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Tags: Tips, Upcycling

Upcycling for beginners: upholstery tools & tips

Posted on 2015-02-25

Reupholstering a piece of furniture can sound, to many people, like the sort of activity they’d never succeed at in a million years. But they’d be wrong – start with the basics and anyone can have a go at this surprisingly accessible craft.

It goes without saying that you probably won’t, however, want to tackle a full armchair on your first attempt. Stick to pieces such as footstools, ottomans and dining chairs – or any chair that’s got a hard frame and a seat pad.

You’ll need some tools to do this, so it’ll cost a little bit of money if you haven’t already got them – although you can buy many of them from eBay and it’ll still be cheaper than buying a new piece of furniture.

What you’ll need:


Fabric from Ikea 

Photo credit: Ikea

This is the fun bit, as you get to choose your colours and patterns. Opt for a heavy fabric that can take a fair bit of wear and tear, especially if the piece of furniture will be sat on regularly.
Non-stretchy fabrics are best, as you’ll be able to pull them taut around the piece – ensuring a smooth finish.

Staple gun

Photo credit: Suburble

An essential piece of kit for budding upholsterers – a strong staple gun that’s easy to use will help you affix the fabric to the frame quickly and with minimal fuss. Don’t forget the staples though!

Upholstery nails
Photo credit: Swikit

Not an essential, but useful for covering up any staples that may be on show when you’ve finished. They also work well for decoration and are relatively inexpensive. Remember also that, if you opt to use nails, you’ll need a small hammer too!

Fabric scissors
Ericka Eckles
Photo credit: Ericka Eckles

You’ll want to buy some sharp, good quality fabric scissors. Don’t use them for anything else though as you could end up making them blunt.

Photo credit: Flickr

If you need to measure and cut the fabric, you’ll need something to mark your guidelines that won’t stain or show through the fabric. Tailors chalk or water soluble pencils are ideal for this, as they can be sponged off or washed out.

Webbing (for a dining chair)
Sans Map
Photo credit: Sans Map

Many old dining chairs can start to sag, as the webbing has been overused and become old. New webbing doesn’t cost much and will give a new lease of life to your chair. You’ll need a hammer and some small nails to tack it around the edge.

Seat pad/foam (depending on condition of furniture)
Domestic Charm
Photo credit: Domestic Charm

Depending on the age and condition of the piece, you’ll probably want to change the seat pad. Large pieces of foam can be bought from hobby shops and are easy to cut to size. You’ll also want some spray adhesive (make sure it works on foam) to attach it to the seat, and some batting or wadding to create a smoother effect. Alternatively, you can spray the existing seat pad with disinfectant spray – but be sure to let it dry completely before adding the fabric.

Threads and snippets
Photo credit: Threads and Snippets

You’ll probably want to buy a small flat head screwdriver and a large one too. These will come in handy when removing any hinges or screws and can even be used, in a pinch, to remove staples too.

Box cutter/Stanley knife
Photo credit: Suburble

You may need a sharp knife if you’re removing leather or other hard to unpick fabrics. As always, be careful when using these knives and try to get hold of some protective gloves if you’re worried about slipping and hurting yourself.

Staple remover

Padgham Upholstery
Photo credit: Padgham Upholstery

Most pieces will have the fabric stapled to the frame somewhere, and these heavy duty staples can be difficult to remove. A specialist staple remover will do the trick quickly, easily and safely.

Our top 5 upholstery tips

1. Take the existing fabric off carefully. You’ll then be able to use it as a template for the new covering, making your job much easier
2. Take photos as you take off the fabric. This will help you remember how parts were attached or folded, saving you hours of deliberation
3. Start simple – trying to upholster an armchair on your first go will likely end in disaster. Start with a small stool or chair and work your way up
4. Don’t forget the finishing touches! New knobs, handles or paintwork will make your finished piece look more professional and totally unique
5. Don’t rush. If you try and get the whole thing done in a day, you’ll end up cutting corners and making the end result a little more ‘rustic’ than you’d maybe like. A project like this should be fun, so take your time and enjoy yourself!

Our favourite tutorials for beginners


our family journey
Photo credit: Our Family Journey

Angela’s covered ottoman from Our Family Journey is a great project for beginners. What may at first seem like a complicated job is turned into something simple yet beautiful. Brooke from Suburble does something similar, with the added obstacle of young children playing around her as she works!

Dining Chairs:
apartment apothecary
Photo credit: Apartment Apothecary

This easy, reupholstered drop-in seat from Katy at Apartment Apothecary is an easy, accessible tutorial with stunning results. Likewise, this tutorial from designer Betsy Speert is another easy to follow guide to sprucing up an old set of chairs.

the shabby nest
Photo credit: The Shabby Nest

A stool such as this one from Apartment Therapy should only set you back a few pounds (if that) at a charity shop or car boot sale. Yet the result looks rather more expensive! This simple blog post from Wendy at The Shabby Nest focuses on barstools, for something a little bit different and a beautiful result.

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