The Lazy Guide to Reupholstering a Couch

June 17, 2020

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Now that I’m officially done reupholstering a couch, I get the hype. This definitely deserves some kind of celebration. Like a spa day. Or a cash prize.

When I decided to do this, I had absolutely NO experience with upholstery. I had no idea what supplies to get and I definitely didn’t know there were techniques of any kind. So it will be increasingly clear that I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL UPHOLSTERER. And I did NOT do this professionally, at all.

However, this tutorial will show you what I didn’t know and what I wish I had known about reupholstering a couch.

Here’s what’s ahead:

In the end, I maaayyy have used a few drops of super glue and had some exposed staples and wrinkled fabric, but I’m okay with that. Keep that in mind if you’re more of a perfectionist than me.

My reupholstery journey started with this chair on Facebook marketplace.

Reupholstering a couch

It was huge and soo comfy…. and on sale for $45! I was puuuumped.

In hindsight, I DO NOT recommend “attempting” to reupholster for the first time on a couch, or an oversized chair that is basically a couch. (Yes, I’ll be mostly referring to this as a couch, even though it’s technically a chair. If you came to this tutorial to learn how to reupholster something like a dining room chair, that’s a different and MUCH EASIER process).

This project took HOURS of work, WEEKS of it sitting upside down in my living room, well over $100 of fabric, four nights of sewing past 10 pm, some blood and sore hands… and the end result is still not store-quality.

BUUUT, it is insanely comfortable and I’m insanely proud that I did this. So if you (somehow) haven’t been scared away by all my disclaimers, you can totally do this.

For the sake of being specific, my chair/couch was 40.5 inches deep and 47 inches wide, and the ottoman was 31 inches deep and 37 inches wide. Like, really big. A better description might be that it can comfortably fit mine and my husband’s butts, as well as two kids on top of us.

How to reupholster a couch

The Basic Concept of Reupholstering a Chair

I read a bunch of reupholstery tutorials before I started, but I kept feeling like they didn’t FULLY equip me. Like, there are some tutorials you read (my countertop painting one is a good example) and they tell you every detail. You can basically take that tutorial and repeat it step by step and get the same result.

The reupholstery tutorials didn’t make me feel like that. They definitely helped, but they were too broad to really feel like I was going to know exactly how to do the whole thing. My goal was to write a tutorial that actually made you feel like, “Okay, I completely understand every step now!”

But the truth is: You aren’t going to know how to do everything when you do this for the first time.

That’s because the way you reupholster a chair is completely dependent on that exact chair. The way to reupholster your couch will be different than mine, because it’s probably made differently.

HOWEVER, this is the basic concept of reupholstering a couch or chair that you need to know:

Step 1: Take apart your chair.

Step 2: Put it back together.

Yep, that is basically what it boils down to. The only other thing you NEEEEEED TO KNOW before starting is to take pictures and mark your pieces.

You will not be able to put your chair back together if you don’t document the way it was originally put together.

Sewing New Cushion Covers

Remember that if you have a couch or an oversized chair like mine, you will also have to sew new cushion covers. Even though I’ve sewn a few things in the past (not super well, but I know my way around), the cushion covers were actually my least favorite part of this project. They’re tedious and time-consuming, but that’s just my preference. If you prefer sewing, you won’t have any issues.

(The thing is, I didn’t really know how little I liked sewing until I actually did this. That’s why I think you should just tackle different projects–you’ll end up finding what you love and what you hate. Those are things you need to know when you’re DIYing home improvements.)

Supplies for Reupholstering a Couch

What you need for any reupholstery project:

Flathead screwdriver (or Tack Puller)
Pliers (Long-nose pliers were VERY necessary, but I also needed this kind too)
Staple gun (You don’t need the best kind, but make sure you can use multiple sizes of staples)
Staples: You’ll need 9/16 or 1/2 inch staples and 1/4 inch staples
Reupholstery needle: You may not actually need these for every project

Upholstery Supplies that may come with your chair

Foam
Padding: The professional term is “Upholstery Batting”
Upholstery Metal Tack Strip: This is the name for “sharp metal thingy” that I didn’t know existed until I found it in my deconstruction
Cardboard strips (I didn’t actually use any when reupholstering my chair, but you’re supposed to)

Decorative Nails (I did not use any, but honestly I might add them because Etsy has SO MANY cool ones)
Piping Cord (100% optional–I didn’t do this at all)

For sewing cushions:

Seam ripper
Sewing machine (this is the kind I have)
Fabric scissors or a rotary Cutter (you don’t NEED a rotary cutter for this, but it would help)
Sewing mat and ruler (This is the exact set I have)
Zipper(s) if you don’t reuse the ones you have

Step 1: Start Removing Fabric and Staples

In the beginning, you just need your screwdriver, pliers, and some good TV… Because you’re gonna be doing this for a whiiiiile.

I wasn’t even sure where to start, but it’s not as difficult to figure out as you’d think. Start by looking at your chair or couch in terms of layers–what layer of fabric is on top?

Since this chair was very old and dated, it had those ruffles on the bottom. Obviously, that’s the top layer. As soon as I lifted up the ruffled, I could see the staples. Basically anywhere you can see staples could be a starting point.

How to reupholster a couch

Key tip: Make sure you keep each piece that you’ll need again. I didn’t need to keep my ruffle pieces, but I needed most of the other ones to measure the right size of fabric. And make sure to use a sharpie to label the pieces–this can save you a lot of time… and possibly some profanities. Not that I know.

This is just one step, but it will take a LONG TIME if you have a big chair or couch. The task itself is slow, but it’s not difficult. I read one tutorial that said their five-foot chair took them five hours, and their seven-foot chair took seven hours, and that sounds about right.

Things You’ll Discover When Taking Apart Your Chair

Again, I knew NOTHING when I started this project, I just jumped in.

So when I was taking the fabric off of the chair, I found these cardboard strips everywhere. They were under the ruffles (which I didn’t replace) and near the piping. I saved them, but I ended up not using them at all. If you want your chair to be better quality, I suggest researching the appropriate way to use these.

Chair reupholstery

I also discovered these metal strips with VERY sharp nails coming out of them. I seriously had never read anything about these and was confused by them.

Did I mention they’re SUPER sharp? Because they’re super sharp. Be careful.

Reupholstering a couch

These help to stretch the fabric across straight sections, like the back (which I’ll get to below). I reused the ones I had, and it was mostly fine. However, because they had already been used, the sharp pieces bent pretty easily and didn’t go straight in.

Sooo I would really recommend buying new ones. This kind is only $10 on Etsy and that would be worth it for me. You should only need a few.

Step 2: Sew New Cushion Covers

It really doesn’t matter if you redo the cushion covers or staple the fabric on your actual chair first. They are two completely separate steps, so feel free to rearrange the order if you need to.

Another thing to note before you dive into this: This step is actually like 17 steps. Some chair reupholstery projects won’t have cushions–and those projects will be SIGNIFICANTLY easier, faster, and cheaper.

Of course, my project was none of those things, so here we go.

1. Take Off Cushion Covers

You’ll probably find a zipper hidden in the back of your cushion, so go ahead and unzip that and take the cover off.

2. Remove Zippers

This is when you’ll need your seam ripper.

If you’re a perfectionist, you might notice that I have a weird colored zipper. You can absolutely get a brand new zipper, but I chose not to. The zippers on these cushions were in perfect condition, and I hid them again in the back, so it didn’t matter.

The easiest way to rip your zipper out of the cushion is to close the zipper up and start ripping seams.

Now, you won’t need the zipper again until the very end, so you can put it somewhere safe. (Like, out of reach of your creative 4 year old. VERY out of reach.)

3. Measure and Cut New Fabric Pieces

There are two ways to do things: the accurate, detailed way, and the Kaylee way. I have officially decided that sewing is NOT something I really enjoy, so I tend to take shortcuts and sacrifice top-quality. I definitely did that here.

For that reason, I’m not going to give you a full tutorial on sewing a seat cushion. Instead, I’ll direct you to the ones that will actually help you:

For my ottoman, I ended up making a drawstring cover. This is the tutorial I used to do that and I highly recommend it!

Step 3: Measure and Cut Replacement Pieces

Now, back to the actual furniture fabric. When you’ve removed all the fabric, it’ll look something like this.

Reupholstering a chair
Naked chair, cover yourself up man

Here’s the general concept of reupholstering the bones of the chair: cut a piece of fabric to match, then staple it tightly onto the chair.

I measured, cut, and then attached each piece. However, I think it would be a lot faster and more efficient to cut all your pieces at the same time and then attach them all.

Couch reupholstery

This is when you’ll be thankful that you labeled things. There were a few pieces I forgot to label, and it took an unreasonable amount of time to make sure I had it right.

Lay out your new fabric and then put the old fabric piece on top. You can pin them together or not, but you want to cut the same shape with some extra space.

Reupholstering a couch or chair
Warning: child is adorable, but makes reupholstery more difficult

Sewing Onto Your Chair

There was only one section that required sewing onto the actual bones of the chair. The bottom of this front had to be stapled, and the top had to be sewn.

How to reupholster a chair
Yep, that’s a cheerio in that seat.

I was nervous, because you really need to pull your fabric tight when you’re stapling. I really wasn’t sure I could get it as tight with thread, and I definitely didn’t want to rip the fabric.

None of those things happened, and this was actually very easy. You just need a curved upholstery needle and thread that isn’t, you know, the cheap and flimsy kind.

I just made sure to pull really tight, and put your needle in really close to the last stitch. You should use a good amount of thread for this, but it really doesn’t take as long as you might think.

How to reupholster a couch
Could I have swept this before publishing? Yep. Just keeping it real for yall.

I also hand sewed these corners, just making sure everything was tight, tight, tight.

Couch reupholstery

Step 4: Staple Fabric onto Your Chair

I personally think using a staple gun is way more fun than sewing a cushion, AND this is the part where you start seeing the “after” looking of your couch–so this part is kind of fun!

Key tips: Pull your fabric REALLY tight, and don’t by shy with the staple usage.

You may have also noticed that I had two different types of staples in my supplies list. That was not an accident. This is a closeup of the difference in sizes between 9/16 and 1/4 inch staples.

Reupholstering a couch

I started with 1/4 inch staples, which work perfectly when you’re stapling your fabric right onto the wood on your chair.

But when you start stapling fabric over padding, those 1/4 inch staples aren’t gonna do the trick. No matter how hard you push that staple gun into the fabric, it’s not going to be secure enough. You’ll need to get longer staples, either 1/2 inch or 9/16.

But you really do need both sizes, because the longer staples won’t work on the wood. They get all confused and bent because they’re too long.

Chair reupholstery
Side view of the different staple sizes

Reupholstering the Back of a Couch or Chair

The back of my chair was what I saved for last. I thought, “It’s just one piece of square fabric, that part will be quick and easy!”

NOPE.

Yes, it’s an easy shape for the fabric and stapling right onto wood is easy. However, you have to fold the edges of the square under and staple that tightly.

Now, if you had actually researched beforehand how to do this step and made sure you had the right tools, I don’t think it would be nearly as hard. But if you just use your staple gun and your brain, it’s not going to turn out beautifully. It’s just not. I did the best I could, but I ended up using super glue and just being okay with two to three staples showing.

I was too deep into my project and too desperate to have it DONE to think clearly, but here’s a great Youtube video I found to help:

This is where you’ll need the metal tack strip.

Final Step: Reattach Legs

This almost doesn’t even count as a step, but after all the fabric is on your chair, you just screw those legs back on!

I spray painted mine to match the chair, which took… you know, 14 whole seconds.

Reupholstering a chair

After the chair was sitting regularly (instead of upside down and half torn apart), we noticed it was sliding and scratching our floors. I did a little bit of research and then I bought these furniture grippers. SO WORTH THE MONEY. I only put two on the chair and two on the ottoman, and they don’t move anymore! It makes a huge difference.

Aaand… with that, you have a reupholstered chair!

Chair reupholstery
Reupholstering a chair

As a crafter, it’s easy for me to see all the flaws. But my husband is absolutely in love with this chair. He barely even sits on our couch anymore, and he tells everyone about it. So believe me when I say that you will always see more flaws than anyone else. You got this, kid.

Reupholstering a Couch: FAQs

How long does it take to reupholster a chair?

It depends on the size and type of your chair or couch. For an oversized chair like I had, it probably took 15-20 hours in total. For a dining room chair or the top of a bench, it would only take about an hour.

What kind of fabric do I need to upholstery a chair?

Choose fabric that specifically says “upholstery fabric” or “home decor fabric.” You will NOT want to use silk, nursery fabric, chiffon, woven fabric, or jersey for any kind of upholstery.

How much fabric will I need?

The amount of fabric you need will depend on the type and size of your chair. My oversized chair used somewhere around 12 yards. Make sure you get more yardage than you think you’ll need, because you don’t want to run out and not be able to find your fabric again.

How much does reupholstering a chair cost?

The cost of upholstery depends on the size of chair or couch and the type of fabric you choose. You could easily find upholstery fabric for $50 a yard, but I was not willing to pay that. I purchased 14 yards of this fabric at Joann’s, used coupons, and it cost a total of $163.82. That was for a large oversized chair.

The cost of the other supplies could be minimal. I did purchase a staple gun for this, which was about $25. Staples are about $5 for a pack. I did not purchase the cardboard, nails, or tack strips, but I would recommend purchasing new tack strips, which are about $10.

Are there alternatives to reupholstery?

Why, yes, yes there are. If you want to skip this whole reupholstery mess, you can just purchase a slipcover to place over your chair or couch. There’s a HUGE range of prices for slipcovers (and you guessed it… they depend on the size of your chair), but you can buy some cute patterns these days. You could potentially get a really high-quality slipcover for less than the cost of upholstery fabric.

I personally prefer knowing that the fabric is clean and brand new, but I have friends who love their slipcovers.

As always, I love to answer questions and help in any way I can–so join the love your home Facebook group! I can’t wait to hear how your project goes.

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Hi! I’m Kaylee–a mom of 2, business owner, DIY addict, and so much more. You’ll find some fun DIY tutorials, totally honest reviews, and lots of tips for making your home fit YOU. Welcome to Mama and More!

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