DIY: Re-upholster old chairs the green way

G Magazine

Don't throw them away! Give old chairs a new lease on life with a simple, eco-friendly revamp.

Chair frames, fabric and tools

Get creative! Add pizazz to old, worn furniture with an eco-friendly makeover. It's easier than you think!

Credit: Louise Lister

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1. Remove the existing cover

Chair covers are either stapled or tacked in position, so use a flat-blade screwdriver and pair of pliers to pull these out.

Keep the fabric as a template to check the size of your new fabric cover.

Leave all of the springing and cushioning in place.

2. Prepare the chair frame

With the chair down to its bare essentials, it's an ideal time to repair the frame.

If a loose joint will pull completely apart without undue force, thoroughly coat both parts with PVA glue and reassemble.

Use clamps to hold the joint tight while the glue dries. Alternatively, you can use straps around the chair to pull the joints together.

Give the chair a thorough clean up with a gentle detergent, particularly the spots where people touch the chair - such as arms - as this is where grease builds up.

If you need to apply a finish, try a water-based clear polyurethane. Many 'green' furniture finishes are available, each with a specific use and application method.

If your chair is French polished it can often be revived. However, the technique is tricky to master, so you may need professional help.

3. Prepare the seat springs or cushioning

The seat may be cushioned by steel springs and webbing, or it may have a panel with foam cushioning.

If the webbing has been broken or stretched, replace the pieces and stretch and re-fasten any that sag. The webbing should be as tight and flat as possible on the bottom, so that the springs push the seat up into a flattened dome shape.

If the foam filling is on its last legs, replace it with new foam of the same thickness. Natural latex is a good eco-option.

4. Fix the new cover

Before you buy new material, consider what material you already have around the home that would do the trick.

You can recycle drapes, bedding, or clothing such as denim jeans or a tightly knitted woollen jumper.

If you need to buy fabric check out the many recycled polyesters, hemp (see here) and green-certified fabrics (see here).

Cut a piece of cover fabric bigger than you need by about 50 mm all round. You need the extra to grab and pull tight with your fingers.

Use a staple tacker to staple it along the underside of the front edge, stretching the fabric taut as you go.

Pull the cover tight to the back edge, checking that the material hasn't buckled.

Tack the fabric at the two corners and in the centre, and check the shape by flipping it over and stretching towards the sides.

Repeat the process for the two sides.

The new cover should be a smooth, even shape - if not, adjust it now or live with it!

To finish corners and around legs or arms, you'll need to cut out a square from the fabric allowing an extra 6 mm to fold neatly underneath.

Follow the same instructions for upholstering the backrest. Don't try to upholster the front and back in one piece.

Pull and staple the fabric so that you have a smooth, even shape at the front - keeping your staples about 20 mm from the edge.

Fold neat edges on the back cover as you staple it, and then cover your staples by gluing a strip of braiding over them.

Alternatively you can use decorative button-head tacks to attach the cover, or glue it on.