How to Re-upholster an Antique Chair [Tutorial-Part 1]

I’m always super excited every time I take on a new re-upholstery project.  Most of the time, I’m so anxious to start on the piece that I forget to track my progress with pictures, and sometimes I’ll even forget to snap a “before” picture!  Clearly patience is a virtue I am lacking…Fortunately, this was not the case with my latest transformation!  I picked up this wonderfully ornate French Louis chair and knew right away that this was a special piece.  I’ve never seen so many beautiful details all in one chair, from the hand-carved floral detail, to the incredible bowed-scroll arms…I had a vision for this chair’s from the moment I saw it; and luckily, for the first time ever, I documented the entire mostly all of transformation process!

Due to the length of this chair’s transformation process, I’ve broken it up into two parts.  Part one is the DIY Upholstery Tutorial and part two is the DIY Double Welt Piping Tutorial 🙂

Here’s how the chair looked with I first picked it up.  It was in great condition and the detail was amazing…all it needed was a touch of modern TLC to bring it back and make it better than ever!

First things first, remove the original upholstery.  It’s important that you try to keep it as “in-tact” as possible.  This will enable you to use it as templates for cutting out your new fabric sections.

Once you’ve removed all of the old fabric, lay it out on top of your new fabric.  Use this to trace and cut out your new pieces.  I always like to add about an inch of extra fabric around the edges of my pieces, just in case!

With the old upholstery removed, its a great time to give the chair a good cleaning.  Dust, wipe down with warm, soapy water, vacuum if needed…After my chair was clean I gave it two coats of Deco Art’s White Gloss Enamel Paint (available at Michaels).  Then I sealed it using Americana’s gloss (non-yellowing) varnish top coat.  Mustering up all my patience (and believe me, WAITING is not a common practice of mine), I let the chair cure overnight.  The last thing you want to do is ruin a fresh paint job, or get paint on your new fabric!

americana gloss white paint

Now it’s time to adhere your new fabric to the chair.  You can replace the foam and seat batting on your chair as needed.  My seat was in great condition, so it didn’t require any new batting. Starting with the seat, lay your first piece of fabric into place. Use a staple gun to tack the fabric to the frame.  I always start with a staple in the center, then I add a few more to staples on either side of the center staple.  This will hold the fabric in place just enough to move to the front of the chair for the next step.

Now that you’ve secured the fabric on the back of the seat, it’s time to move to the front.  Pulling tightening, use the staple gun to add a staple in the front center of of the seat.  Then add a few more staples on either side of it.  Simply repeat the exact same method as on the back of the seat.

Now its time to move to the sides of the chair.  Since you’ve already cut your fabric into the seat shape, you shouldn’t have much trimming left to do.  The only adjustments you may need to make will be around the arms of the chair.  Align the fabric exactly how it will fall around the side of the chair, then using a pencil, make a small mark where the fabric will need to be cut to make room for the arm.  Use a pair of fabric scissors to notch out a section for the arm.  Be careful here!! Cut very little sections out at a time, if you cut too much, you’ll have to re-do the whole piece!  I always start by cutting two small slits on either side of the arm, then keep testing and cutting more as needed.

Once you’ve trimmed around the arm, pull tight and staple the fabric around the seat…repeat the same process on the other side of the chair.

The corners…this is the toughest part (in my opinion) when it comes to upholstery.  I always start in the front of the chair.  First, I pull the front fabric tight right around the corner of the chair, then add a staple.


Next, pull the fabric from the side of the chair tight and around to cover the area you just pulled over and stapled from the front. I always make the crease directly in the front so the fold is centered. Once you’ve got the fold just right, add staples on the bottom of the fabirc.

Continue this method for all four corners.  Once the corners are complete, you can add the rest of your staples and tighten up and loose spots.


Now that the seats complete, you can move onto the chair’s back.  Since you’ve already cut a template for your chair back, your fabric should be ready to staple in place!  Start by putting a staple on the top center, then the bottom center (remember to pull tight!).  Next, add staples around the edges, rotating from side to side after every couple of staples.  This will help to keep the fabric stretched evenly the entire time.

My chair had fabric in the back as well. Sorry, I did not get a picture of this process! However, if you have a fabric back, just simply follow the same method as above…

Once the chair’s covered in it’s new fabric, use a razor blade to trim off the excess fabric (outside of the staples).  This will clean up the chair and prepare it for its trim (I chose double welt for this particular piece).  The double welt tutorial will follow shortly!

Here’s how the chair turned out after it’s transformation!

View of the beautiful back!

Just a close up of the amazing hand carved detail on the top of the chair.  The glossy white paint really makes the detail pop!

Look at those gorgeous scroll arms…

Don’t forget to visit our tutorial on how to make double welt piping!

You can find this French Lacquer Louis Chair available for sale here.

6 responses to “How to Re-upholster an Antique Chair [Tutorial-Part 1]

  1. I was saying a little confused but ready to at least try. I was given my Grandmothers 2 wing chairs. In need of TLC & a lot of it. Here goes. They also have the accordion back! Wish me luck. Thanks for your site. It’s great.

  2. What type of fabric did you use and the color? I’ve been looking for a natural fabric like burlap that would be softer.

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