How to reupholster a chair seat the old fashioned way

The Hepworth in Wakefield is an Art gallery that I like to visit and pass the time at. It recently won Art fund Museum of the Year. Art galleries are just one of those places that you can visit where you can go on your own and just switch off.

In October of last year I went to the opening of one of their sculpture exhibitions and saw information on how you can be a member. As I couldn’t think of anything I really wanted for Christmas I told my parents about the membership as an idea. It was only £30 to be a member which meant I would also get a discount on any of the workshops they do there. So in the new year I made a resolution to get back into art again. I booked myself onto the two day reupholstery workshop. It was run over a weekend, there was no foam or staples in sight!! The tutor provided us with a pre prepared chair which you could choose from a selection. There was 7 of us on the workshop. Two did the re caning of the chair seats whilst the rest of us learnt the old technique of reupholstering.

Right, now for the reason that you clicked onto this page.

The tools you’ll require are:

– magnetic tack hammer

– webbing stretcher (some look like a torcher device)

– tack lifter

– curved round pointed needle and a normal sewing needle

The materials you will require are:

– 2″ wide webbing (black and white herringbone was recommended as it’s stronger)

– a lot of tacks and gimp pins

– Hessian/scrim

– animal hair or ginger coir/fibre

– thread and string

– white cotton material

– fire retardant skin wadding

– your choice of material for the seat cover

– fabric glue (optional)

– braid/studs to finish around the edge of the seat

The site that was recommended to us to buy tools or materials for reupholstering was JA Milton upholstery I have not used them so I can only suggest them to you.

Firstly it would be good to put your chair at a height you’ll find it easy to work at, i.e. putting it on a table.

1. Get the roll of webbing (don’t cut a length off yet, use it from the roll) when you have the beginning of the roll tack it down at the back middle of the seat using the magnetic hammer. Try to avoid any holes if you have a chair for caning like the picture below. Put two or three tacks in it then fold it over and hammer another five tacks in on top avoiding the ones underneath. See first two pictures below for guidance. Then using the webbing stretcher pull the webbing taught and hammer in two/three tacks at the front of the seat to hold it in place. Then as before but this time you can cut the webbing off the roll once you have folded over the end to tack down another five tacks on top to hold it. Then you do another two strips of webbing from back to the front of the seat either side of the middle piece of webbing you’ve just done.

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When you start doing the webbing from left to right of the seat remember to weave it through so it is more supportive. Repeat as instructed above until it looks like the below picture.

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2. Cut out your hessian so it is about an inch bigger than where your tacks will go. Once cut out place it on the seat and hammer in three tacks on all the sides.

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Then fold over the extra material and tack down folding in the edges to make the shape of your seat. See picture below for guidance.

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3. This is a little tricky to describe but I’ll give it a go.

Get your curved round pointed needle and some string to thread it with. Keep the string in the roll as this will be one continuous piece around the seat. As in the picture below start at the top left corner. As you can hopefully see from the picture below you then sew back on yourself and make a loop. Keep the loops quite loose as these are to help hold in the hair/fibre when it gets to stuffing time. Don’t tie off the string until the seat has been stuffed as it will be tightened up afterwards.

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4. It’s now stuffing time. Start stuffing the seat under the loops by spreading it out so you don’t get uneven or lumpy bits. It should look a little bit like the below but I did add more to the front of my seat once I’d added the cotton material. It is up to your preference on how solid or squishy you’d like your chair to be just make sure it is spread evenly. Then when you feel it’s right tighten the loops, but not too tight just enough to hold it in place and tie off in a knot at the front.

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5. Cut out your cotton material about an inch bigger than the seat again. Tack from the back first then holding the material taught tack it down at the front. Once you’ve tacked from the back to the front you can check the stuffing and see whether you need to add more or even it out. This will be the last time you can add any before you tack the sides down. Now do the same by tacking the sides from left to right. It will be harder to tack now with all the tacks already there. I said you’d need a lot of tacks 🙂 Just move them until you find a spot that doesn’t have one yet. Once it looks like the below picture cut off the excess material.

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6. Cut out the fire retardant wadding to be about the same shape as your seat. Too big is better than too small as you can trim it down once tacked down. You can tack a bit further out than the  material below to cover it over. It’s now gimp pin time. Hammer a gimp pin in the middle of each side to keep it in place. Then trim down the wadding if required.

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7. Cut out your choice of material for the seat cover. Make it a little bigger than the seat as you’ll need to tuck it in while you hammer in the gimp pins. As with the other instructions start from the back making sure you’ve folded over the top material underneath so you don’t see the raw edge, then use the gimp pins to hammer into it and whilst holding it taught hammer some gimp pins into the front, the left and the right side always holding it taught. It should look like the below picture. This part can be faffy especially when doing the corners.

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8. It’s the finishing touches. You can use braid or studs (if you can find space for them). You can either glue the braid on using a fabric glue or sew it on just around the top edge and where it will join. I preferred the sewing method as it will last longer I think. If you start the braid at the back of the chair so that when you finish the join won’t be as visible. I used a normal sewing needle for this part and some similar coloured thread to the braid so it showed up less.

As I had time left on my last day the tutor had some stools so I wove some braid through it. I just did my own design.

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Here are my finished pieces.

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I hope you found this page helpful.  I did find it difficult to describe some of how to do the reupholstery, but I hope the pictures have helped you. If you do use my guide above please drop me a comment below. I’d love to see what you have made.

My chair is going to be my colour scheme for my back bedroom, so I hope one day when I get round to doing that room you’ll see it featured in a blog again 🙂

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