Most of Wednesday, I was crouched on my parents’ dining room floor reupholstering their dining room chairs. I live almost entirely in a barter economy: home-cooked suppers exchanged for babysitting, veterinary services for more babysitting, interior design for still more babysitting. Since I ditch my kids with my parents on a regular basis, redoing a dining set seems a fair price to pay.
The origins of the project arose during my first visit to my new favorite store: Exeter Handkerchief Company Fabric and Furniture. Three floors of a ramshackle old clapboard building next to the Amtrak station, and all three are packed wall to wall with bolts and bolts of fabric for home projects. You won’t find fabrics for making clothes and costumes here (its only flaw) but you will find an entire floor of fabrics all priced at $9/yard (and $6/yard on Tuesdays!) It was there on the third floor that my mom found a lovely damask with a black background–exactly dark and busy enough to hide the filth dropped on my parents’ furniture by my gross kids.
As compared with reupholstering a wingback chair like Bad Blue, dining room chairs are cinchy. So, rather than throwing out a bunch of chairs because their cushions are appallingly filthy, just do what I did and spend 7 hours pulling staples, stretching fabric and gripping a staple gun until your hands are useless, blistered claws! Here’s how:
Start with a gross chair cushion.
Turn the chair over and unscrew the seat from the frame. If you have a four year old, make him do it.
Using a screwdriver and pliers, pry up EVERY SINGLE staple holding the old fabric to the seat. Don't just rip the old fabric off. That's not good enough.
Make your four year old help you pull staples. Mine said things like, "This is just like pulling toothpicks from a rhino. Or ticks off an elephant."
Once you have the old fabric off, use the nasty old stuff as a template to cut a piece of your amazing new fabric. If you are using a fabric with a design that runs in one direction and/or has a repeat (think wallpaper patterns), you need to pay attention to how you cut the fabric so that the design motif will be centered on the cushion. If this is your first reupholstery rodeo, you might wish to select a random, non-directional pattern so you don’t have to worry about centering anything.
After cutting your fabric, place the now denuded seat face down on the backside of the new fabric piece. Begin wrapping the fabric up over the sides of the seat like it’s a present. Pull the fabric taut, but not so tight it puckers, and place a couple staples to hold it in place. Then pull the fabric taut along the opposite edge of the seat and place a couple staples there. Do the same for the two remaining sides, and then add staples all around. Recall how ridiculously many staples there seemed to be when you were pulling them? Do that.
Wrap the seat with the new fabric, pulling it tight but not so tight it puckers. Place a few staples to keep it in place.
Gather the corner fabric like such and staple it down as well.
And then you’re done. Just repeat for all the remaining chairs. Which, in my case, since my parents had five children without a thought for my future reupholstering situation, is a lot of chairs.