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Top 10 Tips for Upholstery

When I started out on my upholstery journey, I wish I’d been given a concise list of top tips for making the work so much easier and avoiding costly mistakes. In this month’s blog, I therefore thought I’d share some of my key learnings with you.


  1. Invest in a Staple Gun with Compressor

If you’re serious about starting upholstery, invest in a good compressor and staple gun. Although compressors can sound quite loud and obnoxious, they really are a vital asset for any upholsterer. Manual staple guns just can't apply the same pressure and can be very difficult to squeeze into tight places. Six years ago, I invested in a Stanley compressor and it's still going strong today!


  1. Document the Deconstruction Process of a Chair

So, you've found your chair and now you need to start stripping it down. This can seem quite daunting at first so take your time to understand how it has been constructed. There is a huge variety of chair frames out there so the upholstery process can vary quite a bit. When deconstructing a chair ready for upholstery, take videos, photos and notes of the order of the deconstruction process. For example, did you need to remove the back before you could remove the sides? Could the base only be removed once the arm rests had been addressed? By documenting the order of deconstruction, it is then much easier to build the chair back up, by following the order in reverse.


  1. Iron the Fabric

There’s nothing more deflating that finishing a chair and it has deep creases in the fabric! Believe me, fabric is very difficult to iron once it's been upholstered to a chair! Remember to always iron both the top fabric and the barrier cloth (if being used) prior to starting any upholstery project,


  1. Think Twice, Cut Once

You may have heard this expression before but never has it been truer than with upholstery! Measure, measure and measure again! And then cut! Doing this can help you to avoid costly mistakes that require whole widths of fabric to be replaced!


  1. Finding the Right Side of the Fabric

With some fabric, it can be very difficult to tell the front from the back. If you look at the top and bottom finished edge of the fabric (this is called the selvage) you’ll notice tiny holes. (These holes are caused by the pins holding the fabric when it’s created in the textile factories). If you look at the selvage and the holes appear neat and smooth, that’s the right side. Once you have established the right side, use tailors’ chalk or a pen to apply a small mark to the back of each piece of fabric that has been cut out. That way, you're unlikely to get the fronts and the backs mixed up!


  1. Adhere to U.K. Fire Regulations

If you live in the U.K., and are looking to re-sell your reupholstered pieces, there are very clear regulations regarding fire safety. This is not only with regards to the filling materials (not covered in this blog) but also with the covers. If your upholstery fabric has not been fire-retarded, you can use a barrier cloth underneath the top fabric to make it fire safe. Although this can mean double the work (as it’s double the amount of upholstering), it can work out to be much cheaper than paying for the top fabric to have a fire-retardant coating applied.


  1. Staple Chair Backs in Correct Order

Particularly when upholstering seat backs, there’s a definite order in which to do it. Following this order will avoid creases and crumples in the fabric and produce a very neat finish. Once your fabric is in place, the first step is to staple the top, the bottom, the left and the right (see numbers 1 in the photo below - think of it as "North, South, West and East"). Next, pull the corners tight and staple those into place (see numbers 2 in photo). You can then keep pulling the fabric tight to staple the remaining edge into place.


  1. Pull Down on Fabric Before Stapling to Base

When upholstering the seat base, make sure you pull the fabric tight and in a downward direction. This helps avoid creases and ruffling around the edge of the seat base. Firstly, place one staple at the front, one at the back and one in each of the sides of the base. This secures the fabric into place. Then, staple round from the front to the sides, and then from the sides to the back of the seat.


  1. Cut Binding on the Bias

If you choose to make your own trim (or binding) for your upholstery project, it is important to cut along the bias of your fabric. This is because the stretch in the bias makes it easier to manoeuvre the binding around curved edges. The bias in a fabric runs at a 45-degree angle across the weave. When you fold the material’s selvage (finished edge) at a 90-degree angle, you can find the bias along the crease running in a diagonal direction.


  1. Apply Small Amount of Glue to Upholstery Trim

Once you’ve completed the upholstery, it’s time to add the trim. Take great care when doing this as ruining your project at this last stage would be devastating! Use a hot glue gun to apply a very small amount of glue to the fabric. Then, gently press the trim to the glue. Be careful not to apply too much pressure or the glue can bleed onto the upholstery fabric (and it’s very difficult to remove!). 


I hope you enjoyed reading these top tips and that they provide useful support for your own upholstery journey.