The DIY Art of Reupholstery


This chair costs $1860.00. And knowing the design house, I think it’s probably worth every penny. Or maybe I just love it because I think embroidered upholstery is a little bit more edgy than patterned fabric, but in such a subtle way. This particular chair, the Fire Cyrilla Arm Chair by PURE, is both a French throwback and a strikingly modern design.

However. Since I am not in the market for a two-thousand-dollar chair, I just reupholster my mid-century occasional’s seat cushion whenever I’m in the mood for something new. I can always rip off the fabric and show the mahogany leather beneath, but I have to admit, I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to reupholstery. First the chair, then the footstool, then the window bench. It’s all fun and games until I’m covering the dining room table.

As it turns out, I have a knack for upholstery. There are a few tricks to DIY upholstery, and you’ll want to buy vintage or eco-friendly fabric to keep it green, as well.

Tips for reupholstering:

- Start small. Don’t set out to redo the wingback chair your cat has made her personal scratching post. Try a small square footstool or a chair with a pop-out seat. Things like piping will quickly derail the enthusiasm of the newbie upholsterer.

- Pull it tight. The fabric will loosen more than you expect. You may need helping hands or household objects to assist you with this.

- Use the proper upholstery nails or tacks. No staple guns, friends.

- Work evenly from side to side. There’s nothing worse than doing one side only to realize the fabric is bubbling or crooked.

- More on that: go slooooowly and work methodically to ensure a snug, even, symmetrical fit.

- Buy a little more fabric than you need. You’ll be glad you did, I promise.

- You did measure, right?

- Avoid fabrics with natural assymetry, a loose weave, or synthetics that add stretch. Stretch is not you friend. Chenille, velvet, silk: you’ve just sacrificed yourself to the fabric gorilla, my upholstery virgin. Start with sturdy damask, duckcloth, canvas, or heavy cotton.

- This may seem obvious to you, fair reader, but whatever you do, do not drink a glass of wine whilst tacking.

- Focus completely on the task at hand. Upholstery is a perfect Saturday afternoon activity, not a mid-week task to check off. If you’re simultaneously cooking dinner, calling your mother and paying bills, well…stop being so super, Super Woman! Make this fun, not a chore. Besides, you don’t want to get distracted and accidentally hammer your thumb to your chair.

Where to get green fabric:

You’ll want to get organic or vintage because a lot of upholstery fabric is treated with chemical junk that’s not eco-friendly. Unfortunately, fabric stores are a little slow on the uptake. But you can find lots of vintage fabric online (see the finds at Treehugger and Revival, too) or in speciality and secondhand stores.

My latest look: I painted my chair a high-gloss black and covered the cushion snug-as-a-bug tight in caviar red organic cotton. It looks like a bright poppy burst. Very fresh. Until next month, that is.