How to reupholster an armchair

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how to reupholster an armchair

In case you missed it, I shared a very basic tutorial for ridiculously cheap reupholstery a few days ago.  The steps go something like this: 1. Believe in yourself.  2. Be brave and go for it.  3. Don’t give up.  4. Celebrate your success.

Those steps may not be terribly specific, but I assure you they are essential.  But for those who are a little more detail oriented, here is a more concrete tutorial.

rocker before and after

A brief disclaimer:  I realize there are some very good reupholstery tutorials out there already.  (And I will certainly be including links to some of my favorites).  However, I decided to still write this tutorial because all of the diy chair reupholstery tutorials I found were based on redoing a wingback chair or a dining chair or an antique chair.  I really didn’t see any guidance for reupholstering a full on armchair.  So I thought, I would let you know how I did it.

A briefer disclaimer: I am no expert.  (Which should be clear based on the fact this is the first major chair I have ever reupholstered).  These are the basic steps that worked for me.  Remember each piece of furniture is unique and will include it’s own challenges.

Stripping your chair

  • The first step is to get that baby naked.  Before you start taking it apart, study your chair for a few minutes.  Try to get some idea of how it is put together.  And take lots of pictures from all angles to remind you of how it should look in the end.
  • Begin by removing the rockers or feet of your chair.  (One awesome part of my particular chair and most chairs like it is the rockers easily screw off.  Which means that in the future if I no longer need or want a huge rocker, I can simply remove the rockers and attach some cute little feet and have a sweet armchair). rockers removed
  • Carefully remove the first piece of fabric.  For an armchair like mine, this will be a thin layer of fabric on the bottom of the chair.  The next layer was the panel of fabric on the chair back, which was easily pried off with a flathead screwdriver. Most of the fabric will be attached by staples or tack strips.  To remove them use your screwdriver and needle-nose pliers.
  • Remove the rest of the chair fabric layer by layer.  As you slowly take the chair apart, it will become more apparent which layer you need to remove next.  removing upholstery
  • As you remove each piece of fabric, be careful to keep it intact.  And label it.  You will be using these fabric pieces as your pattern. label upholstery pieces
  • Also keep and label any miscellaneous pieces – tack strips, piping, cardboard pieces.  Any random things that come off with the fabric and are a part of how the chair is put together. labeled chair parts
  • As you are taking the chair apart, take lots of pictures of every angle and detail of the chair.  Also, take lots of notes of exactly how everything is put together.  Both of these can be invaluable when putting your chair back together. naked chair

Cutting your fabric

  • Lay the fabric you removed from the chair out on your new fabric.  Once you have arranged your pieces to make the best use of your new fabric, pin them in place and cut your fabric. pattern


  • Begin putting your chair back together in reverse order.  The last piece you removed should be the first piece you put back.  This is where your photos and notes will come in handy.
  • As you put your new fabric on, take care to put it on just like the pieces you took off. If it was attached with a tack strip, reattach it with the same tack strip.  If it was stapled, restaple it.  On my particular chair, there were some areas around the arm where the fabric was sewn together.  At first I tried to be clever and avoid sewing by stapling it instead, but I quickly realized that completely changed the shape of the arms.  So I sucked it up and sewed it back on.  reupholstering
  • As you can see, I chose to use the same fabric for the piping but you can also choose a contrasting fabric if that is the look you are going for. You could just leave the piping off for simplicity’s sake but it adds so much polish to any project.  Piping can be the detail that takes your project from looking homemade to looking professional.piping

Making the cushion

  • This was the part of this whole project that I was most afraid of.  I can paint and use power tools and all kinds of other things.  But sewing still scares me.
  • The first step of making the cushion is sewing the piping.  As I  mentioned, don’t leave this off – it really makes the whole project look polished.
  • I don’t profess to be any kind of expert on cushion making.  I am frankly amazed and astounded at how well mine turned out.  (I will say, that I closed the back of my cushion with velcro rather than a zipper.  I’m not at zipper caliber sewing yet).

Finishing details

  • I chose to paint my chair rockers a color very similar to my fabric for a more monochromatic look.  I considered doing white piping and white rockers for a high-contrast look but decided that just wasn’t right for this particular project.

upholstered rocker 2

glider arm

And there you have it – can’t wait to add a beautiful blanket and a fun little pillow.  And if you missed it before, be sure to check out how I got all the fabric for this project for only ten bucks by clicking here.

And if you are looking for more reupholstery info, here are some great resources that I found particularly helpful.

So what do you think – are you going to give it a try?  Do you feel totally empowered to make over any and everything?  I hope so because I certainly do.  And I am really looking forward to redoing those green velvet chairs in my living room next.

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  1. says

    Thank you for this! I’ve been following this project of yours… since you dyed the curtains. I have a chair like this in my living room. It looks disgusting, but is sooo comfortable! I was just about to go out and buy $80 worth of fabric… and I’ve never even reupholstered before! But I should probably consider getting a cheaper fabric and following your tutorial!

  2. says

    OK, Carrie, you’ve given me the courage to try this! I’m going to find something small to practice on first, I’m still a little intimidated but if I can master one that doesn’t really matter if I fail, then I’ll take on a bigger one! Thanks for a great tutorial.

  3. says

    Thank you so much for writing this up! My sister-in-law gave us a comfy chair but her dogs had ripped the arms and the slipcover is too floppy for my taste. I might just try to tackle this, but needed encouragement like this.

    The rockers are so cool on this chair.

    Thanks again!

  4. Kit says

    I have a green arm chair I purchased years ago, that one of our dogs used as a rubbing post along the back. I’ve been hauling it around for years saying I was going to reupholster it, even bought fabric a year ago. You’ve inspired me to get started. Thanks for the post.

  5. Debbie Perkins says

    Finally, someone with a chair with arms!! I am in the process of reupholstering a Schnadig chair and a half. Yes, I took pictures, did I look at them, nah, haha. Put them on your computer and do a slide show. I didnt put the piping on the chair, just sewed the arm piece. I did treat myself to a staple puller. Worth the money. I also bought a small compressor and a staple gun. Yes, the $6 chair & ottoman, $120 matlesse, and the $130 harbor freight…is still cheaper that a new chair. Use chalk to mark the fabric also. Didn’t think about tape. I left one side still stapled so I could see how to put it back together. My son is ready for his chair back. :) Soon, Eli, soon. Thanks for the tips! Staple On!

    • Carrie says

      Sounds like an awesome project Debbie! I’m thinking I should probably invest in a staple puller and a ‘grown up’ staple gun myself before my next upholstery project. I am constantly frustrated by my little staple gun and its lack of power!

  6. Anna says

    Thank you!! I have been searching for a tutorial and yours was the first I found with arms! While out with a friend recently we saw a “Happy Chair”. LOVE! I have an old chair in the attic and I am going to make my own funky, fun chair. Thanks for your tutorial and the links about the piping – very helpful!

    • Carrie says

      Thanks Anna! Glad I could help. I’ve seen some happy chairs and they really are pretty amazing. Have fun and good luck!

  7. Amanda says

    Hi!!!!!! OMG I love this!!!! I am almost 7 months pregnant and I am re-upholstering my nursery glider chair to a beautiful pink!!!!! my hubby thinks im crazy and I might not can do it! BUT I am going to and so going to use your tutorial!!! because I have looked every where for DIY chair and I have not found any UNTILL now of an armchair!!!! I am sooo excited and cant wait to use your directions!!!!!!!!!! thanks soo much!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Ash says

    Hi Carrie ,
    I have the same exact chair & have been procrastinating on starting the reupholster project. Besides the fabric, did you purchase any new materials (tack strips, nail tack strips, etc.)? How long did it take from start to finish? Just gauging if this is a 1 day or weekend proje t. Thanks!

    • Carrie says

      Ash, It is a big project but very do-able and worth it! I would say it is definitely a weekend project. I worked on this for a few hours a night over the course of about a week. I only purchased the fabric and some piping (the part that goes inside the sewn piping for the edges of the armrests and cushion). I was able to just reuse all the foam and tack strips that were originally in the chair.

  9. Rosita Aldrich says

    Thank you! I found a chair kind of like that with footstool and rocking beside the road. The people sd that I could have it she felt so bad because of the spots …children ate in chair and spilled things. I had thoroughly cleaned it and put a cover on it so excited to start reupholstering!

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