So you want to learn upholstery and start on a project at home, but where should you start?

Certainly, when you want to do something you have never tried before, you may make quite a few mistakes and learn through trial and error. I recall some of the furniture I have stripped over the years and it can be quite obvious what was covered by someone as a DIYer. But don’t get me wrong, we all needed to start somewhere!

The priorities as a DIYer is generally to change the colour of the fabric. But you should remember that from any tradesperson’s point of view you should always address any issues you find inside before you put the new covering back on. This is still important even if they are not all visible while looking at the chair.

Before you start, you can try sitting in it to identify any comfort issues, and pre-empt the work involved.  Then you should take a look underneath, flipping the chair over (you may need to remove the covering under the frame). A tell tale sign that there is extra work to be done with thing needing fixing internally, is if there are things falling out from the base. 

In trying to recover something yourself, a few common errors may be that we bite off more than you can chew for a first project and get disheartened by the work involved and so don’t complete the project. Another one is leaving the existing cover on and just covering over the top and not investigating the internal condition at all, or not using a pneumatic staple gun and your work not having the longevity if you had used a more powerful tool as the staples will hold and last a lot longer. 

So how do we overcome these mistakes, and set out with the best possible chance of winning? Well, what if you had time to make mistakes and work through with a little trial and error? The best way to do this, is to work with free furniture and inexpensive fabric, that you aren’t so attached to. There could be a few attempts made on the same item without wasting much money, before taking on the family heirloom yourself.  Gumtree can be a great place to source little pieces of furniture in need of recovery,  this is also a good place to move your furniture on that you don’t want anymore.  

What I look for most in a piece of furniture is the shape (the lines) and the era of when it was made. Then I would look at the condition, but really only of the timber, because all of the internal work can be redone if need. Timber that needs a light sand and polish is still worth  investing in. Upholstery can all be fixed up or is probably due to be replaced anyhow. 

The final component you may want to consider is time.

How much time do you have to commit to the project? If you think it will take a week, allow two. I watch a lot of renovation shows and the participants always seem surprised when they find the condition is worse than they thought. But imagine if I thought it would take two weeks to revamp a chair, but it only took one. How pleasantly surprised would I be?

But what specifically do I look for in a chair?? Everyone is different, but for me, living in a 1940’s house, I look for petite or slim profile pieces. You can try to identify the maker of it using forums and other research, some makers will come with a certain reputation that is worth collecting. I also like to consider how much fabric each project might require. For instance;

Wingback chair 5 to 7metres depending on the size and if it has a loose cushion
Chaise lounge 4 to 5m depending on the style (based on antique lounge)
2 seater lounge 9 – 10m
Mid century armchair 2m very efficient because there is a lot of timber and very minimal upholstery
Tessa Armchair 3.5m depending on the style
Small armchair 4 to 5metres
Dining chair seat 0.8m or 2.5m for a set of six
3 seater lounge 10 – 12m
Click clack lounge – think 60’s 4m


For specific projects it is always best to do a cover plan to plot out how much fabric required. Estimates based on plain fabric, allow extra for a large patterned fabric.

So once you have worked out if it suits your home, the time it will take and how much the bulk of your materials will cost, you may be ready to get started.

Alternatively, you could always come along to one of our workshops, where I can assist you with this whole process. This can give you an excellent foundation to have more confidence to work on a project at home later.

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