Reupholster an Office Chair

Happy New Year everyone! For my first post of 2017 I have a tutorial to show you how to reupholster an office chair. You may have seen the embarrassing state of my office – which I finally got organized. My office chair was no better shape. When the tear in the seat looked like it was trying to run right out of the office, I knew it was time for a makeover. I relocated it to my craft studio to give it the Cinderella treatment.

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I’ve never reupholstered an office chair before so this was uncharted territory for me. There’s nothing more fun than a challenge and learning a new skill! It’s interesting to learn how the factory does it to replicate it as much as possible.

For this project, you will need:

  • sewing machine,
  • serger,
  • airgun with staples (both light and heavy weight),
  • pin nailer with 1″ pins,
  • staple puller,
  • eye protection and heavy gloves (to wear while stapling or nailing),
  • upholstery weight fabric (find something heavy that will be durable),
  • needle nose pliers
  • thread, and
  • some cord.

Brown packaging paper is ideal to make a pattern for the backrest and panel.

You could use a regular staple gun but I find it too difficult to squeeze; having a compressor with a pneumatic stapler is a real hand-saver!

I broke the project down into 3 stages: the seat, the back panel and the backrest.

First, I turned the chair onto its side to explore how it all comes apart. Looking at all the levers was a bit daunting. But I noticed 4 large screws in the centre and removed them.

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I removed one of the arms so I could prop it up to get some leverage (and a better picture) once it was in my work table.

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Interestingly, there weren’t too many staples holding the fabric on around the perimeter of the seat. Grosgrain ribbon tape, with cord running through, it does all work of gathering up the fabric.

Reuse What You Can

If you want to reuse the ribbon again, as I did, be careful not to let the cord slip out of the slots as you remove the staples.

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I removed all the staples using my upholstery staple puller. Tie a knot at the ends of each cord before you remove the staples holding the cord. This will prevent the cord from accidentally slipping out. Trust me on this, you don’t want it to unravel or you will have to feed it back through the teeny tiny slots in the ribbon and that won’t be fun!

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Luckily the manufacturer left enough of the cord to work with before cutting it or I would have had to replace it. I did a quick Google search and couldn’t find anything comparable online so I don’t have the faintest clue what it’s called or where I might be able to buy it again (if anyone knows, please leave me a comment)!

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To save the ribbon, I had to use a seam ripper to cut through both straight stitching and serger thread holding it to the fabric. It was a bit time consuming so I just cranked up the music and chilled while I was at it. To break up the monotony, I would leave it every once in a while and then come back to it. Pick out all of the loose threads from both the ribbon and fabric and set the ribbon aside.

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New Fabric

Now it’s time to cut new fabric; I used the old fabric as my pattern. If you have a directional pattern like me, ensure that all your pattern pieces are on the fabric in the same direction. I placed the fat end of the shells pointing downward (as you’ll see later in the finished chair).

Folding the new fabric right side in, put the old fabric on top of it and pin around the perimeter (my antique irons helped hold it down).

As I only discovered after I cut the fabric, the old fabric had stretched so was now bigger than the length of the ribbon. Adjusting and re-cutting the fabric so the perimeter was the same size as ribbon was an exercise of trial and error.

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After the fabric is cut, make sure to iron out all the creases – otherwise they’ll always be there in your finished chair. Don’t get lazy and skip this step!

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Sew On Cord

Pin the cord around the perimeter and sew it on. Because I re-used the ribbon and it had already been gathered onto the seat cushion, you will have to straighten the area you are sewing so there are no gathers, then push the gathered section ahead into the area you just sewed so the next section is smooth. It sounds confusing but it will make sense once you get to this stage.

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Once the ribbon is stitched, I also serged around the edges. Again you’ll need to move the gathers around so you’re stitching on ungathered fabric as you serge. Once that’s done, you can pop the new cover onto the seat cushion.chair-makeover-028_bof

Pull and Secure with Staple Gun

You’ll need to pull it tight as you go to get it evenly distributed.

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Put on some eye goggles and gloves. Where the cords cross over, add staples in a zigzag fashion as shown below to hold them in place. I forgot to get a shot using the actual fabric (this is a before shot).

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I used a pneumatic staple gun with my air compressor to place staples around the perimeter. You’ll notice that I finally removed the other arm so I could maneuver the fabric around. I found it hard in some places to stretch the fabric over the sides so do your best to get it evenly distributed.

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Turn it over and admire your work!

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Back Panel

Now on to the back panel and backrest of the chair. I wasn’t sure how to take it apart but I noticed a seam running all the way around, so I inserted my staple puller and gave it a little tug around the edges. To my delight – and relief – it popped right off.

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Here’s what the back panel looked like on the inside and outside.

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The panel had been held together by small head pin nails. They were shot right through the fabric of the panel into the backrest and because the heads were small, they sunk right through the fabric; brilliant!

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Make note of how close to the edge the pin nails are placed so you can reverse engineer it again when putting it back together.

This time, there was no ribbon with cord gathering up the slack. Instead the manufacturer simply serged around the edge of the fabric and inserted a cord right along the serger thread! Again, I decided to do the same thing.

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Remove all the pin nails with the needle nose pliers.

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Paper Pattern Option

For the back panel, I didn’t bother to remove the fabric so I made a paper pattern instead from brown paper. Place the panel on top, mark the top and bottom, then roll the panel to the right side as you trace the outline. Roll to the left side and trace the other side.

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Measure with a ruler to see now much allowance you’ll need to add onto the pattern for the edges.

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Add the seam allowance onto the pattern. I add 1 3/8″ around the perimeter.

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Cut the pattern out.chair-makeover-061_bof

Before you pin and cut the fabric, make note of the direction you want the fabric to run. If you have a pattern or nap you’ll want everything running in the same direction. I put an arrow on the paper pattern – but forgot to photograph it.

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After cutting the fabric, serge the edges. Then feed a cord through the serger threads using a blunt needle. I used some rayon knitting yarn I had left over from another project.

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Start the cord at the centre of the bottom and make sure to crisscross the yarn once you’re back to the beginning so the two threads overlap. It’s easier to pull them tight in the opposite direction when they overlap.

Lay the panel onto the wrong side of the fabric and gather up the fabric by pulling the cords until it’s neat and tight around the panel.chair-makeover-073_bof

Staple Size Matters

I used some lightweight, shallow staples to hold the fabric in four spots, plus another few to zigzag the cords as I did with the seat cushion to hold them in place. Here is the finished back panel. Note that the shells are running in the same direction as the seat cushion and I could have ironed it a bit better!

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The last piece is the backrest. The backrest is held onto a metal brace with three screws; once the panel is removed the screws are exposed and can be unscrewed.

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Again, I decided not to remove the fabric. As I did with the back panel, I made a new pattern and used it to cut out the fabric (in the same direction as the other pieces).

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Serge Edges

Serge around the edges, insert the cord, put new fabric onto the chair backrest and gather up the fabric.chair-makeover-085_bofchair-makeover-086_bof

Flip it upside down and then staple around the perimeter in the same manner as the back panel. Because of the difference in the depth of the material and the amount of use it would get, I used a heavier gauge staple for the backrest.

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As an extra precaution, before I pinned the back panel back onto the backrest, I marked with some piece of green tape where the staples were (only if they were an inch from the edge – which is where I was going to pin). By knowing where the staples were, I could prevent some potential ricochet off the staples when I pinned on the back panel.

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Dry Fit

I also dry fit the back panel on and did the same thing with the green tape to mark potential hazards where there were staples.

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A Helping Pair of Hands from my Partner in Grime

At this point, I needed an extra set of hands and Hubs jumped right in to help. He held the back panel in place and squished it all together as I pinned 1″ in from the edge around the perimeter of the panel. It probably would have been a good idea for him to be wearing gloves just in case. But he was careful to keep his hands away from the target area and I moved the nail gun around. I should also mention that we were wearing eye protection – you can’t be too careful.

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Remove the green tape and ease off any fabric that may have caught in the nail heads so you can’t see any puckers.

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Here she is all done up in her new red dress.

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With all the red accents in my studio, it’s going to be hard to put it back where she belongs in the office upstairs! I’ll have to search out another second hand chair that’s the same model. This one is a 1998 model by the Global company and the construction is impressive, especially after all the use over the years!.

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More Chair Upcycles

This is the second in a series of 3 chairs I’ve done for my new craft studio. The first one was this drafting chair:

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We’ll have one more chair makeover coming in a future post so if you’re interested in seeing that, be sure to follow us here on Birdz of a Feather! You can also follow us on PinterestFacebookYouTube and Instagram.

Pinning is always welcome and appreciated!

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10 thoughts on “Reupholster an Office Chair

      • I’ve had my favorite chair for a dozen years. It’s a Herman Miller Aeron chair. It’s mesh, so it stays comfortable year round. I had a colleague that worked for HM, and they sold several of the chairs at a “used” price, even though they were only sat in once at a convention. It’s the most comfortable chair I’ve every owned…and I have neck and back problems.

  1. Wowza! What a lovely reupholstered chair. You’ve broken the steps down clearly enough that I’m confident I could even reupholster my own office chair. Thanks for sharing at the #ThisIsHowWeRoll Link Party.

  2. Pingback: Organize a Craft Room | Birdz of a Feather Craft

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