Artisan Upholstery Studio

For the Love of Vintage Furniture

DIY: Re-Upholster Your Parsons Dining Chairs (Tips From A Pro)

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In the nineties, I worked at a custom furniture manufacturer. I upholstered sooooo maaaaany Parsons chairs that I almost shudder feel nostalgic when I see them now. Parsons dining chairs are fairly simple to re-upholster. (And unlike the 90s version, the legs are no longer upholstered, whew!) If you’ve got a bit of upholstery experience under your belt, and some basic upholstery tools, there’s no reason to be intimidated. Here’s how to re-upholster Parsons dining chairs if you want to be proud to say yeah, I did that myself!

20130324-182255.jpgAny self-respecting upholstery DIYer will have on hand:
Enough fabric to cover your chairs (probably 1 1/2 to 2 meters/yards per chair).
Bonded polyester.
Cotton felt.
A staple gun; pneumatic (or manual, if you’re the sort who enjoys pain and suffering).
A staple puller and pliers.
Cardboard strips.
A curved needle.
A rubber or plastic mallet.
Metal tack strips (optional).
Ornamental studs (optional).
A tack hammer (for studs).

The first order of business, obviously, is to strip the old fabric off. This job is much less frustrating with the proper tools. Work gloves help if you haven’t already got rough callused hands.

20130325-075327.jpgThe first thing that I notice about these chairs is how flat the seat is. A well-upholstered dining chair should have a nice, round look to the seat, called “the crown”. A flat seat will look cheap, so if you’re looking for a custom, luxurious look, this is an important step! On the left, you can see the crown on the finished seat.

20130325-080339.jpgThe crown is achieved by adding a layer of cotton felt to the middle section of the seat, and then a full layer of bonded polyester pulled and stapled at the bottom edge of the chair, just as you would the fabric.

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Next comes the seat fabric. Make sure you cut the piece large enough to fully wrap around the edges, including at the back. Lay your fabric out on the seat, centering it. Staple the sides first temporarily. You should be pulling it fairly tight across the center and place one staple at the bottom edge at the center of the chair rail.

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Do both sides. Next, do the same to the front. For the back, you’ll need to make some cuts. Fold the fabric back and make a “v-cut”, just to where the leg post is.

20130518-102101.jpg Do both sides. Now you’ll be able to pull the fabric through to the back rail.

20130325-082254.jpgI like to begin at the back, when tacking down the fabric. Pull tight, but not tight enough to cause tension at the front of the chair. Next, take out one of the side staples and pull the fabric toward the back of the chair, not straight down. Staple toward the back leg, and work your way toward the front leg, pull the fabric forward as you go.

20130325-082944.jpgYou want a nice, gentle curve without bulges. Do the other side. To finish the legs, make cuts on an angle and fold under. This is important to ensure that the cut edge will be hidden.

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20130518-075144.jpgThe front corners are important to get right. You’re going to have long pleats, and they must be identical. Pulling the fabric taut at the side first, staple on the front face edge, like so:

20130325-104908.jpgThen, you want to cut away the excess fabric, like so:

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20130325-105042.jpgFold the fabric under nicely and staple on the front. (The staple will be visible, but hidden with studs, later.)

20130325-105212.jpgNow you’re ready to do the back. First add the bonded polyester.

20130330-074613.jpgWrap around and staple close to the edge. It should be tight, and not bulky.

20130330-074752.jpgLay your fabric on, and tack it in place at the top with one staple. Find the leg support rail and make a “V-cut”. V-cuts also take any tension out of the fabric, which can cause puckers and other unsightly bulges. Pull the fabric through the back.

20130330-075238.jpgCut away the excess fabric before tacking in place. Do both sides. Next, pull the fabric tightly upward, and staple at the top to hold it in place.

20130330-075501.jpgOnce both sides are tacked in place, you can go back and place all your staples. You want taut fabric, with no puckers.

20130330-075700.jpgNow you are going to make your nice, neat pleats at the top corners.

20130330-082840.jpgPull tight, cut away excess fabric, pull over and tack down. Did I mention you need to pull tight? Now you can tack along the top edge. No puckers! *smacking your hand with my ruler for emphasis* This is the most visible part of the chair!

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Ready for more? Next comes the outside back panel.

20130330-083216.jpgYou’re going to tack it at the top with a bit of cardboard strip. This gives a straight, sharp edge.

20130330-083409.jpgPad the back with a bit of foam or more bonded poly. Fold the fabric down and tack it down at the bottom with one staple. If you have metal tack strips, your job of folding and tacking the sides will be quick and easy. If you don’t have them, you can blind stitch the sides in place.

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20130330-083657.jpgPoke the sharp teeth through your fabric and fold over. Hammer the tack strips down with a plastic mallet.

20130330-083828.jpgFinish your chair by folding the fabric at the legs, and tacking it down. You can add decorative studs to cover the staples or hand stitch the corner and remove the staple.

Hand stitching where necessary is an important detail to make your chair look professional. Blind stitch all long pleats (like at the front), and anywhere that looks loose (such as at the top back corners).

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20130330-084257.jpgDon’t forget your dust cover!

20130417-090655.jpgSo, your Parsons chair is finished! How do you feel? A sense of accomplishment and self satisfaction? Pride? Sore hands, frustration?

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I have added studs along the bottom edge of these chairs. Click here for that post. Once you have mastered an armless Parsons chair, be sure to check out my slightly more complicated Side Chair Tutorial.

44 comments on “DIY: Re-Upholster Your Parsons Dining Chairs (Tips From A Pro)

  1. chaseitorbchased
    March 30, 2013

    Looking great!

  2. christyq
    April 9, 2013

    Definitely the best parson’s chair tutorial I’ve seen online. You know your stuff! I took apart my chair and it has rubber webbing and foam which needs replacing. Would I still need to buy the bonded polyester and cotton felt in addition to that?

    • aimskers
      April 10, 2013

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, you should always add bonded poly to give it the “crown” I discussed. Your chairs will be very flat otherwise. Parsons chairs look best with a bit of fullness.

  3. Teeny Bikini
    April 17, 2013

    Wow. That was cool!

    • aimskers
      April 17, 2013

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

  4. Anne
    May 8, 2013

    Do you know how much yardage you used? I have a slightly larger parson’s chair that these. I’m guessing 3 yards would do it?

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I’ve *almost* convinced myself I can do this. :)

  5. Lindy
    May 8, 2013

    What a great tutorial, thanks for sharing! How long would you say it takes a beginner to do this? Thanks!

  6. Stacy
    May 9, 2013

    Best Re-upholstery Tutorial I’ve seen! So excited to try this myself! Thanks for breaking everything down so well.

  7. Sheila Lacey
    August 15, 2013

    Aimee I am still trying to get the back of the chair done but cannot find the tack strips for the back with the plastic sleeves. I did find them on line but they are 1.50 each but 35.00 for shipping plus duty plus tax do you know where I could buy them in Canada I tried all the local upholstery places thanks

  8. Marcia Mayfield
    September 26, 2013

    thanks for the detailed instructions on how to do this. i have 6 parsons chairs — 30 years old — sorely in need of redoing. mine have upholstered legs. is this going to make it much worse for me? thanks for your help!

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      September 26, 2013

      The fabric on each leg is put on like a sock. You have to sew the fabric so that it fits snug. Therefore, pulling the fabric up can be tricky. Use silicone spray to make the foam on the leg slippery. You will also have to make cuts at the top to tuck the fabric around properly. And you have to do this 24 times! :P Have fun! ;)

  9. Stacie
    October 5, 2013

    Thank you so much for your tutorial! It was great! I have been given a parsons chair that I would love to redo; however, I want to do it in leather to match another parsons chair that I already have. Would you do everything the same as you have done in the tutorial for working with leather or is there any other steps that would be needed or changed to work with that type of material? Thank you!!!

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      October 5, 2013

      Leather would work the same, but you won’t easily be able to blind stitch it. Get leather that has a pretty good stretch to it. Hope this helps! Thanks for checking it out.

  10. Pingback: Furniture Makeover: Paint & Re-Upholstery » Rebecca Richards Photography

  11. JoanWalsh
    December 9, 2013

    Hi, Thanks for all the good info. I’m really new at this. Also, do I have to take off the old upholstery or can I upholster right over it? It’s chenille and the new fabric will be chenille also. Thanks. Joan

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      December 10, 2013

      Hi Joan,
      I always remove the old fabric, but I know that some people choose not to. Thanks for reading.
      Good luck,
      Aimee

  12. nikki edwards
    January 1, 2014

    Hi please could you tell me if you know any good places online for fabric where I live there isnt any places that sell fabric thanks nikki

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      January 1, 2014

      Hi Nikki,
      I don’t usually purchase fabric online, as I prefer to feel it and see the colour in person. However, I like the fabric that tonicliving.com carries. Some of my clients have had good luck with winterbeachmodern.com

      I hope this helps!
      Aimee

      • joanne walsh
        January 3, 2014

        Hi, I’ve just found newtoto.com. They will send you 15 free fabric samples. We haven’t bought from them yet, but their prices look good.Joan

      • Vintage Furniture Girl
        January 3, 2014

        Thanks for the info!

  13. Judith
    January 12, 2014

    I have read your tutorial and am tempted to have a go as our cat has ruined my leather chairs. The only thing is the leather goes down the side of the seat shaped quite a way down almost to the floor at the back if you understand what I mean. how would I do that style?

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      January 13, 2014

      Have a good look at your chair. If you take the leather off, you’ll be able to see how it was done.

  14. Jen Hill
    February 4, 2014

    Hi. Great tutorial (after sitting through some confusing YouTube versions)
    I am ultra new to any kind of this stuff so possibly a bold project to recover my 6 parsons chairs. I am slightly confused also by the v-cut bit… Any advice or diagram greatly appreciated

  15. janis douglas
    February 4, 2014

    thanks ! i remembered that, when i purchased the chairs, they were in two pieces that I had to screw together. I think i will take them apart, cover the seat and back separately, then put back together. Thoughts ??????

  16. Joanne
    February 15, 2014

    Brilliant, thanks. V-cut makes all the difference! I’m a complete novice and did not have a clue, but it’s looking pretty good now! Thanks

  17. Susan Stella
    March 4, 2014

    I have purchased six new parsons chairs that have a removable “slip cover”. Because they are new, would I still need the cotton felt and the bonded polyester?

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      March 5, 2014

      Well, it depends on how cheaply they were made. If you are happy with the shape of them, then no. If they look flat then I would add more padding for a more custom look.

  18. Marie
    April 13, 2014

    What is this cardboard strip? Is it any piece of cardboard, or a special upholstery type. Thanks

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      April 13, 2014

      It is a special upholstery cardboard strip. It comes in long 1/2″ wide strips, or on a roll. It is possible to cut your own cardboard, but it’s pretty thick – much thicker and more rigid than a cereal box for example. It is not corrugated cardboard.

  19. janis douglas
    April 16, 2014

    i didnt use the cardboard strip; i just folded the raw edge under, then stapled it down….i bought a flat braid, about 3/8 inch wide and glued it over the staples, up each side of the back and across the top…..my fabric is a barn red hound’s tooth check and I used black trim…..i think it looks sharp !

  20. Amber
    June 6, 2014

    Just found this tutorial, thank you for making it so detailed! I have the opportunity to buy 8 parson chairs for our dining room table, but they really need an update. The legs are covered in fabric and I was wondering if I could remove the fabric on the legs and recover the rest like you did – is that probable? I’m not sure what the legs look like under the fabric, whether they are covered in glue or what. Any suggestions on modernizing them a little?

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      June 6, 2014

      Likely they’d be in great shape, but square rather than tapered. They may have a bit of glue and foam, but nothing a little sanding couldn’t fix. Best of luck!

  21. Lisa
    July 19, 2014

    Mine have covered legs and skirt fabric. I’ve torn away some of the leg fabric they are just stapled on, and I’d have to cut the skirt off . Then there is the roll back on top. Maybe i should just get new chairs. :(

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      July 20, 2014

      Your chairs are more work, but I’m sure you could do it! Pay attention to how the old fabric was put on. You can put the fabric back on the legs, or fill the staple holes and stain them. The roll top is done just like my tutorial on roll arms. Best of luck!

  22. Susan
    August 22, 2014

    I am replacing the foam on the seat of my Ikea parsons chairs because you can feel the wood frame when you sit down. I noticed the bottom is supported by 3″ wide elastic, done in a criss-cross fashion. When you sit down the elastic stretches and you sink down. Should I replace this with another material? If so, what would you suggest?

    • Vintage Furniture Girl
      August 22, 2014

      Elastic webbing is generally more comfortable than regular webbing because it stretches. Replacing is not necessary, but if there is not enough webbing put on (should be only a 1″ gap between them), you will sink down too much.

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This entry was posted on April 24, 2013 by in Home and tagged , , , , , , .
Remodeling and Home Design
Remodeling and Home Design

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