January 19

Reupholstering makes old pieces like new

It’s a do-it-yourself job if you follow these steps.

By Jasmine Maki
Mcclatchy Newspapers

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — John Nordine says he does everything from A to Z as far as upholstery is concerned. And, it’s true; he’s done airplanes, zebra skin foot stools and everything in between.

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A reupholstered chair.

shutterstock.com photos

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When choosing fabric for a reupholstery project, both color and quality come into play.

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The owner of John’s Upholstery Center has been doing upholstery work for more than 35 years, and one could say he knows all the ins and outs of the craft.

He opened his workshop in Grand Forks, N.D., about five years ago and started reupholstering everything from antique chairs to boat seats. Throughout the years, he’s built quite the clientele, doing upholstery work for Altru Health System, the Empire Arts Center and many automotive centers in the area.

Reupholstering is just a way to update old furniture instead of throwing it away and buying all new pieces, he said.

Although Nordine said as a rule of thumb every piece of furniture can be reupholstered, that doesn’t mean every piece should be reupholstered.


The first thing people need to know before they decide to update a piece of furniture is whether the piece is worth the work, he said.

A single piece of furniture can take more than eight hours to reupholster, and fabric can cost a couple of hundred dollars.

“You want to make sure you have a quality frame that’s not all broke up,” he said. “Frame is probably the most important.”

Nordine said people will often bring in really old antique chairs, and he’ll let them know if the piece is worth redoing.


After determining that the frame is sturdy enough for an update, Nordine said, you can select your fabric. Colors and patterns are completely up to personal preferences, but he said a fabric with good wearability is essential.

The wearability of a fabric is measured in rubs or double rubs, and the higher the rub the better the fabric. When purchasing fabric, each will have a description card with the necessary information.

He said fabrics range from 100,000 to 500,000 rubs. While Nordine doesn’t expect everyone to spend hundreds of dollars on fabric, he said, “It’s no secret cheap materials don’t last as long as high-end materials.”

For do-it-yourself projects, one will also want to consider the type and thickness of the material.

“Cloth can be done on a home sewing machine; most vinyls cannot, and the reason is that the stitches are too close together for vinyl,” Nordine said.

Once one has chosen a fabric, Nordine suggests using an upholstery measurement chart to determine how much fabric will be needed for the specific project.

Various charts with images of different types of chairs and the correct amount of fabric needed for each can be found online by searching, “upholstery measurement chart.”

“An average chair is anywhere from 5 to 7 yards,” he said. “Couches can run 15 or more yards, so it’s important to measure and get somewhat accurate measurements.”

Nordine suggests purchasing at least one extra yard of fabric if the material is reasonably priced. The extra fabric can then be used if there’s a mistake during the process or to repair the piece later on if there’s a spill or tear.


With fabric purchased, the next step is dismantling the piece of furniture.

“For the do-it-yourselfer, when you take a piece off, take a picture. Take another piece off, take a picture,” he said.

The photos will later act as a reference for reassembling the furniture.

Most chairs are upholstered with staples and tacks. The fabric can be ripped off or carefully removed by taking out all staples and tacks. Different strategies for removing fabric can be found on DIY sites and Pinterest through quick Google searches. One of the quickest ways is to use pliers to slowly twist the fabric, pulling it off the furniture and removing all staples in one move. This method was titled the Roller Plier-Majiggy and posted by Brooke Ulrich of AllThingsThrifty.com.

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Taking on a reupholstering project can be satisfying for the DIY-er.

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It also allows you to hand-pick the perfect fabric for the piece you’re redoing.

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But for those who aren’t ready to take on a full-blown reupholstery job, making slipcovers can be a simpler DIY solution.

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