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How To Reupholster Furniture Yourself

Written by Carol J Alexander

Published on September 11, 2023


How To Reupholster Furniture Yourself

Learn to give a beloved piece of furniture a fresh, new look and end the day satisfied you did it all yourself.

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Nothing is more satisfying than upcycling something old and giving it new life. Whether your beloved loveseat or old couch is a family heirloom or just your favorite perch for movie night, reupholstering it brings you another decade of joy.

In this article, we’ll discuss the cost to reupholster, list the tools and materials you’ll need, and walk you through the steps to moving your piece from shabby to chic.

Project Overview 

Total Time: 2 days to 1 week

Skill Level: Intermediate

Estimated Cost: $$ to $$$$

Yield: Joy, satisfaction, and a new piece of furniture

Hire a professional to upholster your furniture

What it costs to reupholster furniture

According to Artem Kropovinsky, interior designer and founder of Arsight, a full-service interior design studio in New York City, the cost to reupholster a piece of furniture “varies based on the size and complexity of the piece and the cost of the fabric.” He says the starting cost to reupholster a dining chair is in the hundreds, and the price to reupholster a couch “reaches into the thousands.” If you plan to do it yourself, he says upholstery fabric runs anywhere from $20 to $100 per yard, depending on the type and brand.

Every piece of furniture isn’t worthy of a makeover, though. “Reupholstery can extend the life of a piece of furniture, so it is a sustainable process and keeps the piece out of the landfill,” says Kropovinsky. “But not every piece is suitable, like inexpensive or poorly made furniture.” He said to reserve reupholstery for items that are in good condition and have “unique design elements, are sentimental or antique, and will hold their value after recovering.”

How to begin reupholstering furniture

If you’ve never done a reupholstery project, Kropovinsky recommends beginning with a simple project. “A dining room chair with a removable seat cushion is easy and requires minimum materials and tools,” he says. Other options include a bench or living room ottoman. Once you perfect your technique and are more comfortable with the tools, you can gradually choose more complex pieces.

What you need to reupholster furniture

There’s quite a list of tools, supplies, and materials you may need to reupholster your furniture. Some are optional or depend on the piece. For instance, if your chair doesn’t have a buttoned back, you won’t need buttons. Optional items are indicated with an asterisk.

Upholstery tools

  • Camera, notepad, and pencil
  • Scissors
  • Staple gun, staples, staple remover
  • Small tack hammer*
  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Drill to remove legs, if needed*
  • Seam ripper
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Sewing machine, if needed*
  • Sewing pins
  • Marking pen or chalk pencil
  • Vacuum cleaner and a cleaning cloth
  • Work gloves
  • Paint or stain*

Upholstery materials

  • Upholstery fabric
  • Black breathable fabric for the underside
  • ½-inch batting
  • Foam
  • Piping or cording*
  • Upholstery-weight thread
  • Tack strips and tacks*
  • Upholstery tacks or nailhead trim*

Pro tip

It’s essential when using tools not to damage the underlying structure. Use a flathead screwdriver to lift the staples and pliers to pull them out. – Artem Kropovinsky, Arsight

How to reupholster furniture in 8 easy steps

Since every piece of furniture is different, it will help to read through these steps before you do any of the work. Look at your item at each stage and ensure you understand the instructions before proceeding.

Step 1: Remove existing fabric and hardware

Before popping a single stitch, take pictures of the piece from every angle. Capture how the fabric is folded over the arm, how it’s attached at the bottom, and where it’s pieced. Then, as you remove the original covering, take more pictures. Be sure to take copious notes indicating where each piece is attached and which segment you removed first, second, third, etc. 

Starting at the bottom of the piece, remove the legs, if necessary, and then remove the black cloth from the underside. Carefully use a seam ripper, flathead screwdriver, and pliers to remove the staples holding the existing fabric, which you'll save. As you remove each piece of cloth, label it with the following information:

  • Location on the item–back, seat, left arm
  • How and where it was attached
  • The order in which it was removed
  • Where welting was placed, if any
  • Where it was sewn to adjoining pieces, if any

Next, inspect the batting and foam. If these materials appear worn or stained, remove them too. Also, check any springs or webbing for wear or damage. 

Batting – A soft, fluffy material made of cotton, wool, or polyester used to cover the foam in cushions and upholstered areas to prevent slippage and create a smooth appearance.

Step 2: Purchase fabric and materials

Once you have a naked frame, measure all the pieces you removed and calculate how many yards of fabric, batting, and piping you’ll need. Remember, the standard width for upholstery fabric is 54 inches, which differs from most other fabrics' standard width. Not only is it wider than other fabrics, but it’s also more durable. Also, when in doubt, buy too much. Making throw pillows from the extra fabric is better than coming up short.

“Look for practical and aesthetically pleasing fabric,” says Kropovinsky. “Choose something durable for high-traffic pieces but also complements your interior design.”

“Don’t be afraid to mix patterns. It’s what makes a piece of furniture the art in the room,” says Wendy Conklin, chair stylist and online upholstery instructor with Chair Whimsy. Conklin recommends using a “hero” fabric on the top and center of a piece with a stripe, check, or another pattern on the chair seat. She says to choose colors from the hero fabric.

“Avoid tiny prints in furniture,” she says. “The larger the pattern, the bolder the look. Large patterns create a statement piece.”

Pro tip

Since few fabric stores exist, you may decide to shop online. Always pay for samples before placing an order. The texture, weight, and color shades will always appear different from what you see on your screen. – Wendy Conklin, Chair Whimsy

Step 3: Refinish exposed wood

With the fabric and batting removed, it’s the perfect time to refinish any exposed wood. First, vacuum all the nooks and crannies to remove unwanted dust, dander, and pet hair. Then, clean all the exposed wood with a damp cloth. A product like Murphy’s Oil Soap will give unpainted wood a new shine. Or, you can choose to sand and stain or paint to match your home decor.

Pro tip

Use J-B Weld to secure loose joints in the frame. It holds better than wood glue. – Wendy Conklin, Chair Whimsy

Step 4: Replace foam and batting as needed

If you’ve removed the foam, batting, or webbing, replace it now. As you cover the frame with the batting, gingerly pull it into place, ensuring it’s smooth and even as you staple it. Wrinkles will show under the finished fabric, so take your time with this step. Handle the batting gently, as it tears easily. Don’t go overboard with the staples, either; you’ll staple it again when you attach the fabric. When you’re sure it’s smooth and will sit comfortably, trim any excess around curves and corners.

Pro tip

When attaching the batting to the furniture, gently pull the batting around each staple to bury it inside. This action prevents indentations from showing where each staple is located.

Step 5: Cut new fabric

Use the old upholstery pieces as a pattern to cut your new fabric. Lay the new material out on a large table. Then, place the old pieces on the new fabric. If your fabric is right side up, the pattern pieces should be, too. Watch the print on the new upholstery material, and ensure it’s straight with the correct orientation. If you want that big flower in the middle of the seat, ensure the pattern is placed right to get it there. Also, if needed, match plaids or stripes at the seams. Once everything is where you want it, trace around the pieces with a chalk pencil, adding about ½ inch to the perimeter. That way, if the new fabric doesn’t quite respond like the old, you won’t come up short. When you’re done tracing, cut out each piece following the lines. 

Step 6: Attach fabric pieces in order

If the fabric is pieced, like on the back of a couch, pin the new pieces together, check the fit, and then use a sewing machine to sew them together before placing them on the piece of furniture. Begin the process by lining up the first piece where it’s supposed to go. You’ll proceed in reverse order from when you removed the fabric. Match the center of the material to the center of the piece of furniture. Smooth it out, folding and tucking as needed. Refer to your notes and photographs for accuracy.

“Before you cut the fabric, step away, take a picture, and look at it on your phone,” says Conklin. “Make sure it’s where you want it. You sacrifice the best outcome when you’re in a hurry.”

Alternatively, she recommends not cutting pattern pieces. She prefers to play with the whole piece of fabric on the furniture, adjusting and shifting it until she has it positioned how she wants it. She then inserts a few temporary staples to hold it before cutting around, leaving two to three inches of excess fabric to hold onto while she stretches it and staples it into place.

Once you have it placed right, slowly and meticulously attach it to the frame using a staple gun. Starting in the center and making your way toward the corners, follow a tack, smooth, tack, smooth rhythm. Remember to maintain the pattern's alignment. For instance, if the fabric is striped or plaid, keep the lines straight as you pull it before stapling. Keep referring to the photos you took to see which way to fold the material so it doesn’t bunch.

“Fabric placement is what gives you the WOW factor,” says Conklin, “so take your time.”

Step 7: Make welting and sew in

Welting – A cord wrapped in the same fabric that outlines the seams around a chair seat or the arms of a couch.

Measure the old pieces to determine the length of welting you need. To create welting, cover the cording as follows:

  • Cut 2-inch wide strips on the fabric's bias as long as you need, plus a few extra inches.
  • Sew the strips together with a diagonal seam to create one continuous strip. Trim the seams to a ½-inch allowance.
  • Fold the strip around the cording and sew. Use a zipper foot on the sewing machine to get close to the cording.

Sew or staple the welting in place.

Step 8: The finishing touch

For a finished look and to protect your furniture from dust, use a staple gun to attach the black fabric to the underside of the piece. First, use the old piece as a guide to cut the new one. Then, fold over the edges before stapling.

Pro tip

Before calling it done, inspect the piece for uncut threads, loose staples, or anything else that makes it look unprofessional. – Artem Kropovinsky, Arsight

When to call a professional

While a satisfying endeavor, reupholstering furniture is a time-consuming task. You need patience, attention to detail, and to enjoy working with your hands. If DIY projects aren’t your norm, or if you begin and get overwhelmed, it’s okay to call in a pro. Let us help you find a local upholstery business to help you with your project.

Find an upholstery professional near you

Written by

Carol J Alexander Content Specialist and Subject Matter Expert

Carol J Alexander is a home remodeling industry expert for Fixr.com. For more than 15 years as a journalist and content marketer, her in-depth research, interviewing skills, and technical insight have ensured she provides the most accurate and current information on a given topic. Before joining the Fixr team, her personal clients included leaders in the building materials market like Behr Paint Company, CertainTeed, and Chicago Faucet, and national publications like This Old House and Real Homes.