4 Simple Step-by-Step Upholstery Tips

By: Home Made Simple
Simple Step-by-Step Upholstery
Add new life to old furniture by replacing the upholstery.
Courtesy of Homemadesimple.com

Whether it's a family heirloom or second-hand purchase, antique furniture is a real reflection of what a home really is - an extension of yourself. Our straightforward upholstery tips illustrate how to take these unique furnishings and make them truly your own.


1. Revive Your Furniture

Bring an old furniture piece back to life with bold, luxurious fabrics that enhance-or play against-the silhouette of your piece. Perhaps it's a French paisley pattern that repeats the curve of the legs of a stool, or a bold graphic textile that counteracts clean, quiet lines.

Whatever your look, with a few simple steps and the perfect fabric, creating a one-of-a-kind piece is so easy. And because you only need a yard or so of fabric, this is the perfect project for splurging on a gorgeous silk or one-of-a-kind pattern you've been eyeing. With custom upholstering, you can bring any furniture piece back to life and add depth, texture and color to your space.


2. Choose Wisely

Consider these ideas when selecting furniture and fabric for a winning combination:

  • Choose your furniture first: The fabric you use will depend on your furniture piece. If you already have a fabric you are in love with or an heirloom textile, then you can tailor your furniture search to the fabric. When browsing furniture, look for pieces that have a sturdy, decorative frame and a removable seat cushion. Consider pieces like ottomans, footstools, side stools, piano stools, dining chairs and small benches.Tip: Don't feel like your furniture piece has to be perfect. Regardless of nicks and blemishes, your piece simply needs an interesting, vintage silhouette. Imperfections enhance the historic, unique nature of this project. If the shape is right but the finish is simply an eyesore, consider painting or staining your piece.
  • The shape of things: Use the shape of your furniture as a guide for deciding on a fabric. If the piece features rounded edges and circular details, look for fabrics that echo these curves-think ornate paisleys and florals. For a square or rectangular piece, fabrics that share the same geometric lines will look best.Tip: Remember, when it comes to creative projects, there are guidelines-but no rules. To put a serious twist on your look, try creating tension by pairing a free-flowing floral print with a heavy, masculine furniture piece. Contrasting elements adds instant depth and texture and is a major trend in current décor.
  • Unexpected finds: When looking for your furniture, get creative with the places you search. Perhaps there's an old piece collecting dust in your attic or a one-of-a-kind find your friend is throwing out. You can also browse local flea markets, antique stores and garage sales. Just be sure the piece has a seat that is screwed down and pops off easily. These cushions are typically comprised of a piece of wood cushioned by foam. Many furniture pieces are constructed this way, making it easy to apply new fabrics.


3. Measuring Up Materials

When it comes to choosing a fabric for your upholstery project, the options are virtually endless. Make sure your textile is of upholstery grade-tougher and heavier than drapery or fashion varieties-and then let your imagination run wild.

Tip: If a salesperson can't assist you, you can perform a basic test on your fabric swatch to ensure it is of upholstery grade. Hold the swatch from two corners (diagonally opposite each other) and pull gently. Then switch your hands and pull from the other two corners. If the fabric maintains its basic shape, it's suitable for upholstery purposes.


Consider swatches in bold colors, vibrant patterns and interesting textures. Try colors like burnt orange, deep plum and Kelly green that will pop against wood and add a splash of color to an otherwise neutral space. Textures like satin, velvet and suede create warmth and depth, while oversized prints play with scale and proportion for added interest.

As you're combing through options, remember that many different textiles can be applied in upholstery form. Bring instant texture and depth with unexpected choices like embroidery, crewel work, cross-stitch, cotton rugs, wool rugs, batiks and tweeds.

  • Measure twice, cut once: When upholstering any furniture seat, the piece of fabric must be large enough to fully cover the top and wrap over the sides. At the fabric store, cut your fabric with an extra allowance to ensure the fabric can be securely fastened to the bottom of the seat.Tip: There's no reason you can't remove your cushion from the furniture and bring it with you to the fabric store. It's a simple way to guarantee a fool-proof purchase.
  • Something special: Upholstering a seat doesn't require a large amount of fabric, meaning you can splurge and purchase an "occasional" fabric. Occasional fabrics feature more luxurious designs, dyes and thread counts than typical fabrics. So go ahead, choose something you wouldn't normally consider and pump up the wow factor in your home.

4. Upholstery Basics

Once you've selected your fabric and a furniture piece with a removable seat, you're ready to begin upholstering.


  1. Flip your furniture piece over and identify the clasps or screws that fasten the seat onto the piece (these are often Phillips' head screws). Simply use a screwdriver to unscrew the cushion from the piece.
  2. Tear the existing fabric off of the foam cushioning, then check if the foam needs to be replaced before reupholstering the cushion. Check for yellowing color, dirt, large tears and holes. If the foam seems old and in need of replacement, measure the foam piece or take it with you to the craft store and purchase a new piece in the same size. You can buy a larger piece and simply use the old one as a template to cut out with a utility knife.
  3. Cut your fabric to the appropriate size, then lay it (right side out) over the foam and wood base. Adjust the fabric to your liking, then begin to pull it from diagonal sides around the sides of the wood base.
  4. Pull and fold the first corner as it slightly gathers and secure it on the bottom side with your hands.
  5. Flip the seat over and secure with either a commercial flat stapler or hot glue. Stapling the fabric is recommended to ensure longevity, but glue can be used as a flexible way to ensure that the placement is perfect before stapling.
  6. Fold down the remaining corners, fastening them to the underside of the seat as you go.
  7. Once the fabric is secure all of the way around, flip your seat over and place back on the piece. Firmly pressing the cushion against the wood frame, use your screwdriver to reinsert the seat screws.
  8. Sit your piece upright, stand back and admire your beautiful new piece.


Ask a Pro

Some furniture pieces require professional upholstering-if your piece is completely covered in fabric or has upholstered seat backs, an expert should handle the project. Consider these smart tips and tricks when handing over your furniture:

Look for an upholsterer that comes highly recommended. If professional decorators and designers frequent the business, it's likely a good choice. Once you find an upholsterer, observe samples of his or her work. Look closely at the showroom pieces, examining the edges for clean lines and straight piping. Once you have chosen an upholsterer, discuss your project in detail-talk about the vision you have for the piece and bring fabric swatches to support your ideas.


Upholstering is a simple and special way to bring a unique, personalized décor piece into your home. Whether it's an armchair that's been passed down for generations or a one-of-a-kind heirloom textile, mixing the old with the new deepens your home design and enriches your space's personality.