Wednesday, January 30, 2013

DIY: An Adventure in Re-Upholstering a Dining Room Chair

Soon after Jordan and I got married, I decided that our dining room set needed a look that was about 20 years newer. The cushions were very worn, frayed, and outdated. I didn't have the money to have it done professionally (of course! I was a newlywed!), so I decided to DIY. After accomplishing incredible feats of math, beating away precision monkeys, and using about 4 different tools in about 6 different ways to unscrew a single screw, I finished re-upholstering the chairs. I also decided to document it in case I (or anyone else) wanted to try it again.

What you'll need:
-Measuring tape
-Sturdy fabric (indoor-outdoor is a good choice for kitchen chairs)
-Strong scissors
-Staple gun and staples (I borrowed mine from a friend)

1. Pick the fabric. 

My main color in the kitchen is red, but I didn't want everything to be too matchy-matchy, so I chose a striped design with a light red and a peach. I could've chosen something bold, patterned, and very modern, but I wanted the chairs to be an accent, not a focal point.

Also, you may want to do this step after you unscrew the cushion, so that you can measure how much fabric you will need. It is a little more difficult to measure the cushion while still on the seat, but it is possible.

To determine how much fabric you'll need when you buy it, measure the cushion at its widest both vertically and horizontally with a measuring tape, then measure the depth. Add 2-3 times the depth to the horizontal and vertical measurements to determine how much fabric you will need to buy for a single cushion. 

When you're at the store and can see how wide the bolt of fabric you want is, do a bunch of math in your head if you're a genius, or if you're like me and go into a panic when you see a single number, use your phone calculator. Figure out how many yards you'll need with the calculator (the fabric I bought was wide enough to fit two cushions in, but a yard wasn't tall enough for two more cushions, so I bought 1 1/2 yards to fit 4 cushions).

Don't worry about factoring in the selvage because it won't be visible.

2. Unscrew the seat from the chair. This will be easy or hard depending on the chair and the screws used. Sometimes it took me 2 minutes to unscrew the whole seat, sometimes it took me 30 minutes.

Warning: Some screws (such as the one just above) require more than a screwdriver. This screw required a saw blade, a pocket knife, a hammer, and the screwdriver being used as a chisel, before it would come out. The problem was that it had been screwed in at an angle, but when I tried unscrewing it, the wood above it stopped it from going farther. I first tried sawing it out, since it was stuck. That failed: as you can see, there is a groove along the screw, but it didn't go deep enough to get to the screw. I tried cutting it out with a pocket knife, but the blade was too dull. Then I ended up chiseling a path for it using the pocket knife as a chisel, along with the hammer. Well, the knife tip got bent. So I then resorted to using the screwdriver as a chisel, and finally chiseled a path out above it that was deep enough for me to unscrew it easily.

Lay the cushion down on the fabric and cut around it. I pretty much eyeballed the measurements when I cut. No need to be one's going to look underneath the chair, except for little kids, and you may cut the extra fabric away at the end anyway! But remember, more than enough is always better than less than enough. Also, if there's no reason (such as mold) to strip the cushion of the current upholstery, don't. It's not worth the effort.

4. Staple the fabric to the cushion (lining up stripes and making sure the fabric and cushion are both upside down before you begin). Begin on the straightest edge, and staple precisely in the middle. If it is off to the left or right even by a millimeter, precision monkeys will attack. I had quite a few bruises and scratches from them.  

Continue to staple in a relatively orderly manner across the straight edge, leaving off about an inch or two from the corners.

6. Staple the opposite edge. This one was curved, so I stapled little pleats into the fabric. You want to stretch it fairly tight, and you also don't want the folds to show when you view it from the top. Make sure the pleats don't go beyond the edge.

7. Staple the rest of the edges, still leaving off about an inch or two from the corners. By now the precision monkeys should be getting tired, so you won't have to worry about them much longer.

8. Now comes the hard part: the corners. I tried and tried to get the folds not to show beyond the edge, but it didn't work. So I decided to make neat folds, and this is how I did it. I took the corner, folded it inward, and stapled it securely. 

Then I took one of the flaps sticking up, folded it down over the corner, pulled it as tight as possible, and stapled it once or twice (depending on how much room there was between the corner and the next staple). 

I then took the other flap, pressed it down, pulled it very tight, and stapled it. 

Voila! A neatly folded corner. 

But...then there were the corners of much woe. This next corner was next to the curved part of the cushion, so it couldn't be folded neatly into a box corner. The same idea basically applies, with the fabric corner first folded and stapled onto the seat corner, but after that, it's every flap for itself. Fold and re-fold to find the tightest, neatest looking fold you can get, and staple away. Add extra pleats to the fabric curve if you need to.

This is the curved corner fold from the top. Not too shabby.

9. After finishing all four corners, take the mighty fabric scissors and slice away. The precision monkeys had gained renewed strength and would not let me leave a bunch of fabric just hanging, so I gave in and grabbed the scissors to cut the excess.

The completed cushion:

10. Put the cushion back on the seat. Screw the screws back in...this requires some twisting and turning to try to keep the seat out of the way of gravity while doing the same with the screws...I ended up laying an arm across the seat to hold it down while screwing the the screws upside down.

11. Step back and admire your handiwork. Sit on it, stand on it, and put it back in its place at the table or against the wall.

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