DIY: Reupholstering My Dining Room Chairs

Last week I had little time for cooking because I was up to my elbows in a DIY project: reupholstering our dining room chairs. Sam and I have eight dining room chairs that were sorely in need of a facelift. The original beige fabric was badly soiled and beyond the magical cleaning powers of Oxi-Clean. Instead of trying to clean them, we decided the best course was to reupholster them. I am fairly new to the household DIY scene, but thankfully my mom was willing to help me with this project. Here’s a day-by-day overview of our project.

chair before

The chair before reupholstery, covered in a neutral yet stain-prone beige fabric.


I picked up my mom from the BART station and we drove straight to Sal Baressi fabrics in SOMA. Type in “fabric store in San Francisco” on Yelp! and you’ll find Sal Baressi is the top-rated store, with 4.5 stars. Not only that, they specialize in upholstery fabric. Double score. I haven’t been to many fabric stores, but my mom, who used to sew all her clothes, was in heaven in Sal Baressi because the selection was amazing. It was fun to walk around and touch all the fabrics. Suddenly I fancied myself a seamstress and began plotting sewing projects: this fabric would make a great throw pillow or that one a cute oilcloth lunch bag. Plenty of fodder for creativity.

With the dining chair seat cushion in hand, we walked up and down the aisles and in and out of rooms of the 9000 sq. ft. warehouse to find the perfect fabric. Our mission was to find something that was versatile and would not show dirt. We decided to use a chenille fabric with yellow, orange, red and green tones and a large paisley-like flower pattern. It perfectly fit the bill of what we were looking for: versatile and easy to keep clean. The retail price is $36/yard, but everything in the store is always 40% retail price, meaning it was $21.60/yard. We bought three yards for the eight cushions.

chair cushion1

Stapling the new fabric onto the chair cushion.

Back at my house, we unscrewed the rest of the seat cushions from the chairs and removed the decorative cording and black buckram-like fabric, which had been stapled onto the wooden underside of the cushion. Prying off the staples was surprisingly one of the most time consuming and difficult parts of the project. After completing that task, we cut out squares of the new fabric and stapled it right on top of the old beige fabric. Stapling the fabric along the sides of the cushion was easy, but it took more thought to carefully and decoratively gather the fabric up around the edges.This tutorial from on how to reupholster a chair offered some helpful advice and guidance as we tackled our project. In 6 hours, we picked out our fabric, removed staples from the cushions and covered two cushions with the new fabric.

chair corner detail

Carefully wrapping and stapling the fabric over the corners.


The next day, I loaded all the cushions, fabric and one chair frame into my car and drove to my parents’ house. In about three hours my mom and I finished stapling the rest of the fabric on the remaining six cushions. Three hours may sound like a long time for covering six cushions, but he staple gun is physically difficult to use and we found ourselves needing to take breaks to give our hands a rest.

chair staple gun

Our Arrow staple gun. This model is called "The Attacker." Yikes.

After waffling about whether the chairs needed a decorative cording (which we would have to sew ourselves), we decided we would do it because it would give the chairs a more finished look. On my way home, I dropped by Sal Baressi’s and bought more fabric and raw cording to make the decorative cording. The people at Sal Baressi’s are so helpful in figuring out what type and how much fabric you need for your project. It is such a fun experience to simply be in the store—go visit!

chair cushion after

All the cushions are reupholstered, but it really needs that decorative trim. Can't you tell? ;)


I made another trip to my parents’ house. My mom and I cut strips of fabric on the bias (i.e. diagonally), which is important so that it “gives” when you wrap and sew it around the cording. After trying to get my mom’s old sewing machine to work, we called up my aunt and asked if we could finish the sewing at her house using her machine. She agreed and we were set to finish the sewing—and hopefully the project—on Sunday. After two hours of work and with no sewing to do, I decided to take advantage of being in the suburbs and washed and vacuumed our car. (Somehow it’s incredibly difficult to wash your car in the City!)


chair after cording

Chair cushion with decorative cording.

The party got bigger: my mom, sister Laurel and I drove to my Aunt Barbara’s across the Golden Gate Bridge. My mom and aunt figured out how to piece together the strips on the bias so we have strips 59” long. Laurel and I watched and stayed out of the way; our sewing knowledge is limited, but we’re eager to learn. Once the strips were pieced together, my Aunt Barbara began sewing the fabric strips around the raw cording. I sewed the few strips, which was quite exciting for me since it was probably my third time to ever use a sewing machine. Meanwhile, my sister and mom stapled the decorative cording around the edges of the cushions. Within two hours, all of the decorative cording was sewn and stapled onto the cushions. Last step: screw the cushions back onto the chair frames.

chair after

The Damage:

  • Fabric:            4.5 yards @ $21.60/yd =     $95.85
  • Cording:         13.5 yards @ $0.49/yd =     $6.62
  • Staple Gun:                                               $29.95
  • Staples:           2 packs @ $4.29 each =      $8.58
  • Tax:                 @ 8.5% =                            $11.99

Total Cost:                                                      $152.99

(not including BART tickets, auto gas or bridge tolls, which probably add $50 to the total)

Total Work Time: 13 hours (not including travel time) 

Was it worth $152.99 and 13 hours of work? Absolutely! I believe it would have cost much more to have the chairs professionally reupholstered and it is so nice to have attractively covered chairs.

A good bit of our 13 hours were spent familiarizing ourselves with the staple gun and sewing machines, so the next round of reupholstering would likely take even less time.

Thanks Mom, Laurel and Aunt Barbara for your help and time with this project!

14 Thoughts on “DIY: Reupholstering My Dining Room Chairs

  1. Wow – what a difference! I love the fabric you chose. Thanks for taking me step-by-step through the job. Now, if I ever need to reupholster chairs, I’ll be fully aware of what I’m getting into!

    • andrealein on August 3, 2011 at 1:36 PM said:

      Thanks, Katy! Yes, if you ever want to reupholster anything, I highly recommend the link above to Little Green Notebook. She goes into even more detail and has really helpful photos.

  2. Mary Welches on August 2, 2011 at 4:36 PM said:

    Hi, Andrea, (and Brenda),
    It was so fun to read your blog about covering your seat cushions. Last winter Liz and I took on a similar project for her living room, but just one chair, not six. It was basically an armless upholstered chair. We chose a lighter weight paisley print, blue and white, and covered the old upholstery like you did. I’m not sure you knew that my dad was a furniture maker and upholsterer, and I remember spending evenings in our garage with him almost as often as I spent time in the house with my mom. Doing the actual work brought back lots of memories, but I had no idea how difficult it would be using that handheld stapler! My dad used tacks that he held in his MOUTH, and a tiny headed hammer. Eventually he obtained an air compressor driven stapler. We bought and returned two or three staplers and numerous types of staples before we arrived at an acceptable combination. Good thing Liz is young and strong, and doesn’t battle arthritis in her hands like I do. In places, she would hold the stapler steadily, while I pushed the lever. We were pretty proud of ourselves when all was said and done. Looking forward to reading more tales of DIY from you!

    • andrealein on August 3, 2011 at 1:40 PM said:

      Sounds like reupholstering furniture is a good mother-daughter project! (even the blog where I read a tutorial was a mother-daughter project) I didn’t not know that your dad was an upholsterer—and I can’t imagine stapling in each tack! That must have taken a lot of patience. I know what you mean about the staple being so hard to use! We actually ran out and bought a new stapler in the middle of the project b/c the one we were using was pretty old and not working well. It was still really tough to use, and I’m glad we had Laurel to help us with the last bit. Hope you are well!

  3. Laurel Forehand on August 2, 2011 at 6:32 PM said:

    The cording is exceptional! So glad to be a part of the project and memories :)

    • andrealein on August 3, 2011 at 1:41 PM said:

      Thanks, Lo! I’m glad you got to be part of the project and memories too! (Esp. since that meant I got a break from using the staple gun!) What’s our next project going to be?

  4. Looks great! The trim really makes it, I think.

    • andrealein on August 3, 2011 at 1:42 PM said:

      Thanks! And thanks for reaffirming the trim—I guess it was worth it to extend the project by 2 days to make the trim. :)

  5. Can I just tell you how perfect that fabric is for you guys?! Seriously- it is so you, love it!! And love that you shared your process- thanks! Good work, wish I could have joined!

  6. Thanks for including us in your post. Do you mind if we use some of your post and pictures on our new website and Facebook page? We want to showcase projects that use out fabrics.

    Thanks again. The chairs look amazing.

    Forrest Glover
    Sal Beressi Fabrics

    • Hi Forrest! Certainly, you are welcome to use my pics for your Facebook page. Thanks for asking. We’re still loving our dining chair upholstery two years later!

  7. Your chair look beautiful. I have similar chairs and would like to use this fabric. Do you remember the name of this fabric?

    • Hi Sheila, Thank you! This fabric was a wonderful choice. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the fabric, and I didn’t see it in stock when I visited Sal Baressi Fabrics this July. You might try showing a picture of the fabric to someone at your local fabric store and seeing if they can help you find something close. Good luck!

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