Reupholstering a Chair, Part 1: Stripping

Here are the other parts of this series: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 For about as long as I’ve written this blog, people have been asking me for tutorials on reupholstering furniture. I’ve kind of held off because every piece of furniture will require a slightly different approach. I am in no way a professional upholsterer,…

Here are the other parts of this series: Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

For about as long as I’ve written this blog, people have been asking me for tutorials on reupholstering furniture. I’ve kind of held off because every piece of furniture will require a slightly different approach. I am in no way a professional upholsterer, so if you are looking for advice on your upholstery project, I suggest checking out this great book, taking a class (sometimes local fabric stores will offer these for free!) or calling a real professional. I wish I had the time and skill to help you all with your individual projects, but it’s better for both of us for you to pursue advice beyond this tutorial elsewhere.

It’s worth mentioning that all the pieces I reupholster myself must meet a couple criteria, otherwise I call up my upholsterer and fork over the cash:
1) Must be a simple piece with not a lot of complicate sewing required
2) Can’t be of special value or worth (no real antiques or family heirlooms)
3) No using super expensive fabrics

Also, let’s be really clear here. The reason upholstery services are so expensive is because even small projects are very time consuming and pretty labor intensive (read: not so fun). I like the last steps a lot actually, when I’m stapling the fabric in place. That part goes quickly for me and it’s fun to see the piece coming to life again. But the beginning steps are absolutely (and sometimes literally) painful for me. I really hate pulling out old staples, of which there are approximately 109,457 in each of my chairs.

And, another point of clarification, I’m pretty cheap and foam is expensive. So if the insides of a piece are in good shape (like the horsehair, webbing or foam), I reuse. Obviously though, if it’s at all gross looking, I replace everything. In most projects I replace any cotton batting and then line it all with fresh muslin. It’s a preference thing, but thought I’d mention that before we got started.

Alright!! Now that that’s all out of the way – Part 1! Stripping down the chair.

For this portion of the show, you’ll need only a few tools:

1. Standard flat head screw driver
2. Needle-nose pliers
3. Tiny flat head screw driver
4. Bowl for discarded staples and tacks
Not shown: Camera
Optional/probable: Gloves, bandaids


Photograph every angle of your chair. Take close ups of tricky curves and trimmed out areas. You’ll use these photographs for reference later. (One time I didn’t photograph a critical part of a settee and I totally screwed up the arm portion and wasted about $50 in fabric. It was a bummer. Learn from my mistake!!)

As an example, I took these close up photos so I could remember where to start/stop the welting.


Use the bigger, standard flat head to pry loose the cording at the start/stop point. Most trim is either epoxied or stapled into place. I was bummed to discover that my double cord welting was tacked down with mini staples, but for the most part I was able to pull off the trim using just my needle-nose pliers. I basically sat on my couch, pushed my feet up against the chair and pulled on the pliers really hard in the opposite direction. A very technical maneuver.

Always keep your camera handy. Here I took a photo of how the last upholsterer left the trim basically loose when they wrapped it around the arm part. No glue or sewing necessary here, I guess.


Once all of the cording is off, you’ll have access to all the many, many staples that are keeping the fabric and batting taut against the frame.

This is when you’ll probably discover you’ll want bandaids and possibly gloves. (Maybe make sure you’re current on your tetanus shots?) :)

I usually work in 4-6″ segments where I quickly wedge my mini flat head under each staple and pry it up a bit (not all the way) and then I come back with my needle-nose pliers and pull them all out quickly. A little trick that will save you lots of energy: use the frame of the furniture as leverage whenever possible. Rather than pull a staple out straight using just your force, put some Physics 101 into action. Don’t damage the frame (you use a little piece of cardboard to protect the frame if you want), but rest your pliers against the wood, pinch the staple and roll back. The staples will break a lot less and they’ll come out much, much faster this way.


Usually each layer of fabric, burlap and batting will have its own staples. Try your best to not rip the layers as you remove them. If you can save the insides like I mentioned earlier, great! More importantly, they will act as a template for your new fabric, batting, etc. So try to minimize damage.

Under the first layer of fabric was this webbing and burlap.

Followed by cotton batting,

and then another piece of fabric that was the back face of the chair. See all the staples in my bowl? That’s just one half of one chair.

By the end of the day we were able to get both chairs stripped of their backing and all the cording. Because the new fabric I’m using is dark and thick I decided it wasn’t worth it to pull off the bottom part of the old chair fabric, especially because I wasn’t really sure how structural those sewn-in seams were and I didn’t want to mess up the shape. This part goes under the chair cushion (not pictured), so this seemed like a good short cut for me. I’m thinking I’ll Fabritac the new fabric into the sewn-in seams you can see below and maybe hand stitch a few of the corners down for reinforcement and then staple it all down right over the old cream moire fabric.

Next up — Step 2: Painting the chair frames!
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61 thoughts on “Reupholstering a Chair, Part 1: Stripping

  1. Thanks for your comments, guys! This is definitely the least fun part of upholstery, but if you turn on some shows to watch or do it with a good friend, the time (and staples!) goes by fast.

    I have one of those staple removers, but I don't really love it. I feel like I can get into a really good rhythm with my mini flat head + needle-nose method. And it's hard for me to really get under the flush staples. I do like having it around though sometimes, so thanks for the mention here!!


  2. This is so very timely. Please let us know if you can keep up with the amount of time it takes you to do this. I'd be interested in knowing. Thanks!

  3. I'm really happy to see this. I'm most curious about how the welting gets back in without showing staples. My solution has just been to sew a slipcover for everything that needs a full body– maybe I will try this next!

  4. Thank you for posting this. I recently did my first intensive upholstery project on a wing and a prayer…some of your tips are invalauble! I may look into some upholstery classes, too!

  5. Wow-this is super!
    Thank you for taking the time to create this. We want you to know we are aware of the energy you expanded on our behalf and we thank you.
    So looking forward to further tutorials!

  6. Yay! I love that you're doing a tutorial on this. You were my original inspiration to want to reupholster my wing back chair. I did the same thing with needle nose pliers to remove the staples. Then after many blisters and late nights pulling staples, I discovered there's a tool called a staple remover for like $10-$20. I haven't used it, but I hear that it saves a lot of the tears and blisters :) Have you ever used one? Can't wait to see more.

  7. Yay – just in time for my summer of DIY-projects! Thank you Jenny – for taking the time and showing the small details step-by-step!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this. Upholstering always seemed to be for the most fearless DIYer – I'm glad someone is demystifying it for me! (Whether I'll ever have the courage to try it myself is still to be debated though!)

  9. I just went through this step with some dining chairs and I can attest to the physical pain piece. I seriously have scars on my hands from many a staple pulling mishap! But I thought I'd share 2 tools that made this step infinitely easier. Get yourself one of these professional staple removers from Harbor Freight. It's the best $3 I ever spent.

    Instead of prying your screwdriver under the staples, this thing lets you get under there and rock back and forth to loosen the staple just enough. The broader underside also minimizes damage to the frame which, as careful as I was trying to be, I could not avoid when I was using the flat head screwdriver.

    The other thing I recommend is this magnetic tray (or any big magnet will do the trick).

    I started off using a bowl like you which my hyper dog promptly stepped on, spilling staples all over my rug. This magnet tray solves all of that. Plus it's extra handy when you're finishing up to just pick it up and pass it over the area you were working in. It will suck up any stray staple pieces that broke off in the pulling process. Looking forward to the rest of this series!

  10. I'm keeping my eye on these posts. I just stripped and stained an old rocker that someone was just going to throw out. I think I'll need some tips for the reupholstering part. I've never seen so many staples in my life!

  11. SO helpful! Thank you, thank you! I also have the book you recommend, and that's great too. I have a pair of chairs just waiting for me to get the courage to start. Also, I never commented on your door or your kitchen island, but I am loving all of your DIY projects! You are my inspiration, and your house is looking absolutely stunning! Your posts never disappoint.

  12. this is so helpful. i'm attempting to reupholster a chair on my own but am losing my mind. i was going to get yet another quote tomorrow but you've given me a bit more confidence! thanks for sharing.

  13. Thanks for doing a segment on re-upholstery, very informative even if not doing on own but want to know the lingo when searching for a good upholsterer

  14. I have reupholstered a chair once and swore Id never do it again! those dang staples!! but I have to admit once I finished and stepped back to admire my work-i was like "ok, maybe I'll try it again" (kinda like having kids- during labor you swear you;ll never do it again-then you look at that beautiful baby and want another one!)

  15. Thanks for your comments, guys! This is definitely the least fun part of upholstery, but if you turn on some shows to watch or do it with a good friend, the time (and staples!) goes by fast.

    I have one of those staple removers, but I don't really love it. I feel like I can get into a really good rhythm with my mini flat head + needle-nose method. And it's hard for me to really get under the flush staples. I do like having it around though sometimes, so thanks for the mention here!!


  16. Thanks for the tutorials. It's great to see how others approach reupholstering furniture. I highly recommend using a magnetic pin cushion to collect the staples. It's also useful to wave it around the floor for any stray staples.

  17. Dina – I can't wait to try that magnetic bowl. I have one for sewing pins, so maybe I'll try that. Genius! Thanks!!

  18. I am also in the process of reupholstering a pair of wingback chairs and I will say… GLOVES, GLOVES, GLOVES!! It is going to look great! Can't wait to read step 2!!

    Tiffany {Living Savvy}
    savvydesignwest {dot} com

  19. I reupholstered a vintage sofa earlier this year (photos on the blog!) and being as it was my first project of its kind I was overwhelmed with all the staples! I second the other person who commented on using a magnetic dish for the staples. I actually put a couple ceramac magnets in the bowl I was using to keep all those rusty metal bits together. I also used to purchase upholstery supplies including their high density foam. Super pleased with the quality of the products and fast shipping. The only thing was they didn't inform me the foam was on back order until my other items arrived, so I'd give them a call to see if it is in stock first.

  20. So helpful!!! Can't wait to try it out myself! It will save me so much $ to do this myself. Would you mind if I mentioned this post on my blog: Let me know. Thanks!

  21. =D today I think I'll join your fan club; and your's will be the first one I am joining!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  22. I highly recommend signing up for a class. The class helped me know how to begin and finish my project. It was great to watch some one who knew what they were doing in action. Thanks for the tutorial.

  23. This is amazing and I cannot believe you are tackling this. I hope I can learn from you and give it a whirl. I told my blog readers to tune in too! This is something everyone should see!! You're brave, my friend. Can't wait to see the final product!! Joanna

  24. Jenny, thanks for taking the time to explain all of this. It was great and the tip about taking the pictures of where welting starts/stops is brilliant!

  25. I'm impressed with your ability to jump right in. I owned my own upholstery business for fifteen years and I've been teaching it for three. There are many things the DIY upholsterer won't ever use that the pros know. Not that it's a secret, it's just that one piece can be done with easier DIY techniques. Thanks for the series.

  26. Beautiful!!! I'm so glad to know of your site through Tobi Fairley's recommendation!! I'm a fellow DIYer and am going to be checking back reguarly for inspiartion and to get my creative juices flowing again!!! So glad to be your newest "follower" and would love for you to come visit and "follow" ItsOverflowing, too!!!

    Aimee @ ItsOverflowing

  27. i know this is an older post, but i'd love to know what fabric you used for this project. i love it and am looking for some good fabric resources!

  28. i know this is an older post, so sorry to make you go back…but i'd love to know the name of the fabric you used for this project. i love it!

  29. OMG! I have this exact same chair and I want to reupholster it! I have never reupholstered before and I was thinking this would be a good project to start with (it was $10)Please tell me it's a good starter project LOL.

  30. I do similar work for my shop and your tutorials are wonderfully clear – so glad you were on Pinterest so I can follow along.

  31. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! I am picking up a Victorian parlor chair tomorrow that I found on Craigslist for $10 which is an amazing price but it needs a complete redo on the upholstery. I've never done this before so this has given me some great pointers to start. When it is done, this chair will be used in my craft room- a very fitting place for it, I think ;)

  32. "This is when you'll probably discover you'll want bandaids and possibly gloves. (Maybe make sure you're current on your tetanus shots?) :)"

    Foreshadowing? Premonition?

  33. Thank you for the wonderful series. This was my 1st run at rehupostering chairs (a pair). For the first chair I had a real hard time breaking almost half of the staples using the claw device i picked up at the fabric store and needle nose pliers. I found your blog, admittedly frustrated, before i started stripping the 2nd chair —so glad i did. It turns out the flat head screwdriver and regular pliers worked like a charm. I bought a metal file at Lowe's and filed down that claw device which really helped loosen the staples that were too tight for the flathead to get under. One thing I thought I'd share is I found this cheap magnetic tray –it is very sturdy and really helped me because the plastic bowl i used was too flimsy and kept spilling over.

    Check it out: Shop Task Force Magnetic Mechanic Tray at

    I a now at step 4 now ready to do my piping. :-) So blessed to have found this amazing step by step guidance! Many thanks.

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