconstruction, I also had a guide for the reconstruction of the chair’s coverings. Many of the pieces just required a staple gun to reattach. However, there were a few pieces on the arms that required a special upholstery needle to get right. Since I took lots of pictures of these pieces during deconstruction, I was able to replicate everything with relative ease.
As I said before, drape before you cut. You’ll also have to cut slits in pieces once you get to securing them to make room for legs and smooth draping. I highly suggest cutting these in place, instead of in the initial cut. They will likely differ slightly from the old piece.
Some pieces require being secured before others are draped over or around them. Pay attention to the details while you’re taking things apart. This way, you’ll be able to appropriately layer later on. Working smarter will save you from re-doing your work in the end. If you’re not sure of something, take the old pieces and drape them where they used to go. You’ll be able to tell which pieces you’ll need to secure first. For me, there ended up being a lot of trial and error during this process because I didn’t pay close enough attention. Luckily I didn’t have to remove any big pieces. I just had to pull a few staples back to secure something I should have done earlier.
As I mentioned in my dining chair upholstery project, it’s best to secure a piece of fabric in the middle and work out to the sides. This is the best way to keep your pattern draping intact. Pull pieces as tight as possible before securing them so the fabric doesn’t bunch.
Some pieces may require some hand sewing with an upholstery needle. This sounds much harder than it is. The needle is curved so that you can stick it into your upholstery project and it curves back toward you. This makes for attaching a back panel much easier than trying to do it with only staples.
Pay Attention to Construction
I cannot emphasize this enough. There will likely be pieces that require extra attention to detail. My chair arms had little pieces that got nailed into place at the end. Because I pried them off and took them apart so quickly, it took me a good 10 minutes before I realized that they put the nails through the cardboard piece before covering it. I’d figured out how to use the upholstery needle to pull the edges of the draped arm fabric in neatly, but for some reason attaching these pieces stumped me for some time. Ultimately, I pulled up the batting on the cardboard and the holes I found revealed the answer.
The lesson here is that there will always be tricky bits to push you to learn, which is half the fun of these DIY projects. 😉
Pick Something Within Your Range of Expertise
If you’re not sure you’re ready to tackle something with a lot of sewing involved, look closely at the piece you’d like to tackle. Typically if it looks like there isn’t a lot of tiny detailing, you’re probably safe. Or, start with a smaller project like a seat cushion or an ottoman to test the waters. Typically the more square or rectangle the project, the easier it will be. If there seems to be a lot of tufting, plating, or small details, it will likely require more sewing.
For my chair, the little detailing on the front of the arms and the seat cushion were the only detailed pieces. Everything else was a matter of sewing in a straight line and utilizing my staple gun wisely. Even then, with a little trial and error (and a few extra pieces of fabric), I was able to accomplish my goal.
Tools You May Need:
For a project like this, you will likely need the following tools:
Roughly 6-7 yards of fabric (or what is appropriate for your project), plus a little extra
Sewing Machine — I have an older version of this one*. But, I also really like this one*.
Curved Upholstery Needle or Kit*
Staple Gun* and Staples
Flathead screwdriver* (for removing staples)
Pliers* (for removing any rebel staples that want to remain in the wood)
Regular stapler* — Although, it’s better if it’s a little heavy duty.
Upholstery Thread* (or thread that’s on the thicker side)
Upholstery Tack Strip*
The only other thing you need is patience and lots of it! 😉
Finally! The final reveal! I’m so excited to reveal the results (minus the seat cushion — but I’ll be sure to update these photos once I repair my sewing machine. Here are the results of all my hard work!
I love that the pillow covers I made a while back are the perfect match to the new fabric! It’s the perfect addition to our small guest bedroom upstairs. I can’t wait until we refinish the floors to make this room even more beautiful. 🙂
The perfect spot for a cup of tea and a good book. I hope you enjoyed learning about my chair reveal and how my first major upholstery project went! If you loved this and want to see more from Adventure & Home, please subscribe to my email list at the end of this post!
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