How to Reupholster Furniture

A reupholstered armchair.

There are many reasons to change the fabric on your favorite piece of furniture. Perhaps it no longer matches the decor. Maybe the kids spilled Kool-Aid on the tan couch. Reupholstering chairs and couches is the ultimate way to give them new life without spending a ton of money. After all, just because grandma’s couch is staring back at you with a 1970s paisley print doesn’t mean that it’s time to bag the entire sofa. Here are some pointers to get you headed in the right direction when it’s time to reupholster your furniture.

Step 1 - Plan

Before you can dig into this project, you will want to do a little planning and prep work. First, measure all of the fabric on your existing sofa or chair to figure out how much fabric you will need to purchase. You will have to consider the widths that the fabric comes in and make sure that the pattern is facing the correct direction on the furniture with enough to cover all surfaces. The people at the fabric counter can be very helpful with this step. Choose your fabric carefully. For chairs, you can use a medium-weight curtain fabric but for sofas, you will want a durable, heavyweight upholstery fabric.

Step 2 - Remove Old Fabric

Nails are pulled from a chair.

To remove the old fabric, follow the seams with a razor or seam ripper rather than just tearing it randomly. This will allow you to use the removed fabric as your template for cutting out the pieces of your new fabric. For most chairs, there will just be one large piece to remove. For either couches or chairs, you may need to take the furniture apart to gain access to all parts. Chair seats can easily be taken off and put back on once recovered. Sofas require you to remove the dust cover from the bottom. Sometimes you will also need to disassemble part of the armrest and frame.

Be sure to clearly label each piece of fabric as you remove it so you can piece it back together with the new fabric.

The fabric is likely stapled on to the frame so you can use the straight edge of a screwdriver or pliers to remove the staples as you go. This will leave you a level surface to work with when applying your new upholstery.

Step 3 - Prepare New Fabric

Once your old fabric is removed, find a large, flat surface where you can roll out your new fabric. Lay the old pieces over the new and pin them in place. Cut out your new pieces. For the edges that will wrap under the couch or chair seat, leave an extra 2 to 3 inches. All edges that will be sewn together should have a ½ inch allowance. Again, make sure these pieces are labeled so that you know how they connect. Put the couch back together if you disassembled it during earlier stages. Begin sewing pieces together along the seams, checking frequently to ensure it is the right dimensions to fit back onto the couch frame. It’s always easier to catch errors at this stage than when you have it all sewn together. You should be able to create one large slipcover to slide over the back and the arms of the couch. Use a heavy-duty thread with a ½-inch seam allowance.

Step 4 - Attach the Fabric

A stapler staples fabric to wood.

Once you’ve loosely draped the material, you will need to work your way around the bottom of the sofa, pulling the fabric tight and stapling along the underside as you go. You will want a quality, heavy-duty stapler for this job. For corners, pull the center tight and staple. Then fold one side of the corner in and staple in place, creating a seam. Finally fold the other side in and staple, creating a neat second crease. For chair seat covers, simply staple each side in the middle of the back to hold the fabric in place. Then work your way around the edge, pulling the fabric tight before each staple. Remember to watch the pattern of your fabric as you pull it so that it lays the way you want.

Step 5 - Finish Work

After securing the fabric all the way around the bottom of your chair or sofa, you will need to trim off any excess fabric and reattach the furniture pieces. For couches, you will also need to create covers for your cushions and, if you want, throw pillows as well.

With a little planning and some effort, your furniture will be as good as new.