How to Reupholster a Chair French Provincial Shabby Chic Makeover – Day 1

Day One -How to Dismantle a Vintage Chair and Use the Fabric as a Pattern

This post covers the first steps in how to reupholster a chair.  My aim is to break it down into little steps and show lots of detail.  Today’s post is for Day One.

Day One of How to Reupholster a Chair Removing the Fabric and Taking Notes Chair repair, furniture restoration, recover chairs DIY, how to reupholster a chair, reupholstery, chair reupholstery, furniture repair, recovering furniture, how to recover a chair.

Here are all Three Links to the Chair Project Including Today’s Post

Day One – How to Plan and Get Started on a Chair Reupholstery

Day Two – How to Sew and Create Piping on a Chair Reupholstery

Day Three – How to Upholster and Final Touches on a Chair Reupholstery

I saw this oh so curvy little girl chair in a local thrift store.  On my way over to snag it, another lady found it first and unfortunately for her hubby was tagging along and nixed it.  Being kind I did hover for a couple of minutes before swooping in on it.  The hubby got a smack on his shoulder for his troubles.  Personally, I think he deserved it.

Where to Start?

A vintage french provincial chair in need of recovering. A DIY chair reupholstery project before picture.

Taking a close look at this chair what do you notice it will need other than the obvious new covering?

There are six buttons that will need to be put back in.

The chair has nails around the legs, that need to be saved.

It has piping around the seat, which unfortunately means the cushion top needs to be sewn.  There are four darts on the top cushion corners as well.

The stuffing for the cushion will need to be replaced.

There are gorgeous curves on the back and bottom that need to be followed.

And beautiful french provincial legs that need to be refinished as well.

Material I Used

Sewing machine

2 yards of fabric ( if I had 3, I would have added a skirt)

Button cover kit

Piping cord

Take Photo Notes

Prior to starting to blog I always took pictures when tearing something apart.  I suggest you do that as well.  They don’t need to be perfect but will be a wealth of informative notes for you when putting it back together.  (If you’re a regular reader you know I have a terrible time to remember the  before pictures on a paint project for the blog, but for an upholstery project its part of my regular process).

As you tear your piece apart you may find some surprising steps.  The back of this chair did not have one staple show.  Much less the large nails.

Taking apart upholstery to show how to recover a chair.

Originally the top of the chair was stapled first along the fold of the fabric.  The two sides were put on with long metal strips that I saved, and then the bottom was stapled on the underside where you can’t see it.  So that is exactly how I will put it back together.

Today I am only going to show you a portion of my photo notes.   If in doubt I take a picture.  Like how this back was folded.

DIY Chair reupholstery showing how the original fabric was folded.

Cutting the Fabric

As each piece of fabric is removed use it as a pattern for the replacement fabric. Cut the fabric and put aside along with any hardware.   For upholstered pieces, you do not need to seal the edges of your fabric with a zigzag sewing stitch, but you do need to make sure your fabric is ironed very well.

Cut and ironed piece of upholstery for reupholster project on an pretty shabby chic chair.

The Back of the Chair

Cutting the front and the back of the chair is the easiest fabric to cut.  If your chair has any covered buttons make sure to place them aside.  This chair has seven buttons.

The Bottom of the Chair

First of all, remove all the staples from the underside of the chair.  The upholstery for the bottom of the chair came off.  The top is pretty self-explanatory, but the bottom is one hot ugly mess let me tell you.

Removed upholstery from a DIY furniture repair, that has been given notes for reassembly.

Remove each section one at a time.  Remembering this is the bottom of the chair use this as the pattern for the new fabric.  My fabric has a definite top and bottom to it, so I made sure the top of the new fabric faced the bottom of the pattern.

Its a bit confusing to complete but keep your chair bottom together and do one piece at a time.  I also pinned the pieces together with the pattern so everything stayed in place as I worked.

Here is the first piece of the fabric, removed and being cut.   When cutting, make sure your fabric is straight, and that your pattern is orientated the way you want it to be.   I will be very happy to have my photo notes while trying to put this back together and remembering what piece goes where and why.

Cutting the fabric for a portion of the underside of a reupholstered chair project.

Taking time to redo the notches.

Cutting notches in fabric for a chair recovering.

Repeat this process all the way around as needed.  Making sure as you work to keep the fabric the direction you need it on each piece, and pinning as you work to hold pieces together.

Second portion of chair bottom for recovering a vintage chair in need of repair.

Once you have all your fabric cut, pin it all together leaving one portion open, and set aside.  There are only notches on one section so it will be easy to tell where the back piece is and start there.

The Chair Seat Cushion

When you look at the cushion you can tell they created the piping and sewed it between two pieces of fabric to make a cushion.  They then simply cut into the bottom piece that will be against the springs and inserted the cushion form.

There was no way, I was going to reuse the seat cushion of the original chair.  By all means, I could have, but I just wasn’t sure enough of its history.  So I quickly made a new simple insert.

Using leftover foam and the last of my polyester batting I layered them until they were 1 1/2 times as thick as the current cushion.

I stacked the old cushion on top of the new material and cut until they were the same size.

A DIY pillow insert for a shabby chic chair makeover.

I then wrapped it in muslin and sewed along the edges.

When I insert it back into the new cushion cover I will make sure to turn the edges of the muslin under, trim and sew them in place.

Refinishing the Legs and Chair Back Supports

Murphy Law likes to hang around my house and likely yours as well.  I know that if I upholster the chair first and then stain it I will drip stain somewhere on the shiny new fabric.  So while the new fabric is not on the chair its best to stop and refinish the legs now.

Sand the legs and back, and apply either two coats of paint or stain.  For this chair, I sanded the legs down and applied two coats of white pickling stain.  Let it dry thoroughly before adding new fabric to the chair.

Cleaning,  Replacing or Recovering the Chair Fibers

Whether your clean, replace or recover the existing chair covers depends on how damaged and dirty the under fibers are, and how hard they would be to replace.  This chairs springs etc were in very good shape, so I had no work to do structurally.  Yeah!

The chair fibers were actually pretty clean (likely because of the cushion top) but I wanted to start new and fresh so I sprayed them with a mixture of vinegar and Febreze and then covered it with a new layer of cotton quilt batting.

I simply threw a single layer of cotton quilt batting over the existing chair.  Cut the fabric with four inches of a seam allowance, wrapped it around the chair, stapled it, and then cut the fabric close to the staples.

By the end of the first day, this is what I had.  I think it already looks way nicer, it’s certainly cleaner.

A clean and stripped french provincial chair, waiting for a shabby chic fabric upholstery makeover. Chair repair, furniture restoration, recover chairs DIY, how to reupholster a chair, reupholstery, chair reupholstery, furniture repair, recovering furniture, how to recover a chair.

I had to think about how I should post this and have decided to do it in three posts.  The remaining two posts will go live over this week.  The tutorial is as specific as I could make it so it’s much too long for one post.  The alternative was to be less specific and maybe miss something that would help you do a chair on your own.

This is more than enough work for one day. Any more work on the chair for one day would have made me impatient and not given the chair the attention she deserves so I put the chair aside and returned to it another day.

I really hope you find this tutorial helpful for a DIY thrift store furniture makeover.  Please comment and let me know if you would be willing to try this?

Final Reveal of How to Reupholster a Chair Removing the Fabric and Taking Notes Chair repair, furniture restoration, recover chairs DIY, how to reupholster a chair, reupholstery, chair reupholstery, furniture repair, recovering furniture, how to recover a chair.
DIY Chair Upholstery project final reveal, with sewing, staining and repairing tips.


  1. Just looking at how the curvy lady turned out I’m already convinced that this whole reupholstering tutorial is going to be amazing. And it is so much better having it all separately. I’ve never upholstered before and I think all the photos and information together would have been a bit of an overload for me. Now I can “tick” each one off as it’s done. Thank you so much Leanna, this is going to be so useful

    1. LeannaForsythe says:

      Right on Michelle. I truly appreciate the feedback. It’s really not all that much work> I can just see you creating something stunning and creative and all new. Love to see what you come up with.

  2. A very useful tutorial Leanna. I definitely see doing one of these in the near future.

    1. LeannaForsythe says:

      Hi Mary. I bought this material last time I was in the USA, so I had it sitting waiting to be used, but I like doing reupholstery with Ikea curtains. I bet you have some drapes in your stash.

    1. LeannaForsythe says:

      Thank you very much Julie. I think I provided lots of detail, I am glad you found it useful.

  3. This is a good tutorial. I just realized I think I threw out the old fabric for a chair that I have been working on forever. Oops. I am looking forward to the next step.

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