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Reupholstering Dining Chair Cushions

I just finished a home décor project for my aunt that involved more hand tools than sewing. In her kitchen, she has 4 dining chairs with upholstered seats that were becoming a little threadbare after years of use. I helped her pick out some upholstery fabric and I was delighted that she chose to make them each a different color. The finished chair cushions look great around her glass tabletop:

Newly covered chairs around my aunt’s kitchen table.

Upholstery work is always hard on your hands and the deconstructing the old upholstery takes almost as long as the putting the new stuff on. (Note to self: If you ever recover more than 2 chairs at a time again, buy a pneumatic staple gun or recruit the husband!)

The foam of the seats was still in good condition (only the fabric covering it was wearing out) so luckily I didn’t have to rebuild anything.

Chair BEFORE – notice the foam is
poking out of a few holes in the fabric.
(Wensley photobomb!)

After removing the seats from the chair frames (they were attached with four screws on the bottom of each cushion), I inspected the original construction and reverse-engineered them.

I was relieved to discover that the foam had been wrapped in fabric and the matching fabric piping had been stapled to the cushion base separately. This meant that I only needed to remove the existing backing & piping before recovering them and I wouldn’t have to sew the new piping to the new cover.

I removed the piping & the backing staples by forcing an awl between the piping and the cushion base to loosen the staples so that I could grab them with needle nose pliers.

I removed quite a pile of staples and I was so glad I didn’t have to remove the rest!

There were a few staples ends that broke off during removal and were too short to grab with the pliers. I pounded those flat with a hammer to prevent the sharp edges from being a hazard. Then the prep work was finished and the cushions were ready to be recovered.

Ready for reupholstering!

I first cut two-inch wide bias from each of the four fabrics. One yard of each had been ordered, and all but the reddish-orange came with an extra generous cut of nearly a yard-and-a-half! This meant that I only needed to cut one strip of bias from the long three (there was actually enough left over for a second seat of each) and I just pieced two strips of the orange.

Marking the bias is easiest with a clear quilting ruler with grid.
And it’s already 2-inches wide.

I had some utility cotton cording in my stash, but it was just a little too wide to make the piping out of the thick upholstery fabric in the size I needed.  So I went to the hardware store and picked up some one-eighth inch nylon cord for about $4.

To make the piping, I wrapped the bias strip of fabric around the cording and sewed through the fabric next to the cord with a zipper/cording foot. I followed the guidelines that came with the upholstery fabric and used a ballpoint needle with nylon thread.

Notice my tension had to be adjusted WAY up for the heavy-duty thread, but I made a handy pencil line on my tension dial so I always remember the setting my machine likes best for standard sewing. (I have pencil lines for various settings on both my sewing machine and serger.)

For the one strip of bias I needed to piece, I simply stitched two pieces together with a tiny tiny stitch (no need to backstitch). Then I opened the seam flat as I stitched the cording inside. It was almost impossible to detect the piecing on the finished piping – upholstery fabric usually has a nice texture for hiding seams. =)

Sewing over the seam of the pieced bias.

My pile of finished piping.

To cover seat cushions, first determine which direction the fabric’s nap (the fuzzy texture) is going. You should be able to feel the direction by running your hand over the right side of the fabric in a straight line with the grain. You want the fabric to feel smoothest (the least drag) when you “pet” the chair from back to front.

I found the nap direction and then roughly traced (on the wrong side of the fabric) the amount I needed to wrap around the cushion and marked the front with an “F”.

Working on the floor (aka “dog territory”), I wrapped the fabric around the cushion and stapled the center back and then pulled it tight and stapled the center front. Next, I pulled the sides tight and stapled the center of those. (I used a hammer to drive the staples all the way down into the wooden base of the cushion.)

I used an old college text book to prop up the edge of the seat cushion so that I could work on a flat surface. I also used my feet (not pictured) to hold the cushion steady when I needed both hands to fire the staple gun. (Upholstering is an full body sport, hehe.)

Once the first few staples were in place on all four edges of the cushion, I followed the previous cover’s folds and eased the fabric around the corners and curves making sure that the top and side were as smooth as possible. (It’s okay if the bottom is a little lumpy and folded because it won’t show.) And I trimmed off excess fabric as I went.

Close-up of the folded front corner
(I’m holding the side and the front is on the Right).

After I was satisfied with the fabric wrapped around the cushion (I needed to remove and redo a few staples as I went), I moved on to piping attachment.

I lined the piping up with my finger on the edge of the cushion
and stapled as close to the cording as possible.

To finish the piping where it overlaps, I started in the back
so that the overlap would be hidden by the center back of the chair frame.

Finished piping on bottom of cushion.

Detail of piping around curves and corners.

It is amazing how much more finished the piping makes the seat cushions look! A professional look is all about the details. =)

Cushion with piping compared to those without.

Following the piping came the backing, just to finish out the bottom neatly. I used a sturdy cotton weave so the cushion could “breathe”. (The original cover was a black fabric like the reusable grocery bags, but I couldn’t find any of that in a solid color at the fabric store.  I just used some neutral fabric I already had.)

I cut the cotton fabric around the cushion and folded the raw edges under
as I pulled it tight & stapled it to the bottom next to the piping trim.

Once the backing was on, I used a sharp pair of scissors to
cut small holes where the screws attach.

I think they turned out really well and should last for years since they are covered in thicker fabric than they were before. Reupholstering is not really difficult from a technical standpoint, but your hands take a lot of abuse with a project like this, so plan for a couple days of minimum hand use afterwards should you attempt to recover your own.

My stack of completed seat cushions – my hands were very happy to be finished stapling!

The completed dining chair cushions side-by-side.

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