Thank you for joining me on Part 3 of my first upholstery project. This is a beginner upholstery project, and I’ve learned a lot along the way! In Part 1, I made the seat weight bearing; in Part 2, I built up the chair cushion; and in Part 3, I am going to attach the top lay of upholstery, the decorative fabric, by using flexible metal tack strips. This was by far the most challenging piece thus far, but I’m happy to report, it turned out well! Flexible metal tack strips saved the day!
Attaching Upholstery Fabric
Part 2 left off with the seat of the chair stuffed and comfortable topped with a layer of muslin.
“All” that is left to do it attach the decorative fabric. I purchased 2 yards of Pindler’s Campbell upholstery fabric in Aqua. Having no idea how much fabric I would need, I turned to Google to find general recommendations for upholstery yardage basic on chair type. Two yards is proving to be more than enough, but I’m still glad I didn’t scrimp. I ended up having to do the seat twice because I messed up, having extra turned out to be a great idea.
While I did read tons of tutorials and watched video after video about chair upholstery, not one of them was exactly the same type of chair that I have. In the end, my primary source for how to upholster this chair is my careful notes and pictures I took when deconstructing this chair.
Each step of the way has been fairy smooth, until this one. The original upholstery was leather. It was laid over the seat of the chair and tacked into place using upholstery tacks. The leather was cut just under the tacks on the sides and front of the chair. The tacks and most of the rough edge (which was really very straight!) were covered up by nail-head trim.
I’m using fabric, not leather, to cover the chair, and fears of being able to staple and cut the excess off in a straight line were confirmed. I couldn’t do it. On one side of the chair, I tried the same technique as the leather used: staple it then cut straight just under the staples. I either don’t have the right scissors or mine are not sharp enough (or both!). Cutting a straight line was impossible once the staples were in place.
On the back side of the chair, I tried to tuck under the fabric then staple, but the curve of the chair frame left me with excess fabric. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I tried making a pleat. It didn’t look too good. Hmmm…maybe I’ll give it one more try…
I gave once last go on the other side of the chair. I folded the fabric under once again and tried to staple it. But try as I might, I could not pull it straight without it buckling, having extra fabric and just not laying nice. I started to get really frustrated then I realized I must either be using the wrong technique or the wrong tool. Back to Google to try to figure out how to make a nice clean edge! Through that searching, I discovered flexible metal tack strips. These beauties create a clean line tucking the fabric inside the mouth of the tack strip and hammering the tack strip closed. Thereby creating a tight, clean, staple-free edge. Genius!
Ordering this new part set me back about a week due to my lack of reading abilities. I ordered it from Amazon and accidentally selected no rush shipping. Doh! So instead of two day delivery, it took a week.
I watched a few videos on YouTube to learn how to use the tack strip (This one was very thorough.). After my crash course of learning how to use it, I dove right in.
First things first, tear off the first piece of fabric, being careful to remove any stray staples as well. Measure and cut a new piece of fabric. I was unable to reuse this piece because I had cut one section right below the staples. In order to use the flexible metal tack strips, I needed about an inch of overhang on each side of the chair.
Measure from the front edge of the frame to the back edge of the frame (22 inches for this chair).
Measure from the left edge of the frame to the right edge ( 26 inches for this chair).
Add 4 inches to each measurement to give two inches extra all the way around the chair. Then measure, mark, and cut the fabric. For this chair, I cut a rectangle 26″ by 30″.
The extra 2 inches was plenty. I probably didn’t need to leave that much, but it gave me plenty of extra to tug on. Most of the 2 inches gets cut off in the end.
Lay the fabric over the seat of the chair to make sure there is excess fabric on all sides.
Staple Metal Tack Strip
The metal tack strip comes in a roll. Use one end of the roll and staple it to the chair. Hold the tack strip with the tab with the circle against the frame of the chair. Staple, putting one leg of the staple through the hole in the tack strip and the other leg outside the tab of the tack strip. Leave a quarter inch gap from the bottom of the tack strip to the edge of the frame, where you want the fabric to end.
Cut off the tack strip using tin snips. I did not try to wrap this around the corner. I cut individual lengths for each section around the chair.
You can see my aim with the stapler wasn’t too good, so some of the tabs got two staples. I wanted it to be secure!
Staple one row of this flexible metal stripping all the way around the frame of the chair, except the front.
Staple Upholstery Chip Strip
With the wrong side of the fabric facing out, attach the fabric to the front of the chair using a few placeholder staples. These are staples that aren’t fully sunk into the wood frame. Their purpose is to hold the fabric in place while another step is performed. Make sure the fabric is centered left to right and enough excess to cover seat and all the way to the back frame of the chair.
Attach an upholstery chip strip against the top edge of the wood frame. Staple securely in place.
At this point, I did not want to go to the store to buy the proper chip strip, nor did I want to wait for a delivery by mail. So I did what any resourceful girl would do, I made my own. I cut strips off the cover of a standard spiral bound notebook and stapled them in place.
Remove the tacking staples and smooth up the fabric to admire your handiwork!
Look at that smooth, secure edge! I love it when things work out like I planned!
Make Relief Cuts
Make relief cuts in the fabric to allow the fabric to flow smoothly around the legs and arms of the chair. The best way I found was to make a “Y” mark with a fabric marker then cut with scissors.
The upper tips of the “Y” should be at the outside edges of the arm/leg. The tail of the “Y” needs to be on an angle toward the middle front of the chair. On my first piece of seat fabric, I made the “Y” relief cuts straight toward the middle of the chair. This left me without enough fabric on one side of the arm.
Make the relief cut for each arm and leg of the chair then tuck the inner part of the “Y” into the arm/leg of the chair and pull the excess fabric snugly around the sides of the arm/leg.
Starting at the back of the chair, to make use of the front already being securely stapled, gently pull the fabric taut and tuck it around the top of the tack strip. Push the fabric into the teeth on the underside of the top of the tack strip while tapping the tack strips closed just a bit with a rubber mallet. Be careful not to cut yourself!
Trim the outside/corner edges as needed. You will notice a lot of extra fabric there. I folded the fabric in to make a clean edge then trimmed as much of the overlapping fabric as I could so that the tack strip would be able to close around it.Once the fabric is partially secure, trim the excess fabric along the bottom of the tack strip. This part scared me because I was afraid to trim too much and mess up, requiring me to cut a whole new piece for the seat. The flexible metal tack strips allow for a tight hold without much fabric overlap. So trim the fabric right at or above the tack strip that is stapled to the chair. This little bit of fabric will be hidden once the strip is fully hammered shut.
Next, carefully tuck the fabric into the track strip while hammering it closed. Use a flathead screwdriver to push the fabric in while keeping your fingers free from the rubber mallet.
Take care at the outside corners/edges. I had to trim out extra fabric a few times. The outside edges aren’t the smoothest, but the final result is SO much better than my first attempt!
Look at that neatly tucked line!
Attach remaining chair sections of the seat cover in the same manner:
- Tuck fabric around the tack strip into the top teeth
- Partially hammer tack strip closed while continuing to tuck
- Trim excess fabric right at or just above bottom of tack strip
- Carefully tuck in fabric while hammering all the way closed
Corners require special consideration in upholstery. If folded/stapled correctly, they look great. If not…they look like a DIY job. I read a couple of tutorials on how to handle corners, and I tried to put that knowledge all together to make this corner work. In the end, it isn’t a perfect result, but I’m accepting the result as this is my first upholstery project!
I had the chip strip stapled to the front of the chair and a tack strip on the side of the chair. My goal was to keep the front of the chair smooth and fold the fabric into the tack strip on the side. That’s confusing as I write it! Hopefully it will make sense with some pictures.
Pull fabric taut around the corner of the frame and secure with a staple. The staple should go on the side of the chair, not the front. Make sure the staple is as close to the metal tack strip as possible. The picture is deceiving. To get the staple very close, hold the stapler with the handle in the opposite direction. That way the staple gets lodged very close to the metal tack strips.
Fold the fabric on the side down tucking the front fabric under the side fabric, like a present. The folded edge should cover the staple.
Then trim as much of the overlapping fabric from the front side of the chair as possible while maintaining the clean fold. Repeat tucking/trimming and hammering the tack strip in as you did with the other sides of the chair.
From the front of the chair, that corner now looks like this:
Repeat on the other side of the chair until the entire seat upholstery is attached.
Fully Attached Upholstery Fabric!
Isn’t that a satisfying sight? The chair is 90% complete! I just made that % up, but it is almost done! At first glance, it might seem like it’s done but it still needs a dust cover, nail head trim, and piping around the back insert. It’s close, so very close!
In Part 3, I learned how to use flexible metal tacks to attach upholstery with a clean edge and not use staples. This also allowed me to work with the curve of the frame of the chair so that the fabric did not buckle or pleat as it did when I tried staples. The right tools make every job easier. If you find yourself frustrated in a project, take a step back and re-evaluate.
- Is there another way to approach this step?
- Would a different or new tool make this part come together easier?
- Should I learn a new skill to make this project come to completetion better?
Frustration turns off your brain’s ability to rationally think through a problem. Taking a deep breath, a step back, and going back to the drawing board is a great way to get the project going again.
What are you working on these days? Do you enjoy DIY? Organizing? Spring cleaning? Reading about other people’s projects (I love that too!)?