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Stripping Upholstery


I finished upholstering one of the pink French chairs today.  Woohoo!  I even put a zipper on the cushion cover, so it’s legit.  With over twelve years of sewing under my belt, this is the first zipper I have ever done!  I don’t know why I’ve been so scared of zippers…ZIPPERS, people.  Really?!  I was determined to not be spooked by something as humble as a zipper.  I dissected the old cover and figured it out and the zipper works like a champ.  It’s the little victories.  Anyway, let’s get to stripping the chair.

The upholstery was in perfect condition , but it was pink.  Nothing against pink, but it didn’t work in my house.


When shopping last week, I found this amazing fabric at Hobby Lobby…


It has all of the colors in my family room, so I bought eight yards for these chairs and some pillows.

When I strip upholstery, I use…


…this staple puller…


…and an old one I found at an antique mall.   As you can tell, they are shaped a bit differently, so I use whichever one works best with the staples/tacks in the piece.  These tools make life a lot easier and they’re not expensive.  I think the new one was about $15 and the used one was $5.  If you don’t have one, though, that’s okay.  (Professional upholsters, cover your ears…or eyes.)  I used a screwdriver to pry staples out of dozens of chairs.


I also use a pair of wire cutters to rock out rogue staples and tacks.


I start with pulling off the double welting or trim.  In my experience, it’s mostly glued on, but it can be stapled on as well (or both, which makes removing it a barrel of laughs.)


The wire cutters (or pliers) are used to get things started on removing the trim.


…and then I can usually muscle it off with my bare hands.  Show the trim who’s boss.


You will then stare down the endless line of staples that need to be removed one by one.  There’s no easy way around this one and it is the true pain-in-the-rear of stripping upholstery.  (Make sure to wear eye protection when removing staples!)


Once enough staples are removed, though, some fabrics are thick enough that you can pull on them and they will take the staples right along with them.  You want to keep the pieces of fabric intact, though, so you can use them as templates, so be gentle.


I’d like to point out that the back of this chair was cardboard.  You really never know what you’re going to find when you take a chair apart…foam, grass, horse hair, rice bags, wadded up newspaper.  These chairs were very well done, so I was able to reuse the cardboard, foam and even the piping and zippers.

In the past, I’ve always just removed the fabric and kept everything else in place.  I wasn’t sure if I could piece things together properly if I removed too much, but I’ve become a bit more confident.  I could see that I needed to remove the cardboard in order to get to the frame.


The back of the chair came off in one panel (of three pieces of fabric sewn together.)  I removed all of the staples from the seat and back of the seat, but it was attached to the webbing under the seat and to the back of the frame.


I snipped the stitching that held the seat down…


…and then removed all of the staples that held the decking (the fabric under the seat cushion) and the back of the seat in place.  The picture below shows the back of the chair that was once covered by cardboard.  If I didn’t remove the cardboard, I wouldn’t have been able to remove these staples properly and affix the new fabric panels to it.  This might sound like a no-brainer, but I used to stuff a stapler in the recesses of the chair and hope to staple the fabric into some wood.  This way is much better!


So, I removed all of those staples holding that white fabric down.


Once the chair is stripped, I needed to take apart the fabric panels, so I could use the individual pieces as templates.


The chair is now naked…well, maybe just in some undies and it’s time to make some new digs.  Stay tuned…

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  1. You make it all look so easy! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love your curtains in these pictures! I’ve been looking for some just like them. Could you share where you got them, or if you made them yourself, where the fabric is from?

  3. I’m such a prude that I am typing this comment with my eyes closed. JKJK! I love that you just documented this because I need to strip down some vintage chairs, and I was afraid of stripping them down.

  4. That chair IS very well made! How many staples do you suppose you puilled?
    The new fabric is perfect in that room! Cannot wait to see it!


  5. wow, I love how detailed this tutorial was. your pictures are really clear and easy to follow!

  6. Kirsten Farmer says:

    removing glue and staples=a barrell of laughs. I love your writing.

  7. My “Pillow talk” ebook shows how to make pillows with piping and ZIPPERS! If you ever want to host a giveaway, I’d be ecstatic. I promise, zippers are super easy once someone shows you how to do them correctly. I can even send you a free copy to try it out. Let me know! thanks

  8. Thanks so much for this tute, Marion! I am getting closer to being brave enough to attempt reupholstering my little camelback couch! :-)

  9. Lol! I have the very same “zipper” phobia! I have been sewing for years and managed to avoid them until I had to make a new cover for my dog’s bed. It wasn’t hard at all, all those years wasted! Love the chair, can’t wait to see it when it’s done!

  10. I liked the pink!

  11. That is such a nice tutorial and easy to follow. Would certainly be interested to see the finished article.

  12. Nancy says:

    I think your second tool is a tack (tiny nail) puller. My mom used one when I was a child. I don’t think there were staples in what she worked on 50 years ago.

  13. Great tutorial. I’ve been wanting to tackle an upholstery project similiar to this. Thanks for the tips.

  14. I love the new fabric! I’m sure it will be beautiful. I have done just about anything and everything crafty but I don’t sew! It’s the one thing I have never tackled. It intimidates me terribly! Can’t wait to see the finished chair. :)

  15. Very Cool!! I would absolutely love to do this one day! Confession – I do not sew – I do not even own a needle! This makes me want to so badly!
    I can’t wait to see more !
    Have a pretty day!

  16. Debra says:

    The fabric you used is an exact copy of some vintage crewel work tapestry fabric that I took off an old chair and framed ( the good parts). New, It sells for $100 a yard. I hope that I can find the one you used so I can replace it as it was very worn. I sure can’t afford to replace the other one!!!

  17. I love that new fabric – it works beautifully with what you’ve got going on in the house already. And the chairs are just fabulous!

  18. I can’t wait to see the final result!!

  19. I know it’s gonna be great!

  20. Good grief! I have faced that daunting task of removing staples and had to get my better half to help pull a lot of them out. Now I didn’t know there was tool to help with that. Heading out to get one asap. Can’t wait to see the finished product. Save that pink fabric….it’s pretty!

  21. Do you keep the original decking? I bought 2 chairs that I’m working on right now, and they were pretty dirty when I bought them. I’m a little afraid to keep the decking but I couldn’t find any at the fabric store.
    What do you usually do?

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      The decking was pretty frayed around the edges, so I replaced it with drop cloth fabric. It’s a heavy canvas and did the job very well. :) It’s also cheap.

  22. Katie says:

    I can’t wait to see the AFTER pictures! The pink striped upholstery was nice but you always seem to find a way to make everything better! 😀

    Thanks for sharing!

  23. When you are done with this…

    I have some that I have been trying to get up the nerve to do. I am paying close attention! LOL

  24. Marian,
    So glad you are putting in a zipper. I have probably put in over 1000 in my career and they are so much easier than hand sewing! I have worked out some easy tricks over the years for the always perfect boxing zipper and the easy pillow zipper and would be glad to share with your readers! Have Fun! peg

  25. Stephanie C says:

    Great tutorial. Maybe I should attempt this with my wing chair & ottoman which is covered in the EXACT FABRIC that you removed from your chair!

  26. this looks familiar! check out my facebook page for a peek of how far we are on the antique sofa we’ve been working on. i uploaded a pic this afternoon. our upholstery was unsalvageable…totally dry rotted so we had to start from scratch…filler included.

  27. I stripped my first chair over a year and a half ago. I got tendonitis in my elbow from loosening up and pulling out the 300+ decorative nailheads…I was so gung – ho to get it done, I did them almost all in one day and then couldn’t figure out why my elbow and arm hurt so badly!
    It took me over a year of physical therapy, but my elbow is fine now and I actually DID finish the chair. Sadly, it’s twin is waiting for me to finish it as well, but I’m taking my time….REALLY taking my time. Can you blame me? 😉

  28. Wow, it seems so scary but you make it look doable. Thanks for all the things you share with us. I cannot wait to pick up a copy of your book. I may have to lock myself in a room with a pot of tea and dream all day.

  29. Denise T says:

    Smiling, … oh this tool – staple puller, I should have gotten this . I am using a screwdriver…… still working on my French wingback chair.

  30. Sara Womacks says:

    Thanks so much for the tutorial! I’m working on my first upholstered piece and I need all the help I can get!

  31. I’ve done this once and it really is a lot of work! The results are worth the effort though. You have given a very thorough tutorial here and I can’t wait to see the next installment.

  32. I bought your book in my very own bookstore today! I absolutely love it! I love how it looks, feels, and smells! That is one of the coolest covers I’ve ever seen. I also appreciated the price! Have already read it cover to cover. I lost my decorating mojo after Jack’s accident, but I just had to buy your book. Who knows? Maybe my mojo will come back one day. LOVE AND SQUEALS AND HUGS TO YOU!

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Hugs to you as well and thanks for the feedback. I’m glad it was an encouragement to you! Even though we’ve never met, I think of you and pray for you often. It’s always nice to “see you around.” :)

  33. So glad you are doing tutorials on this! Keep them coming!

  34. OMG you make me laugh!! I love your sense of humour.

    Can’t wait to see the new fabric on.


  35. I have some old chairs that you are inspiring me to re-do. The seats are raise (with springs) quite a bit higher then their exposed wooden frame. When the fabric is replaced I’ll need to tack it and/or use decorative nails. There is NO WAY to get anything in the space without marring the lovely wood. These were my grandmother’s chairs and must be almost 100 years old. How/where do I locate the necessary tools for this job?
    Thank you!!
    P.S. I’m planning on a trip to see you in Chambersburg!!!!!!!

  36. Nancy says:

    Love the new fabric. I am a self taught upholsterer too and thank goodness I bought the right tools in the beginning. In anything you do, having the right tools makes all the difference! Your book is on my Christmas list. Can’t wait to get it.

  37. I hate to be the stick in the mud, but as a DIY upholsterer and former employee in an eye surgeon’s office, please don’t forget to remind everyone to wear safety glasses if they attempt to remove upholstery!

  38. Miss Mustard Seed says:

    Nope you’re not being a stick in the mud. I just added it.

  39. Perfect choice in fabric! Thanks for showing how to get off those tacks. I have a sofa that I want to make over. Have not found the perfect fabric as of yet. Will have to check out Hobby Lobby!

  40. I bought two lovely Ethan Allen cane back club chairs for $12 over a month ago that looked *really* clean – but when I got them in the van I realized that they STUNK – badly! We aired them outside for days and days and I striped them and discarded everything {I found bugs} after making paper patterns of the fabric parts and taking lots of pictures … but the wood still smells a bit funky – even after Murphy Oil soap! My hubby does not want me to paint the cherry wood, but I don’t know what else to do! Do you have some wisdom for me here? I would love to try your paint, but Mr. Wood lover is appalled at that idea!

  41. I’m SO happy you are giving a tuturial. I have an antique 3 seater sofa that desperately needs reupholstered. But, $550 later…(I’m choking, lol) it hasn’t been done yet. Maybe, just maybe, I could learn to tackle it myself?

  42. Thank you thank you thank you!

    After reading your site for so long, I found myself wishing for some chairs. You don’t find chairs like that often here in the west. I think most “furniture” that I see is that awful pressboard stuff they sell at Walmart.

    A few months later, my mom found a couple of chairs for me for free.

    I was elated.

    I didn’t love the upholstry, and it smelled very strongly of smoke.

    Within a week the fabric tore on one chair. I hated the fabric anyway, so now I ned to recover them. I’m elated to hear you say that the double welting is usually glued on. I have been wondering how to redo that. Just tell us what kind of glue in the redo (even if you don’t do the double welting), please!

    I can’t wait to redo that chair!

    I’m so excited you’re doing this chair!

  43. L. Thompson says:

    What Hobby Lobby do you use? Location?

  44. Lou Ann Bremers says:

    Great instructions. I’ve taken 3 upholstery classes at the local jr. college and you did everything exactly right! I wish I could post a pic of the chair I’m working on. It has been kind of a problem as I made changes to the chair that caused the cushion not to fit when I got it all done so I’m starting the cushion again. In addition to the classes I wanted further instruction so I ordered a DVD set from a site I found online. It not only answered my questions but also gave me some great ideas about other projects as well. I had lost some of the pieces I stripped off my chair and these DVDs showed how to make a pattern if you didn’t have one or wanted to just upholstery over what was already there. They suggested buying thin fabric in white that you could see through and use by tracing the sections you want to recover. I found some online under dust cover for upholstery which I can use in the future to staple on the bottom of chairs, etc. It comes in black, white (which you use for making a pattern), and I think gray. It’s only about $1.15/yd so it is cheap. i ordered some and can’t wait till it gets here so I can redo my cushion and finish my chair. You did a great job on this chair and I’m encouraged by your end result. It looks SO much better than the pink in your room.

  45. I need this fabric! It looks so beautiful! Can you share the name or company that made it?

  46. Jeanette Shaw says:

    Hi, Will you be posting the second part of this tutorial soon?

  47. Michelle says:

    I love the chair fabric you got at Hobby Lobby. Can you tell me the maker and pattern of the fabric? Thanks!

  48. Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Taking a few minutes and actual effort to produce a very
    good article… but what can I say… I put things off a
    whole lot and don’t seem to get anything done.streetdirectory


  1. […] Again, I have nothing against pink, but the pink didn’t work in my home and really wanted to keep these and use them in my family room.  I’ve been on a quest for years to populate my family room with comfy, yet stylish (and budget friendly) chairs and these fit perfectly.  Right chair, wrong color.  So, I stripped her down and gave her a new look.  You can read the very G-rated post about stripping HERE. […]

  2. […] several months have past, I have decided to tackle this reupholstering project. So, I looked at couple of posts and bought a […]

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