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.

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

The removed fabric will then become the pattern for the new pieces.


Using the old fabric as a pattern, Nordine said he cuts the fabric about 2 inches bigger all the way around to accommodate for the extra padding he’ll add.

“Things like cushions where the size is predetermined, you’re going to make exact because you want that to go on nice and tight again,” he said.

When all the pieces are cut, one can use the photographs taken along the way to reassemble the piece, using a staple gun to reattach the pieces.


Nordine suggests taking close-up photos because sometimes a wrinkle will be necessary, and if there’s no photograph, it may be difficult to get just right.


For those who aren’t ready to take on a full-blown reupholstery project, Jeanie Demlow, of Grand Forks, suggests a simpler do-it-yourself update.

Demlow has been making slipcovers for her furniture since 1998. Now, she makes pieces for her daughter, Joy Bailey’s, business The Joy of Junk’n.

Demlow said anyone with basic sewing knowledge can do it, and it takes fewer tools than full reupholstery. Slipcovers are also more forgivable and an easier project for a beginner.

“If you’re not a precise person, that’s OK with slipcovers,” Demlow said, adding that the extra fabric gets tucked into the furniture.


Creating slipcovers follows the same basic steps as reupholstery. First, one must determine if the piece is worth the project. Next, one must measure the piece of furniture. Demlow said, “Measure twice, cut once.”

Unlike reupholstery, when making slipcovers there isn’t any old fabric to use as a pattern, so proper measuring is even more important.

“Sewing knowledge is really important,” Demlow said, explaining that one has to have a mental picture of how the pieces will be cut from the fabric.

When the pieces are cut, Demlow said one can begin sewing. She added that anyone with basic sewing knowledge should be able to figure it out. If they need any help, she suggested searching for tutorials on do-it-yourself sites and Youtube.

When choosing fabric for a slipcover, Bailey said one should ask, “What’s your look and what’s your budget?”

She said fabric for slipcovers ranges from $5 per yard to $60 per yard and more.



While both reupholstery and slipcovers can update a piece of furniture, Demlow and Bailey said the two projects create much different styles.

Demlow said reupholstery is tailored and elegant, while slip-covers tend to create a more laid back and casual feel.

“If you like country and shabby chic, slipcovers are the way to go,” Bailey said.

There are several advantages to using slipcovers rather than reupholstering a piece of furniture. Slipcovers easily can be removed and washed. Because they aren’t permanent, they also allow the owner to change the look of a piece of furniture for different seasons or occasions.

On the other hand, reupholstering furniture creates a tailored look and allows the owner to add more padding, replace any springs and touch up the frame in the process.


But, whether one chooses to tackle reupholstery or a simple slip-cover, one piece of advice holds true: start small and simple.

Nordine recommends starting with a chair cushion or a bar stool. Bailey said even a simple pillow is a good starting point.

“Do it as a hobby. Don’t do it with an idea that you have to have it done by Thursday because it won’t get done,” Nordine said. “Work on it a little bit, and when it bothers you, walk away for a while.”

He added, “start with a small project and work your way on up, and if you have any questions don’t be afraid to call and ask someone.”

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