How to Reupholster a Wingback Rocker Part I

I’m so stoked to remake this super comfy rocking chair that sits in Hailey’s room. I bought it off Craigslist for only $30, and its worn out arms and tired looking fabric have been staring at me ever since. Hence, I’m cutting out my smaller projects while I work on this new territory (for me), reupholstering the rocking chair. This has been quite involved and time-consuming, but considering the fact that I was quoted $630 by a local reupholsterer to reupholster my wingback chair, I am excited to accomplish this with some frugality and elbow-grease. First I needed to learn how to reupholster my wingback chair.

I checked this book out from the library, which has been very informative (and funny, since their fabric ideas are laughably out-of-date).

After bringing home several swatches from Jo-Ann’s fabric of custom-cut fabric, I ordered 5 yards of this one, at 50% off. It looks more blue-green in person than in this picture. (Not sure why I look like I want to eat the fabric, but it is yummy looking.)

And I bought the following supplies through eBay and Jo-Ann Fabrics:

  • rubber mallet
  • cardboard stripping
  • tack strip
  • muslin (for the patterns)
  • denim (to go under the chair cushion)
  • a fabric like cambric to go on the bottom of the chair (I can’t remember what I bought, but I couldn’t find cambric. As I’ve said before, I am no seamstress)
  • A welting/piping foot for my sewing machine
  • upholstery nylon thread
  • regular polyester thread that matches my fabric
  • batting (the kind that can be layered)
  • An upholstery staple/nail remover tool, pictured below

These tools have been my friends. The one on the very left is the upholstery staple/nail remover I mentioned above.

The rockers on the bottom of the chair were screwed in, so they were fairly easy to remove.

The thing I was most concerned about is the sewing. However, I have since discovered that upholstery involves little sewing, and much stapling, which is something I totally know how to do from my canvas-stretching days in college.

I am currently in the process of ripping out hundreds of brittle staples. I determined that the bottom was the top layer of fabric, so it became the first to be removed. The fabric should be removed in the opposite order it was put on, which is pretty easy to see as you begin taking it off. Many of the staples break in half, so I pound in the sharp edges with a hammer so they don’t catch on little (or big) fingers.

Hailey was quite insistent on helping me.

The best way to get the hard staples out is to gently hammer the back of the staple remover to force it under the staple, then grab needle-nosed pliers and twist in the direction of the grain of the wood to remove. If twisted against the grain of wood, the staple can actually weaken the wood.

As I remove panels of fabric, I label them as to the order in which I removed them, and the part of the chair they belong to. That way I can use them as a template/pattern for my new fabric.

I also take pictures of tucks/folds/attachments I want to remember when I attach the new fabric:

I was quite surprised to see that the majority of this chair is lined with chipboard, and I’m quite curious as to how I will replace this. I’d rather not have a chair made of cardboard, so I think I will find another alternative.

I am also utilizing my seam-ripper to detach the sewn-on parts, which so far has basically only been the welting (which is the cord used at the seams):

And the parts I most love to run into are the tack strips, which means I have no staples to pull out, but only an easy metal strip to pry up:

So that’s my method so far! I’d love to hear about your upholstery project? Any other crazy people like me out there?

How to Reupholster a Wingback Rocker Part II >



  1. Kathy
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sarah, I am glad to see you are tackling this job. I found a “nice”–that is, except for needing refinishing and reupholstering–wingback chair at a yard sale for $5 a couple of years ago, even bought the fabric to cover it with, then lost my enthusiasm while taking off the old fabric. I also called someone and got an outrageous quote for them to do it, so decided again to give it a try myself. I’ll send you a photo when it’s done (but it may take awhile…). Your photos will definitely be helpful to me!

    • Posted October 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I’m glad to know someone else has taken on this huge project! I know – putting on the new fabric will be fun, but removing the staples gets really old! I can’t wait to see your chair when it’s done.

  2. Lindsay Standish
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hey Sarah~

    I did this a couple of years ago to a wing back chair. So far, your steps are exactly what I did…research, take the fabric off and label, remove all staples.

    I recovered a chair I found at GU on a street corner with the sign “Free.” I remember picking it up and hauling it home, with my backpack full of books acting as a good counter weight to the chair! 😉

    It was alot of work and exhausting, because I constantly had to flip the chair over, etc. I’ll see if I have any photos I can send you. I know I took a few along the way. Unfortunately, I got so involved, I don’t have very many photos of the process itself. 😉 I do like how it turned out, though.

    • Posted October 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Awesome! At the very least, send a photo of the completed chair!! Being in the middle of a project it is so inspiring to see someone’s finished product.

  3. Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is fantastic! I’m just about to do this with two chairs i just purchased from craigslist! thanks!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: