How to reupholster a wingback chair

Welcome!  If you’re coming from Daily Do It Yourself today, I’m so glad you’re here!

Disclaimer: I’d never reupholstered anything before this chair, but I had the gumption to take on the project anyway.  There is not a lot of extraordinary skill involved, just patience and determination.  Nothing difficult, just a little time consuming.  But, the recognition at the end (when people comment that the job looks professional) is worth the effort.  Go for it!

Here’s what you need to get started:
*Wingback chair
*Fabric to recover with (Fantastic chart for how much fabric you’ll need HERE from All Things Thrifty)
*A screwdriver with the thinnest edge you can find (you will be using this to pry out the millions of staples)
*Gloves (I went rebel and didn’t wear any, but my hands almost revolted on me)
*A sheet or blanket to lay on the ground (you’d be surprised at the amount of dirt & stuffing dust, seriously)
*A sewing machine (although you’ll probably only need this for sewing piping and the cushion)
*Stapler (electric preferably, and also one that actually works–trust me, it’s worth it)
*A hammer
*A container to hold removed staples

Upholstered chairs are built like an onion.  One piece at a time.  I was surprised when I heard there was very little sewing involved.  It’s true, except for the cushion and the piping.

**After each piece is taken off, label it with its location and number.  The pieces go on in the same order they came off, and while this step seems lame, it’s actually really important to keep them organized**

Here’s what I started with:

Lay down the sheet, and turn the chair so the legs are in the air.  Start by removing the staples from the black piece on the bottom of the chair (usually a black-mesh material).  Remove every staple you see.

This is the most tedious and heartbreaking part of the process.  Don’t get discouraged.  It doesn’t look like you’ve done much, but the staples on the bottom and back took me the longest.

Remove cardboard and piping (if you have it).  Then put the chair back upright.  The next piece is the back.

The best way I can explain it is to use your screwdriver between the edge of the fabrics (on the sides) and pry the tack board from the chair.  The tack board looks like a long strip of metal with teeth on it.

I stole this picture from The Creative Maven who has a great tutorial (that I referred to) on recovering a wingback chair HERE

The top and top edge will probably have what others have lovingly referred to as “sharp metal teeth” (**I just learned that it’s called Ply Grip).  The fabric is folded into them.  Pull it out and pry the metal teeth down.  Just be careful not to injure yourself.  The teeth are sharp.  Sharp metal teeth close-up.

Continue working on the layers you can see.  Take out all the staples you see along the way.

Now you’re going to work on removing the sides.  Those sharp metal teeth will also be on the top part of the sides.  You’re likely to find cardboard strips in the other places (down the side and under the armrest).  Try to keep these pieces together once you remove them.

You’ll find stuffing, most likely also stapled to the frame.  That will be a headache, but remove it anyway.  Label which side it goes to.

Note:  The sharp teeth strips will need to be removed to get to the under layers of the fabric (and piping).  Keep in mind the order they are layered on.  And when you remove the sharp teeth, try to keep in mind that you can reuse them, so try to keep them intact.  Label and put aside.

Then you can take off the decorative thing from the arm rests.  Mine were literally nailed in.  Use your screwdriver to pry them off.  Or a hammer, if that’s easier.

Do the same to the other side.  Then remove the armrest fabric pieces (mine were attached/sewn to the inside sides.)

If you haven’t already, remove the backrest and also the piece under the cushion over the seat.

Naked chair.  Take a breath, look at your handiwork.  Then get back to work.  It’s not going to recover itself.

Lay out your fabric pieces (see my labels?) and cut out your new pieces.  Keep the old with the new for the time being (that way if you have any questions you can refer to it for placement.)  If any of the pieces are sewn, use a seam ripper to take them apart to cut new fabric and just re-sew them like the original.

Pull out the cord from the old piping and sew new piping the same length.  Best tutorial for sewing piping.

If any of the pieces are sewn, do this now.

Start with the last piece you took off.  Presumably the piece under the cushion.  Staple one side and then pull the other sides tight.  Tight enough to keep the fabric taut, but not so tight the fabric will rip.

Then the armrest/inside side pieces (which were sewn together on mine).  Then the backrest.

Then the piping on the outside sides.

Now comes the tricky stuff.  All I can really say here is if you watched how it was assembled as you were taking pieces off, then you’ll be fine.  The sides were a little tricky for me, especially around the armrest curve.  Use the cardboard pieces for an even edge.  Lay the fabric (upside down over the armrest) and place the cardboard on the underside up next to the piping (see below).  The cardboard ends where those awesome metal teeth begin.

Add back on the decorative armrest things.  I hated this step.  I couldn’t get nails to go in straight.  Do the best you can to attach them.

Then attach the back piece.  Start with the fabric at the top held in with the metal teeth.  Then work about the tack board sides.  This piece was the hardest for me.  It takes a bit of time to get everything tight, but you’re in the home stretch!  Then flip the chair over and put on the bottom trim and that lovely black mesh piece and you’re done!  ***Check out this tutorial HERE by Sarah at Three Boys about how to tuck fabric into those scary metal teeth/Ply Grip/Curve Ease.

Ta da!

And I’m not going to go into great detail on the ottoman, because once you reupholster the chair, the ottoman is a piece of cake.  Although mine involved more sewing.  Just start from the bottom and work your way until the piece is again naked.  Then recreate it.  Also, you can check out my post on How to Reupholster a Tufted Ottoman.

I’m linking up with Thrifty Decor Chick‘s February Before & After Party.

And Primitive & Proper‘s Piece of Work Wednesday (POWW).

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65 responses

  1. Your chair looks so great! kudos to you for tackling a wingback chair! I just bought the same fabric over the holidays and I’m having two barrel back club chairs re-upholstered for our family room in May. I was so excited to see the fabric on a chair! Thanks for sharing!!!

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  5. I can really appreciate your hard work because when i was in my 20’s, I did two chairs and never had done it before. The hardest for me as I remember was the stretching and pulling. Also I did not have an electric stapler so that made it even tougher. I would never attempt a project again without one. I made the mistake of buying cheap fabric. I did this because I didn’t know how well it would turn out and didn’t want to be out a lot of money. With 4 boys, they wore out within a year!

    • Wow Elaine! You did two?! I definitely had an electric stapler, but I didn’t get a nice one– and regretted that immediately. It’s definitely one of those projects that once you finish, you vow never to take something like that on again. And I totally understand the cheap fabric part; fabric can get so expensive in the yardage you need, especially when you’re not sure how it will turn out in the end. I can’t imagine how disappointing it would be to watch it wear out in a year though! I think I would cry!

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  7. Hey, thanks so much for this! we just got given a wingback just like yours, and i’m trying to pluck up the courage to reupholster it. How long did all this take you?

    • Hi Heidi! In total, it took me about a month. For the first several weeks I only did a few hours on weekends though– there were a lot of staples. Once I got all the staples and fabric off, I spent an entire day (morning until late evening) stapling the new fabric back on. I’ve seen people online (usually pairs of people) do it in a couple of nights though.

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  10. what kind of fabric did you use? Im having a hard time figuring what to buy because all of the upholstery fabric that is durable is ugly and flat in colour! I love your fabric and am hoping to find an ikat print.

  11. Did you replace any of the padding? I’m working on a wingback chair that is so old the padding just fell apart when I was taking it apart. I’m trying to figure out how to replace the padding and with exactly what kind of padding to use but it seems like most people just staple over the old padding and fabric…
    Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    • Hi Rachael,

      I didn’t have to replace any of the padding for my chair (thankfully), but I did a little looking online and found this great reference from the Danny Lipford site http://www.dannylipford.com/homeowners-guide-to-furniture-stuffing-upholstery-foam-batting-and-animal-hair/ My wingback chair was mostly thick batting on pieces that I would touch while sitting in the chair, thinner batting around the back, and a foam chair seat covered in batting. Your nearest fabric store should have all the batting/foam you’ll need. You might need to just hold some of the batting up and fabric over it to see if your batting is thick/thin enough for the comfort/look you’re going for.

      Good luck! I’d love to see the finished product!

      • This chair is awesome! I really would like to try to do this but I am very intimated. I am wondering how hard this was for you and how long it actually took you to do this? What concerns me is the pipeing and the cusion and how to actually put it on the chair with out the stables showing. If you have any other hits please share. I would be very greatful.

      • Hi Lauren,

        You can TOTALLY do this yourself. I didn’t find this project terribly difficult, just a little time consuming. There are A LOT of staples that need to be removed. My recommendation is to enlist a friend to help you get the staples out– then you have someone to talk to while you’re working. I spent at least 10 hours on weekends (over a month) removing staples. Once the staples were out, it was probably a 12-hour day to put the new fabric on and sew the cushion.

        The piping isn’t difficult. I didn’t even buy a special “piping foot” for my sewing machine. I just kept all the old piping, and used the innards of the piping to make my new piping (see the link within my post for a great way to get a long strip of fabric). It’s just sewing a straight line. The cushion didn’t take any special skill either. Just take the cushion out, turn the cushion fabric inside out and make note of how you take it apart– put it back together in the same order. Use the old pieces of fabric as patterns.

        If you have specific questions as you’re working on the project, I’d be happy to advise you on what I would do– just stop back by :)

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    • Hi Kar,

      I purchased 8 yards of fabric for the chair and the ottoman because I was a little unsure how much I would need and didn’t want to be short on fabric. I ended up having at least a yard if not two yards of fabric leftover in the end. Also, keep in mind that if you’re working with a specific pattern, you might need to buy more fabric than you think you need to make sure that you’re able to match patterns. Hope that helps!

  13. Hi, I’m thrilled to have found this site on upholstering the wingback chair. I have two of them. They really need upholstered bad. The fabric is really old. I got them from a second hand store. The guy was asking $150 for both of them, but I got him to come down to $100. It wasn’t until today that I found out that I got a really great deal on these chairs. I can’t wait to get started. My husband looked really frightened when I told him I can do this b/c I’ve made him do all sorts of things I have found online. lol Thanks for the info. Really appreciate it. I know I’m gonna be very pleased…

  14. Hi there, I just found a wing back chair similar to yours dumped on the side of the road that I’m hoping to re cover. It only had 3 legs, so we found a coffee table on Gumtree for $5 and we’re hoping to use the turned, wooden legs on the chair. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time. I bought a Queen size Donna cover set at an op shop to use for the fabric, hoping it will be enough. Thanks for your blog! It’ given me an idea about where to start. Regards Liz

    • Hi Sandra,

      You’re right, I didn’t really include a tutorial on how to recover the seat cushion. Take it from me, if you can use a sewing machine (even minimally) then you’ll be fine. I just unzipped the cushion, pulled out the stuffing part, and then turned the cushion cover inside out. From there you survey what you’re working with. Likely you’ll have the top and bottom pieces with a thin strip sewn around to connect the top and bottom. And there is likely piping that is between the top layer & the thin strip around the middle. I basically just used a seam ripper to separate the pieces, cut out new fabric pieces from the template and sewed it back together. I found it easiest to first sew the piping onto the thin middle strip, then sew that piece to the top/bottom piece. I promise, if you can recover the chair itself, the seat cushion will be a breeze! Let me know if you have any more questions.

  15. Good Morning Meagan,
    I have inherited a wing back chair and a queen tufted chair. They have been badly abused for over 20 years and now need total renovation, from sanding the wood legs and base to all the padding to the material. I was very happy to find you. You have given me the confidence to go ahead with this project. I am a moderately good seamstress and handy woman is my middle name but the idea of taking the old stuff off was just so daunting. Now I know how to get it off, cut a pattern onto butcher paper and toss the old yucky stuff away. then I can get the wood work done before I move and the rework of all the batting and material at the new home. Yep on top of everything else I have to pack up a house, 3 dogs and a grandchild, not to mention a handicapped spouse! What am I thinking?!!! Wish me luck. I am saving your site so I can let you know when it is all done. I promise before and after pictures!!

  16. Hi there, Wow this is amazing you have given me the motivation and instructions to recover the chair I just brought for £28! Any advise you can give me on choosing an electric stapler and fabric?
    Thank you. Charlotte

    • Hi Charlotte,

      My recommendation is to do your research on the stapler. An electric one will save your hands (there are A LOT) of staples you’re going to have to put in, but if you go with the cheapest versions (like I did), you’ll find that the stapler struggles to get the staples through the wood frame of the chair. If you plan on doing any kind of reupholstering in the future, invest in one that will suit your needs (definitely electric). Look for something that isn’t the cheapest– and if in doubt, ask the employees at the hardware store. I haven’t needed to use the stapler since I finished my chair, so I haven’t replaced it– but I was definitely disappointed with my cheap-o purchase.

      As for the fabric, pick something that is meant for upholstery. It tends to be thicker, with not a ton of stretch to it (but a little). If in doubt, inquire as to whether it’s suited for upholstery. I actually called the online company that I purchased my fabric from to ask. You can recover with a cotton fabric–I’ve seen it done online– but from what I’ve heard you’ll end up recovering it again in a few years when the thin fabric wears out. Trust me, once you upholster the thing once you’re not going to want to do it again. Pick a fabric that you love (and will continue to love) and get it in upholstery weight.

      Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

      • It took me about a month, but for the first 3-ish weeks I only worked on weekends (and only for a few hours at a time). I did all the re-covering parts of the chair in one long (12 hour day). Don’t plan on this being a quick weekend project (unless you have a helper).

  17. Hi! This is a fabulous tutorial, and the new chair looks great! :) I’m in the middle of reupholstering a similar chair, and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to attach the decorative arm rest things that are on the front side of the arms. Is there a specific tool or nail to use? I know you mentioned that you nailed them in, but from looking, you obviously didn’t nail straight through the front. Thanks in advance for your help! :)

    • Hey! I actually did nail those fabric pieces to the front of the arms on the chair. I used finishing nails (the ones with almost no head) and I just pushed them through the fabric at the end. The weave on the fabric I used made it so you weren’t able to see the tiny hole from the nail holes. Good luck! If all else fails, you could probably use velcro on the back or attach with some hot glue.

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  19. I’m planning on using your tutorial to recover a wingback chair we got from my mother-in-law. The only difference is that its a recliner- can’t be too much more difficult! My husband is a bit nervous, but I’m sure he’ll be happy with the finished product. Its currently a drab navy blue, and its about 15 years old, too dark for what my decor style is. Thanks for your help!

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  21. I absolutely LOVE your chair. The fabric is awesome and it looks so professional. Great job! You have given me the courage to recover a large arm chair. I do have a quick question… What brand of electric staple gun do you recommend? I tried one and had trouble driving the staples into the wood.( they were not flush with the wood). They always stuck out too far and I tried to hammer them in but ended up bending them. Yikes.

    • Hi Kelly,

      I wish I had a great suggestion for you about the electric staple gun. I chose a cheap-o staple gun myself and had the same issue with the staples not really going in all the way and needing to hammer them in afterwards. Unfortunately, I’ve never purchased (or used) a better staple gun, but my guess is that the better product you purchase (the more money you spend) the better the staples will actually go in. Just a guess though. I think some of it has to do with the surface that you’re stapling into– harder woods will always be more of a challenge vs. softer woods (like pine).

      For my chair, I just got them in as straight as I could and hammered them in the rest of the way. It worked out for me in the end, but, like I’m sure you understand, it was one of the biggest headaches in this project.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help!

  22. Thanks for posting this — you make me feel like I can do it! I’ve survived the staple pulling. Now I’m ready to cut. The only problem is that the old pieces are so ragged and inconsistent around the edges! It looks like the last person cut it while they were putting it on the chair. I am freaking out a little bit because I’m not sure how to cut. Has anyone else run into this problem?

    • Hi Nancy,

      The edges of the fabric won’t matter so much, since you’ll fold most of them over (after stapling) or shove them into the metal teeth that you won’t really see them. I would definitely err on the side of cutting *more* fabric than the original pattern if in doubt. You can always cut fabric off as you’re putting the piece on, but if you have too little fabric to cover the area you need you’ll have trouble.

      Good luck! I totally believe you can do it!

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  25. Love your chair. I just started the first of 3 wingback chairs that I want to recover. It all seems really straightforward except for the decorative arm piece. I would love to find a way to simply eliminate it, but I don’t see how that will happen. Tried an electric stapler, and ended up buying a small compressor and pneumatic stapler. Hope my chairs turn out as well as yours. I think I will go looking for an ottoman to go with them! Your site really helped me with those arm things! Thanks.

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  27. Well done on such a successful project & am even better blog about it! The chair looks fantastic.

    I have never done anything like this before but overwhelmed by an urge to learn how to upholster chairs & ‘things’ in general.

    I am struggling with what type of fabric to choose. I had picked out a striped fabric but am now toying with the idea of a plain fabric to help avoid any cutting mistakes…

    You appear to have had no problems with the pattern you used… Was this an educated guess on your behalf or was it a tricky fabric to work with?

    • Hey Kelly,

      Patterns on fabric can be tricky, but thankfully my pattern really wasn’t a challenge. That’s partially because I wasn’t trying to do a specific repeating of the pattern. I only cut one piece with a specific pattern placement in mind. My recommendation for your first upholstering project is to pick a smaller repeating pattern or a solid. Once you do your first project then I’m sure you’ll feel confident to jump into larger patterns or stripes. Regardless, have fun with it. It’s just a chair/piece of furniture. Good luck!!

  28. hi i have a wingback chair i want to redo, but i dont want to reapolster it, only make like a fitted exact sheet to cover it and make it look good as new. wondering if there was any type of pattern peices i could buy or copy down. or will i just have to wing it.

  29. Wow, thank you for posting this, i have just got myself 2 vintage wing back armchairs to upholster. It looks very time consuming…i am now scared! Thought it would be easier. How much material do you think I need? I will definitely get an electric staple gun too.
    Anette

    • Hi Anette,

      It’s not a difficult process to reupholster, but it is a little time consuming. The best thing to do is place the chairs in a place where they can sit for a while and you can work on them a little at a time. Once you get all the old fabric/staples off, the new fabric goes on pretty quick.

      I used this chart: http://www.allthingsthrifty.com/2010/07/how-much-fabric-do-you-need-for.html to estimate how much fabric I would need. I ended up purchasing 8 yards, but had about 1-2 yards leftover. Be mindful though if you’re buying a fabric with a repeating pattern that you’re going to have to match up though– that may require buying more fabric so you can waste some for the pattern.

  30. Hi there…..I really want to try this…..but I didn’t notice where or if you stated how much fabric is needed? If you can give me some idea I would love to get started on my chair.
    thank you,
    Robin

  31. you show how to redo the cushions on the side, what about the cushion in the middle where your back touches when you go to sit down? i’ll fine until i get there.please reply. thank you
    rosie

    • Hi Rosie. The cushions on the side are part of the chair reupholstering. As you’re taking the fabric off, start with the fabric on the back, then the outside sides. There will be “ply grip” (those sharp, metal teeth looking stuff) holding the uppermost part of the sides. You should be able to pry it back a little to remove the fabric from its grips. As for the backrest covering, once you get the fabric off the very back of the chair and remove the “ply grip” there, you’ll want to remove the piping. Under the piping you should find the staples that remove the top part of the backrest (the part of the chair your back is against while sitting in it). The backrest fabric is stretched around the back piece of the chair, so other staples to remove it will be on the sides of the back of the chair as well.

      If you’re having more specific questions, please feel free to contact me again and I’ll be happy to advise. I think once you get started though you’ll figure it out pretty easily– just remember that it’s like peeling an onion.

      Megan

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