When I pulled out that first staple, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d never taken apart a chair’s upholstery before. What lay beneath was a mystery. I only knew the life of this chair wasn’t over. It begged to be loved. It begged for a second chance. Taking apart this chair meant giving it the chance to be its best again, and I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. I love upholstery projects. You can see how I re-upholstered our dining room chairs here. It was such an easy way to update the look of our dining set and I LOVE the fabric we chose, which is ironically a bit similar to what we chose for this chair project. 😉
I poised myself cross-legged on the floor. The chair stood on it’s back with its bottom facing me. I took a deep breath and steadied my nerves. Yes, this chair had cost me nothing. It was a hand-me-down from my mother when I moved out — one of many pieces. Still, I wanted to treat it with care. If I got to the point when I thought I was in over my head, I would stop. I pulled out staple after staple, removing the black mesh-like fabric from the bottom. After that point, there was no turning back. Take pictures at every point, so you can use them for reference when you’re re-upholstering the chair, which I’ll show you in part 2 of this series next week!
Start from the bottom
If you haven’t noticed by looking at pretty much any upholstered chair, there is no clear beginning point for this project except the bottom. The mesh-like black material commonly used in upholstery prevents dust from getting inside and hides the inner workings of the chair, including springs and webbing. When you remove this material, it reveals the first of many layers of staples. I found that this chair had been recovered at least once before, because there were two completely different styles of staples in tight corners. I found thin, copper-like staples amidst the endless staple gun staples. Plus, I believe my mom had it recovered at some point when I was growing up. 😉
Anyways, as you remove staples, the layers of the upholstery gradually begin to reveal themselves. I released all the edges attached to the bottom, beginning to peel them back. I uncovered the back of the chair first, then I pulled up the fabric underneath the seat. This revealed more of the staples for the arms. After I removed the arm fabric, I was able to remove the remainder of the seat and back fabric. Doing it in this methodical manner allowed me to see how the pieces were layered, so I know what order (generally) to put things back together in.
Don’t just rip and pull away
Be careful when you’re pulling pieces off. Mostly, because those pieces can be used as a pattern for your new pieces. That can make measuring and cutting much easier if you don’t have professional upholstery experience. Take the time to remove the staples. You’ll need to remove them anyways to put new staples in. Taking apart your chair with care will help you in the long run. I used three tools for taking apart my chair’s upholstery. The following links are to the tools I actually own or similar tools if I could not find the specific ones I own.
Flathead Screwdriver* (I used the one from this set that wedged nicely beneath the staples)
Pliers* (the one to the far left in the picture is the pair I used)
Most of this project I only needed the screwdriver to pry staples out, but occasionally I needed the pliers to extract stubborn staples. I found several stitched seams that I needed to pull out before continuing. The back panel was stitched on with an upholstery needle, which you can get in a furniture repair needle kit for about $3 from Joann’s. There was a seam under the seat cover, and one on each of the arms. Both were easy to remove once I ripped the seams to reveal more staples underneath.
Treat it with Respect
Let me tell you, this chair has taken a beating over the years. Its poor arm definitely felt the pressure of many legs being swung over it. But, it still deserves to be treated with respect and care. I didn’t just pull at the fabric to reveal its undersides. I took out every staple with care. Not only will that fabric help serve as a guide for measuring and cutting later, but it’s stood the test of time. It deserves to be handled with gentle, patient hands. If you don’t think you have that in you, upholstering may not be the best project for you.
Okay, you may think I’m starting to talk crazy at this point, but I firmly believe if you treat the things you own with care, they will give back to you in kind. That includes when you’re trying to repair, upcycle and makeover your furniture. Respect the “good bones” and make it new with care and patience. You’ll be rewarded in the end.
Taking Apart to Put Back Together
As I mentioned before, I let the chair lead me when taking it apart. That helped tell me the steps I’d need to take later to put it back together with new fabric. With each step, I uncovered more and more of the batting. I actually had to make piles of the batted mess to remember which batting went where. While I have some extra batting from a previous project, I don’t actually need to replace the batting. It’s a little discolored in places, but it still holds its shape quite well. It doesn’t smell, either, which was my #1 concern when I say the discoloration. Taking apart this chair in the way that I did, helped me make a plan for putting it back together, pretty much in the opposite way I took it apart.
My Plan of Attack:
First, I’ll cover the part underneath the seat cushion, attaching it at the back and sides (leaving the front attachment for later).
Then, I’ll cover the back of the chair, stapling it at the bottom first, then pulling it over the top and adding staples to secure. Finally, I’ll pull the sides taught both underneath and above the arms, pulling it all the way around to the back before securing.
Next, I’ll do both of the arms. This is the most difficult part and requires multiple steps, some tack strip, and careful layering and needlework. I’ll leave the decorative touches for last.
Once the arms are both done, I’ll finish the rest of the fabric under the seat cushion, securing it to the bottom of the chair.
The last major pieces are the back panel and the dust cloth at the bottom. Then, I just add decorative features to the arms and I’m done!
Hopefully it will all go smoothly. I’ll find out soon enough! You’ll have to come back in 2 weeks for the big reveal! Sign up for my newsletter below so you don’t miss it! 😀
Until next time —
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