Today I’m sharing an in-depth tutorial on how to reupholster a chair with velvet fabric. This DIY started out by chance. I was actually browsing to buy a new office chair! That’s until I found this chair in the picture below, with the top fabric tearing up a little. It was waiting for me on the curbside and clearly add a lot of life left in it. I have never shied away from curbside pickups. People leave things on the curb because they believe the piece of furniture still has potential and someone else might want it. It’s basically a sustainable act of kindness! So adopt a chair and read on to find out how to give it new life for the cost of a yard of fabric!
Make sure you inspect the piece of furniture thoroughly before you pick it up. When I checked this chair, I could find nothing wrong with it except that the faux leather was peeling off. The hardware was in excellent shape, the wheels rolled smoothly, the hydraulics worked. It had good bones and I just loved the shape so much. It reminded me of the elegant Eames desk chairs. I had barely started dragging along with me that I was already plotting how I would transform it! Do you also get so excited about a new project that your brain just stops responding to any other stimuli until you’ve finished planning?!
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- Old desk chair
- Upholstery quality velvet – one yard
- Gold spray paint
- Masking tape
- Double piping (learn how to make it here, it’s so easy it’s not worth buying!)
- Staple gun (get a good quality one!)
1: Prep the desk chair
This step mainly depends on how your chair is built and how far you’re willing to go with the reupholstering effort. You could take the existing fabric and padding apart to keep the wooden base of the seat if you wanted. I decided to add the new fabric and padding on top since my office chair was still in fairly good condition apart from the top fabric tearing in some places. It’s a good idea to replace the complete upholstery when working with an old piece of furniture as it has gathered dust over the years and can trigger allergies. Better start clean if that’s the case!
At the very least, vacuum the fabric and give the hardware a good scrub with soapy water and wipe it dry before you start.
Once the chair is clean, take the feet apart. The seat is usually screwed onto the feet with bolts. Just remove those bolts and place them in an envelope to keep them safe while you work on reupholstering the chair.
You might have to remove extra items, like armrests or decorative piping. For example, my chair had a sort of rubber piping running all the way around the seat, hiding the staples. I just pulled it off with my pliers.
2: Spray paint the feet
Before you spray paint, you need to cover the part that won’t be painted with paper and tape. It’s best not to paint the wheels as the repetitive rolling motion will eventually chip the paint away, which is not a great look… To wrap the wheels, place a piece of newspaper underneath and ball it up around the wheel. Wrap it all up with masking tape.
To spray paint evenly, you’ll have to apply at least 2 coats. Hold the spray can at least 8″ (20cm) away from the feet. Spray evenly from side to side or from top to bottom, always moving the spray can in a waving motion so that it doesn’t stay in the same spot for too long. It’s okay if the paint looks patchy, it’s only the first coat. Don’t add any more paint for now, we’ll get to it with the second coat.
Let this first coat dry. This depends on the paint you’re using so give the manufacturer’s instruction a quick read-through to figure out how long it takes. As a rule of thumb, spray paints tend to be dry to the touch in 15 to 30 minutes. Once the first coat has dried, apply a second one and let it dry. Good quality spray paint shouldn’t really need more than 2 coats but if you’re not happy with the result yet, feel free to apply another coat.
3: Add the padding
I decided to add more padding despite keeping the existing chair padding. It’s always worth providing your derriere extra comfort while seating on your office chair! If you want to get upholstery batting, that’s great. Another sustainable option I took was to upcycle an old duvet. This particular one had seen better days and was starting to pile so it was a perfect candidate for upcycling. Simply lay your batting flat and place the chair seat on top of it to trace the pattern. Add an inch of allowance around the pattern to make sure you don’t cut it too small.
Staple the batting, starting at the top edge of the seat (the top of the back portion). When the top is done, start stapling the side. I always staple evenly on both sides, pulling tight. Stapling left, stapling right, and so on until both sides have been secured. Stop when you get to the middle bend and start stapling the bottom edge (the front edge of the seat portion, where your legs hang when you seat). Use the same strategy. Staple the bottom edge and then evenly staple the sides until you get to the middle bend.
Since we added an inch around the batting pattern, we’ll have to cut the extra portion. Make sure you cut as close to the staples as possible.
It’s fine if the edges of your padding look bumpy. It will get evened out when you add more staples for the top fabric.
Full disclosure: this is probably the part of this DIY where you will feel like naming your staple gun since you’ve already become so intimate… My advice is to get a decent spale gun, like this one, because of the intensive use. This will save you from having to deal with jammed staples all the time. If you have joint problems, I recommend you go for an electric staple gun. It will make reupholstering the chair a breeze!
4: Cut the fabric
It’s really important to give some thought to the fabric you want to use. For a piece of furniture like a chair or a sofa, you will have to select a heavy fabric that can sustain repeated seating. It would be a shame to spend time and effort reupholstering a chair you can’t sit in because the fabric is too delicate. For this office chair, I found an upholstery-quality velvet. I was going for an Eagan blue but it turned out greyer than expected. I still loved it though!
Lay down your fabric and place your chair seat on top to trace out the pattern (or just go straight ahead with cutting like me, erm..). Like with the batting, add an inch or two extra around the pattern. It’s better to waste an inch of fabric than to have to recut the whole pattern if it turns out too small! Once you have cut the pattern, place it on top of the rest of the fabric to cut another – one to upholster the front and one for the back.
5: Reupholster the back
Starting with the back fabric, staple the top edge of the seating area loosely. You will come back to it later to add more staples but for now, you just want to hold it in place. Apply a few staples on the bottom edge, pulling very tight.
With the top and bottom edges secured, you can work on the sides: start by stapling the middle bend on both sides. Work your way along the sides, stapling on both sides and pulling the fabric taut as you go.
For the bend and the curvy corners of the seat, fold the fabric when you pull to make sure you don’t staple over a crease that will show when the chair is finished. Go back around the seat to add more staples where needed.
Since we started with the back fabric, we will have to find the place for the feet attachment through the velvet. Turn the chair seat over and feel through the fabric for the bolt hardware. Cut an X with a pair of scissors so that the bolts can go through the fabric when you screw the feet back on.
Once the back reupholstery is done, cut the extra fabric close the staples.
At this point, if needed, you can iron on the seam of the fabric. Make sure the iron is on a suitable heat level for the fabric you’re using (if it’s velvet, LOW, really low!).
6: Reupholster the front
To reupholster the front, start by laying out your fabric on the chair, adjusting so that it is even.
Start by cutting a few dents in the fabric that will go around the middle bend. This will make it easier to pull the fabric tight. Staple in place on both sides of the bend. These are provisional staples you can remove later if needed.
Next, start working on the top edge of the seat. It’s important to pull the fabric tight over the padding. Staple over the seam of the back fabric. You want to achieve a straight line which you can hide with double pipping later. It’s okay to angle the staples slightly if it doesn’t go through properly. This can happen when you’re stapling over another staple from the back fabric. Work your way around the sides, placing staples close together. When you get to the middle bend, remove the initial stale with a flat screwdriver if you need to pull the fabric tighter.
Middle bend creasing: it’s okay!
You will notice a heavy crease in the bend of the chair seat, that’s normal. Don’t pull too tight to remove that crease because we will take care of it later by adding double piping.
When you staple the sides, take a look at the shape of the seat. It might have a natural curve like mine in the picture above. If it does, make sure to follow that curve with your staples.
Once you have gone around the seat and your front fabric has been secured, cut the fabric as close to the staples as possible.
7: Add the double piping
Your chair probably looks pretty good already but the staples are still showing. We will need to hide them with decorative double piping. You can buy this type of decorative finish online or in fabric stores but it’s also possible to make your own. Click on the link below if you want to find out how!
This chair makeover uses double piping in the middle bend and all around the seat.
Before you hide the middle bend crease, hammer a few nails along the crease in a straight line.
Before you start, measure a length of piping that can go from side to side of the seat. You have to prep the ends of the piping to thin it out and prevent a bulge when you add the piping that goes all around the chair. To thin it, simply take your embroidery shears or a small sharp pair of scissors and insert them into the double piping, like in picture 1. Cut so that you open one side of the piping and expose the jute cords. Cut the cords short like in picture 2, making sure not to cut the fabric at the same time. The end of the piping should look like in picture 3. Repeat on the other end. Now staple one end over the seam of the middle bend, like in picture 4.
Now, apply some glue to the crease, little by little, and press the double piping into the glue. When you get to the other side, staple the end of the piping into the chair seat.
Now, to finish the reupholstery, glue a long piece of double piping around the chair. Start in an inconspicuous spot, I chose the middle bend. Apply glue as you go along and press the piping into it, making sure you follow the curve of the chair seat.
8: Reassemble the desk chair
Now that you have reupholstered the whole chair seat, you can screw the feet back on. The coats of paint should have dried thoroughly if you spray painted before you started working on the upholstery. Turn the seat of the chair upside down and screw the bolts back to reattach the feet hardware. It might help to have someone hold the feet as you’re screwing.
That’s all it takes to reupholster an old chair! It’s so rewarding giving new life to furniture. Especially when you end up making it look like a high-end piece!! What color will you pick for yours?