Project 017: Teak Side Chair

If you follow me on twitter you have seen some tweets this week about an upholstering project. Here is the finished project!

I have done a few simple seat recovering projects but I hadn’t worked up the nerve to try anything that might require any sewing or multiple panels.  A couple weeks ago my mom found me a teak side chair she found for $5 at their local second hand shop. It was solid and in great shape but had old, boring, not to mention incredibly filthy fabric.

If you take it apart, you can put it back together again – I think this is the most important piece of advice to follow when attempting to reupholster. The first step is to carefully pull the piece apart and take pictures at every stage to remind yourself how it was put together. It is also a good idea to label each piece so you remember where it went and in what order. You can’t go wrong if you put the piece back together the same way it was originally done. Keep in mind that the first piece you take off is going to be the last piece you put on and the last piece you take off, will be the first one you put back on.

The seat and back panel were straight forward. The tricky part was attaching the back panel in a way that hid all the staples while looking neat and tidy and keeping the fabric tight. I didn’t want to use cording (aka piping) partially because I didn’t want to have to sew and partially because I felt it would look more modern without it. This didn’t have any significant bearing on how I upholstered the piece but it changed how I attached the back panel.

The back panel was the last piece that went back on and hid all of the ugly stapled edges and the interior foam and guts. On more ornate or classical pieces you simply staple the backing through the top of the fabric and then glue a decorative trim around over the staples but on this piece that wasn’t an option.

The original fabric was a thick, woven upholstery fabric, very different from the more modern cotton with no weave that I chose. The way the original piece was attached was by stapling it at the top, then folding it  over to hide staples. The side edges were then sewn with an invisible stitch which was possible due to the weight and weave of the original fabric. So I got creative

When taking the original piece apart I noticed that the back panel had been stapled through a thin piece of cardboard along the top edge. I thought that this was to reinforce the fabric however when I started trying to put my piece on, I realized that the cardboard was there to give the fabric a continuous edge to fold over (hiding the staples underneath) so that it would be straight and crisp.

It worked really well along the top edge so I decided to use this same method to attach the sides of the back panel to the body of the chair. I folded the fabric over a cardboard strip and used a regular paper stapler to attach the cardboard to the fabric. I then folded it over again to hide the staples and which gave me a straight, firm edge to then glue to the body of the chair.

I am not sure how a professional upholsterer would feel about my methods but I am really happy with how the project turned out. I would never have been able to do it if I hadn’t pulled it off if I hadn’t pulled the piece apart myself and saw how it was put together originally. I had read a few tutorials before starting and found them to be more vague than I would have liked. Having now done this piece I think I understand better why that is. Each piece is put together very differently but you can’t go wrong if you follow the original method.

I think the keys to a successful job are remember to pull your fabric as tight as you can without distorting the fabric, use lots and lots of staples, using a glue gun when needed isn’t against the rules, do what you have to do to get straight, crisp edges and neat corners. Pull, glue, staple, fold, and utilize hacked apart Rice Kripsy boxes as you need.

Now that I have stepped outside my upholstering comfort zone I am psyched to get my hands on something a little more complicated. I realize that at some point I’ll probably have to pull out a sewing machine (ugg) but I think I’ve been bitten by the upholstering bug. It really is a fun challenge and I encourage you to try it!

(sorry for the fluff, need to take a lint brush to it apparently!)


Have you upholstered before? Did you like it? Would you do it again? What did you find to be the most helpful tip?


6 thoughts on “Project 017: Teak Side Chair

  1. Is that your upholstery stapler cause it looks super cute and is color coordinated with your fabric………I highly recommend a manual staple gun from a hardware store tho…….:)

    1. I am not sure I will ever tackle a wing chair, although there is a chair I got from my grandfather that I need to do. It has a ton of tufts and a zipper. It scares me!
      I do use a real staple gun but I am not sure my fingers could handle a project any bigger. Between pulling the nails and using a manual staple gun I was pretty sore!

  2. Hi Rachel. The chair looks outstanding and I love your choice of fabric as it complements the wood so well. I have done a fair bit of more simple upholstering such as dining room chair seats, pillows, wicker chair cushions for a large rocker, couch cushions. My most insane project was a tufted wing chair years ago. I figured how hard could it be. Well this thing took me about seven months, I ended up buying an air compressor and new seat cushion, upholstery supplies including an awesome two prong stapler remover which I highly recommend….saves time, and a rubber mallet which is also great for closing paint cans. I figured with the compressor the chair cost me seven hundred dollars. It turned out great but I chose the wrong fabric (cotton jacquard) and sadly the arms are not wearing well. Should have made those loose arm cover protectors. At the end of the seven months I could not get the swirly front arm pieces right and brought it to my new best friend, an upholsterer in Marionville. ( awesome work he does). He said I had picked one of the most complex wing chairs you could do and done a good job for a non pro. My tufting could have been tighter he said. Another new best friend along the process was a guy in the upholstery department of Rockland textiles. Shane was his name I think. They cut me a new cushion, explained things I was having challenges with etc. overall, perfectionist in the extreme that I am, I was happy with the outcome especially as it was my grandmother’s wing chair from the seventies. Would I do it again, nah, my friend in Marionville did some wicker couch cushions for me last winter in so little time and oh so perfect. If I were younger and had more energy, without a doubt I would do it. Algonquin college used to offer an upholstery course which a friend of mine took and it was quite helpful when she did her wing chairs. Although, my couch could use a redo…sigh:)

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