How to Reupholster Outdoor Chairs (The Easy Way!)
Back in May, when the weather first became nice, I decided I should make my back porch a bit more of a priority. Up until that point I'd mostly used it as an upstairs workshop, painting and building things that I didn't feel like dragging down to the basement. But in the spring, when the porch actually seemed like a nice place to sit, it seemed pertinent to get some furniture out there.
I started with a sofa. This DIY outdoor sofa is comfy and awesome and perfect for napping on mid-afternoon. But I wanted a whole seating area, so I stayed on the lookout for some nice outdoor chairs. And lucky for me, a couple weeks ago, I found some! They were $10 each at my local Habitat for Humanity Restore, which was exactly the price range I was hoping for!
Now they needed some work for sure. The fabric was faded and dirty, and some of the wicker was chipped. But new fabric and a little spray paint would go a long way with these chairs, and would be an easy weekend DIY!
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Materials and Tools
- Thrift Store Outdoor Chairs
- Spray Paint - I scoured my basement, and found some Rustoleum spray paint in Aged Copper. It was only enough for one chair, so I had to buy another can for the second chair, but that's still better than buying two new cans, right?
- Fabric - I had fabric leftover from the DIY Outdoor Sofa project, which I used so the furniture would match. It's neutral colored Duck Canvas, for anyone wondering.
- Arrow's T50 Staple Gun - I used to have a cheaper staple gun that was difficult to operate at strange angles. Half the time I just used my electric brad nailer instead, even though the result was less secure, purely because I didn't want the hassle. I'm happy to tell you that Arrow's T50 staple gun doesn't have this issue at all. It's easy to press, even at strange angles, and its heavy-duty nature means the staples will drive through a wide variety of materials. The product I've linked to comes with the stapler, staple remover, and a pack of staples. It's a great deal that has everything you need to get started! #madewitharrow
- Staple Remover - This is the first time I've used a real staple remover (in the past, I've just pried staples up with screwdrivers and pliers,) and goodness, does it make things easier!
- Arrow GT30Li Cordless Glue Gun - Today was the first time I've ever used a cordless glue gun, and it's amazing! No cord to work around. No need to be near an outlet. The glue heats up and is ready to go in less than a minute. I swear, I'm never going back. If you don't have a cordless glue gun in your life, this is the upgrade you need.
- Fabric Glue - I used this to recover the piping I pulled off the chairs. Some people sew. That's probably the right way to do things. But my sewing machine is currently out of commission, so fabric glue it was!
- Straight Pins
How to Reupholster Outdoor Chairs
Step 1: Detach Removable Parts
In the chairs I purchased, the seat area was attached to the chair frame by four screws. Unscrewing these screws removed the seat from the frame. This was great for two reasons: 1) I had more leverage spray painting the frame; and 2) I could reupholster the seat separately from the rest of the chair.
Unfortunately, the back fabric portion did not detach from the chair, so I had to spray paint and reupholster it in place. However, some backs do detach, so definitely look around your chair to see if you can remove the back!
Step 2: Spray Paint the Chair
I used Rustoleum's Aged Copper spray paint on my chair, and it took about one can per chair. Pro tip: Hold the can 10-12 inches away from the chair. I know it says this on the can, but I tend to find myself drifting closer as I paint. But holding the can further away results in a smoother finish, so it's definitely worth doing!
You'll note I didn't bother taping up the back fabric before spray painting. Since I was going to be removing it and recovering it anyway, I wasn't too concerned if it was painted.
Step 3: Recover Chair Seats
For the record, I did not remove the old fabric from the chair seat before I started. Why? I didn't need it. Since the chair seat detached from the chair, it was easy to cut a new piece of fabric without the old fabric as a template. Plus, removing the old fabric (and all the staples that went along with it,) would have been annoying and time consuming.
Place the chair seat on the fabric, and cut a piece of fabric that is large enough to cover the top and all sides of the chair. I typically cut a couple inches larger than necessary just to be sure.
Place the chair seat top-down onto the fabric. Starting in the middle of the front, wrap the fabric up the side and secure in place with your Arrow T50 Staple Gun and 3/8" staples. Then work your way toward the corners, ensuring the fabric is smooth as you go.
You'll note that in the above picture, I have one hand pressing the lever, and the other hand pushing the front of the stapler onto the seat. This really helps drive a secure staple!
When you reach a corner, neatly fold the fabric around the corner. No need to overthink this: your goal is to make things look intentional. Just do your best; I've never finished a chair and had the corners look terrible, no matter how poorly I thought I was doing.
Once your first corner is done, continue working your way around the chair seat. On the third and forth sides, be sure to pull the fabric taut before stapling.
As you can see in the above photo, there was some extra fabric in the corners. I cut it off right after taking this photo!
Step 4: Remove Fabric From Back
While I didn't remove the fabric off the seats before recovering, I did remove the fabric from the back. There were two primary reasons for this: 1) The back was more difficult to cover than the seat, so I wanted to use the fabric that was already on the chair as a template for the new fabric I'd cut out; and 2) I didn't have any piping around the house, so I wanted to recover the piping that was already on the chair. I could get away with no piping on the seat, since all the staples would be on the bottom, but this wasn't the case on the chair back. Thus piping was needed to cover the new staples.
To remove the piping and fabric, I just ripped it off. Really. You could spend time removing each staple, but that takes time, and ripping took less than a minute.
Ripping the fabric and piping will dislodge some of the staples, so go back through with a pair of pliers and pull out any staples that that have loosened and could be dangerous. Staples that are still well-embedded in the chair can stay though!
My chair had fabric on the the front and the back of the back of the chair. I removed both pieces of fabric at this step.
Step 6: Recover Chair Back
Take the pieces of fabric you removed from the chair back, and lay them out on your new fabric. Trace an outline onto your new fabric. I typically trace a half inch or so larger than the piece of fabric to make up for wrinkles and give myself a bit of extra fabric to work with.
Cut out your new fabric, and lay it out on the chair. Then, starting at the top of the chair, staple the fabric to the back of the chair. Slowly work your way around the fabric.
I started with the chair in an upright position, but laid it down when necessary to get a better angle for stapling.
It was difficult to get the staples embedded in the wicker, since the wicker wasn't flat. This is when the staple remover came in handy. Anytime I stapled and didn't get the staple fully embedded, I just pulled it out with the staple remover and tried again.
Make sure to do this on both the front and back of the chair back, if there was fabric on both sides.
Step 7: Recover Piping
The official way to make piping involves sewing the new fabric around the piping. Since my sewing machine is currently out of commission, this was a no-go. Instead, I just glued the fabric around the old piping with fabric glue.
(Tip: If you don't have fabric glue, I bet hot glue would work just fine! I didn't try it, since I did have some fabric glue around, but if you give it a shot, let me know how it goes in the comments below!)
Cut a 1 1/2" wide piece of fabric that is the length of your piping. Then glue the piping down the length of one side side of the fabric, as seen in the photo below.
Wrap the fabric around the piping, making sure it's taught. Secure with pins.
Then work from one end down the piping, gluing the fabric in place.
Step 8: Glue Piping in Place
Using the hot glue gun, glue the piping to the chair, making sure to cover up any visible staples, as well as the raw fabric edges.
I always dry fit the cording before I start to make sure everything fits properly. Then I work from the top of the chair down.
It is important to use the hot glue here, not the fabric glue. While you are gluing fabric to fabric, it's at a strange angle, and in some places there's likely to be space between the piping and back of the chair. Therefore, the thicker hot glue is necessary to fill those gaps and make sure the bond is secure.
Step 9: Reattach Chair Seat
Finally, using the screws that came with the chair, reattach the seat to the chair. Then appreciate your new chair!
I love how the fabric matches the sofa, but the wicker is just different enough to add interest to the space!
And the piping! I was shocked at how nice my makeshift piping job looks. It makes the chair look so much classier, don't you think?
To be totally honest with you, the second chair isn't quite done yet... but I can't wait for it to be ready so I can make a real seating area here!
I love the way this chair turned out! Plus, with the Arrow stapler and glue gun, it really wasn't too difficult to make! If you think you might refinish or reupholster an outdoor chair, go check out the Arrow website so you've got all your supplies, as well as save this post to Pinterest so you can find it again later!