Fabric Seat Cover Replacement

DEAR MIKE: My kids have abused my dining room chairs for a long time. The fabric on the seats is stained and I would like to recover them. There is nothing fancy about the seats; they have some kind of foam as the stuffing. How do I go about this? -- Laura G.

DEAR LAURA: There is nothing tricky about this job. A set of dining room chairs will likely take you under a half-day.

There is a learning curve that goes with a job like this. The first seat will take you the longest and by the time you are on the last one, you will be cranking them out like you are on an automobile assembly line.

You first need to pick out some fabric, which is sold by the yard. The cost of fabric varies, but generally starts at around $3 per yard. Measure the seats and add plenty of extra fabric because you will be wrapping around the seat cushion and fastening the material underneath.

The seats are generally constructed by laying a foam product on top of a wood platform and then the fabric is wrapped around the entire works.

You will first want to remove the seat from the chair. Turn the chair on its side and loosen the four screws that secure the seat to the chair.

At this point you have a decision to make. You can remove the old fabric and wrap the seat with the new stuff, or you can wrap the entire seat (old fabric and all) in the new fabric. I have done it both ways and I recommend leaving the old fabric.

The thing I don't like about removing the old fabric is that the cushion tends to lose its shape. Suddenly the edges aren't as nice, and the chair doesn't look as good. It's much easier to wrap the old fabric because you won't have to worry about reshaping the cushion.

You will want to buy or borrow a staple gun. If you buy one, expect to pay about $20.

The length of the staples you use is very important. Use a staple that won't protrude through the wooden seat platform. The length will be one-quarter inch, five-sixteenths of an inch, or three-eighths of an inch. Use a longer one and your guests may have a "screaming" good time at your next dinner party.

Working on a carpeted area, lay the new fabric, good side down, on the floor. Set the seat cushion upside down so that the foam side is lying against the fabric. I usually start at the back of the cushion and pull the fabric over the back edge and shoot a couple of staples into the wood in a straight line to secure it. I worry about the corners last.

Next, push the cushion back as you hold the fabric at the front. This will get rid of any wrinkles. Apply a little weight to the top of the wood platform by putting one or both of your knees on it.

The idea is to compress the cushion slightly so that after you remove your weight, the foam expands and stretches the fabric so that there are no wrinkles. The key is to evenly distribute your weight so that you don't distort the shape of the cushion.

Next, wrap the sides of the cushion in the same manner. Since the front of the seat is likely curved, first pull the material over the area that curves out the most. Staple it in place and then go around the curved areas in small increments by pulling and stapling.

Turn the cushion over to see your progress. The cushion should have no wrinkles with only the four corners left to do. If you don't like the look of the cushion, you can use a standard screwdriver to pull out some staples and adjust the fabric before you restaple it.

Turn the seat cushion back over and go to work on the corners. At each corner, grab the material left there between your forefinger and thumb. You want to make two small pleats by pulling the material over the corner, making the pleats as narrow as possible.

This area will be virtually hidden once you mount the seat back on the chair. Staple the material to the wood platform.

Once the corners are done, place the seat back on the chair and screw it in place.

Hopefully, the only thing your guests will be screaming about is your good cooking. 

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