How to Reupholster a Dining Chair

Author Photo
By Staff | Dec 1, 2018

How To Reupholster a Dining Chair

Give outdated or distressed dining chair cushions a fresh new look with this easy-to-do reupholstering project.

By Nicolette Tabram

Photography by Cico Books, 2018

Winter 2019

Old, upholstered wooden dining chairs can easily be found in junk stores, and are good candidates for a bit of creative reinvention. You can make a single chair a focal point in a hallway or bedroom, or group several mismatched chairs that have been given the same upholstery treatment around a dining table.

For the following project, I used a chair that looked very dated — a dark brown, shiny varnished frame with a seat covered in worn purple fabric. I created a regular pattern for my chair, but the width between the columns of leaves can be increased or decreased, and the design can be applied in an irregular pattern, if desired.

There are a few things to consider when choosing fabric for this project. Ideally, it should be a medium-weight fabric without stretch. If the fabric is too thick, it may be difficult to drop the seat back into the frame. If it’s too thin, it will wear and possibly tear. The fabric used here, although a good weight, was a little transparent, so I covered the dark wadding on the seat with a piece of old sheet before stapling the stenciled fabric on top.

You can also use fabric paint or fabric screen-printing ink, but you’ll need to fix the medium with a hot iron.

Materials & Equipment:

  • Stencil with leaf and stem motif
  • Wooden dining chair with removable upholstered seat
  • Furniture paint
  • Matte varnish
  • Brushes for the paint and varnish
  • Medium-weight fabric (not too thick, too thin, or too transparent)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scrap paper
  • Spray adhesive or low tack tape
  • Stencil brush
  • Stencil paint
  • Heavy-duty staple gun


Step 1: If you’re using a purchased stencil, you’re ready to go. If you’re using a printed template for your stencil, you’ll need to start by cutting and preparing your stencil.

Step 2: Remove the seat from the frame of the chair. Clean the wood with warm, soapy water. Remove the fabric from the seat and set it aside; it will be used as a template for the new cover.

Step 3: Apply two coats of paint to the frame of the chair, letting it dry between coats. It’s easier to paint the legs and the underside of the chair with the frame turned upside down and placed on a work


Step 4: Once the paint is dry, apply a couple of coats of varnish and let dry.

Step 5: Lay out the new fabric on your work surface, and place the old fabric on top. Use this as a template to cut around. There’s no need to be too precise, as the fabric can be trimmed once it’s been stapled to the base. You can now discard the old fabric.

Step 6: Press the fabric using a hot iron, then fold in half from side to side, and lightly iron in a central crease. Place a piece of scrap paper underneath the fabric to protect your work surface.

Step 7: Lightly coat the back of the stencil with spray adhesive, and then place it on the fabric with the stem of the leaf design positioned over the central crease line. Align the bottom of the stencil with the bottom edge of the fabric. Alternatively, tape it in position. Dip the tip of the stencil brush into the paint and, after removing any excess, apply the paint in a small circular motion.

Step 8: Lift the stencil, and reposition it so that the bottom two leaves overlap the top two stenciled leaves. Repeat the same process at the top of the panel.

Step 9: Measuring along the bottom of the fabric, move the stencil across so you have a 3-1⁄2-inch gap between the stems, then move it down from the edge of the fabric by a couple of leaves. This will create a more interesting and irregular pattern, as the leaves will not be repeated in parallel.

Step 10: Apply the paint as before, then repeat the process across the width of the fabric. Let the paint dry.

Step 11: Lay the fabric face down on the work surface, placing the seat face down on top of it, in a roughly centered position. Fold the fabric up and over the sides, using the leaf design on either side as a guide for finding the central positioning.

Step 12: Staple the fabric along one side of the frame, then pull the fabric taut on the opposite side, and staple it into position.

Step 13: Repeat the process of stapling the fabric to the frame on the remaining two sides, pinching the fabric at the corners, but leaving the corners unstapled until the very end.

When the fabric has been stapled on all four sides, open out and flatten the pinched fabric at the corners, and then staple flat.

Step 14: When the fabric has been stapled on all four sides, open out and flatten the pinched fabric at the corners, and then staple flat.

Step 15: Trim off any excess material, and your reupholstered seat can now be dropped into your chair frame. Don’t worry if the fit is a little tight; you can always sit on it to ease it into position.

This project was excerpted with permission from Modern Stencils by Nicolette Tabram, published by CICO Books, an imprint of Ryland Peters & Small Ltd. The book can be purchased online at Amazon and Walmart, as well as in bookstores nationwide.

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