The Definitive Guide to Reupholstering

Definitive Guide to Reupholstering

You are likely here because you are considering reupholstering that one piece of furniture yourself. Congratulations! You are about to embark on a centuries-old process that is both exciting and a little nerve-racking. Fortunately, giving your home a new look with upholstery doesn’t have to be intimidating. All you need is a little know-how, a few tools and some patience to do the job right.

Choosing the right piece

Every tutorial on “How to reupholster” starts off with choosing the right piece of furniture. Since upholstery is a time-consuming process, you want to choose a piece that is structurally sound, without any broken wood. This is vital to your success. If your furniture has a broken frame or if the wood is not of high quality, it will be nearly impossible to achieve professional looking results. Pick an item that has good “bones” but an outdated or torn “skin”.

Pick out the right fabric for your item

Like it or not, there are “smart” fabric choices for the upholstery of each piece of furniture. As tempting as it is to put hand-woven silk on a footstool, it may not be the best choice if the footstool will be used often, placed in a sunny location, or exposed to children or pets. In order to pick the right fabric for your project, you must ask yourself these questions.

1. What is this purpose of this piece of furniture? If it is simply a decorative accent, you may be able to choose a more delicate fabric such as a silk or brocade. If you are reupholstering your primary sofa, you may want to consider microfiber, leather, or cotton that are known for being easy to clean and very durable.

2. Where will this piece live? Will it sit under a window where it is exposed to sunlight? Is it in a seldom-used space? Again, this will help you determine the type and durability of your fabric.

3. Do you expect to upholster this item again in the future? While the previous two questions helped you determine how durable the fabric should be, this question is less about how long the finished piece will last and more about how trendy you want to be in the pattern you choose. If you are upholstering a small piece that is easily changed, you may want to select a trendier pattern than if you are reupholstering your entire sofa.

Gather your materials

Once you have settled on the perfect fabric for your piece, it’s time to gather some additional materials that will make the process simpler.

  • Outer fabric of your choice – Be sure to allow for additional yardage to match your patterns so it flows seamlessly from the cushion to the back to the arms of your chair. The less frequently the pattern repeats, the more yardage you will need to match it appropriately.
  • Inner fabric – In most cases, you will need an additional fabric to stabilize your outer fabric. This helps reinforce thin or stretchy fabric and keep it in place.
  • Upholstery buttons – If you intend to add tufts to your finished piece, you will need upholstery buttons. Unlike the buttons you find on a typical shirt, upholstery buttons can be recovered to match your upholstery. Many also have a screw-in back that allows you to install them into a headboard or seat back.
  • Zippers – If you are upholstering a chair cushion, sofa or pillow, you will need a way to take the cover off. A heavy-duty metal zipper will do the trick.
  • Trim – Welting, piping, decorative upholstery nails, or other decorative trim is a must for beautifully professional results. (As a side note: Many times welting can be made to match your upholstery fabric. You can also purchase a ready-to-use welting in a coordinating or contrasting color.)
  • Foam – Medium density foam is ideal for chairs and couch cushions. Over time and with use, the foam inside cushions tends to break down. If you are spending the time to reupholster your piece, it is best to spend the money on new foam. The depth of your foam will depend on where it is being placed. Deeper foam is perfect for seats, a shallower foam is ideal for seat backs.
  • Batting – Dacron batting is often used to cover the exterior of a foam piece for additional softness and pliability. Many times, this additional batting is what gives your chair its smooth finish.
  • Coil springs, burlap or jute webbing – If the deck of your piece needs to be reinforced, these materials will help you do just that. Again, choosing a piece that is already in good shape will help you avoid having to reconstruct the deck from scratch.
  • Staples (that fit your staple gun)
  • Polyester Upholstery Thread

Gather your tools

While it is possible to reupholster a piece of furniture without any specialized tools, there are a few things that will make the process much easier.

  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • Nail remover if the hammer doesn’t have one
  • Nail set (for upholstery nails)
  • Heavy-duty staple remover – Of course a flat-head screwdriver will do in a pinch.
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine – There are some projects that can be done without a sewing machine while others will require you to sew seams and welting into your piece before it is attached to the frame.
  • Heavy sharp curved upholstery needle
    Serrated knife
  • Staple gun – A manual staple gun is acceptable but a pneumatic staple gun will save your hand from fatigue.
  • Chalk
  • Needle guard – These are available at most upholstery fabric stores and will help you pull your upholstery needle through layers of fabric and foam.

How to reupholster

Before you begin reupholstering an item, you may want to brush up on your high school home economics and shop skills. Threading a needle, sewing with a sewing machine, using a pattern, and hammering a nail will all come in handy when upholstering. Even if you are not super skilled in one or more of these areas, you can still achieve great results.

1. Remove the existing fabric, carefully.

As tempting as it is to rip the old fabric off, removing it carefully does two things. First, it allows the salvageable foam to remain intact and second, it lets you use the old fabric as a template for the new fabric. If your piece has antique nailheads, you may want to remove these carefully so you can reuse them at a later time. Take the time to remove the existing foam, any horsehair, batting, or other underlayments, so you are left with the frame and any coils or springs.

2. Clean and inspect the frame.

Now is the time to use all of your vacuum attachments to get any dust, dirt, mites, loose foam, or other undesirable residues out of your furniture. Take a few minutes to inspect the wood and replace any parts of the frame that you could not see before. Replace any springs, jute webbing or burlap. If you want to stain or paint the wood, now is the time.

3. Figure out your measurements.

Using the old fabric as a template, begin tracing around each piece of the new under fabric with chalk. This will help you double check out much fabric you will need to complete the piece. Be sure to account for any additional foam. Remember higher foam = more fabric. Carefully cut around the edges. Repeat with the top fabric, taking care to match patterns from piece to piece. (Tip: Number your pieces with chalk and take a picture where they go on your furniture. This will make it the cover much easier to reassemble when the time comes.) Measure foam for any seat cushions and cut with a serrated or electric knife. Cut a piece of Dacron batting to fit around the entire piece of foam.

4. Sew, if necessary. Staple, if not.

Not all reupholstering projects will require sewing. However, if you are upholstering a sofa, recovering couch cushions, or upholstering an armchair, there may be a fair amount of sewing required to add welting or install a zipper. Otherwise, place the foam and batting in place and begin stretching the underlayment and top fabric on the new cushion. Begin on one side, stapling in place, then move to the opposite side. Fold corners into themselves for a finished look and staple in place, trimming any excess fabric once it is in place.

5. Add trim.

Welting will need to be sewn into the pieces of upholstery before it is stapled into place. However, buttons, nail heads, and decorative trim can be hand sewn onto the piece once the upholstery is stapled onto the deck.

6. Give your piece the once over.

Once you are finished, wipe off any excess chalk, trim any visible threads and add additional fasteners or staples to hold your upholstery in place.

You did it! Congratulations!

Now stand back and admire your handiwork.
If you are still confused or are rethinking your upholstery adventure, don’t worry. The fabric experts at Beckenstein Fabrics have your back. Not only can they help you select the fabric that is right for your project, but they can also offer tips and tricks to help you achieve the best-finished product possible. Feel like you might be in over your head? Our professional upholstery services can have your piece looking better than new in no time. Call today to schedule your free consultation.