You can repair upholstered chairs and refurbish secondhand bargains with modern materials and a few special tools: a tack lifter, an upholsterer’s hammer and a webbing stretcher. For a sprung seat, you will also need a strong curved upholstery needle and No. 1 twine. All materials are available from upholsterer’s suppliers.
For valuable antiques put the work in the hands of a craftsman who will use traditional methods.
Drop in seat
Take the chair seat and lay it upside down on a table. Use the tack lifter to remove the tacks, and remove the tacks, and remove the hessian and other coverings.
Plane off a little wood from the seat frame for about 2 inches at each side of the corners to ease the fit of the padding when the new upholstery is fitted. Fill all the old tack holes with wood filler and sand the frame smooth with abrasive paper.
Cut three lengths of woven upholstery webbing to fit from back to front of the seat plus 8 inches. Fold under 1 inch of the first strip and fix it to the center back on the top face of the frame, using five upholstery tacks arrange in the shape of a W.
Stretch it with a webbing stretcher and then hammer in three tacks to hold the webbing, then rim the webbing 1 inch from the tacks. Fold the surplus over the tacks and drive in two more tacks. Fit two more strips from back to front, spacing them equally on either side of the first.
Fit webbing in the same way from side to side of the frame. Weave the center strip under, over and under the first set of strips; weave the other two over, under and then over the first set of strips.
Cut a piece of hessian 1 inch larger than the frame all round. Center it over the webbing and drive a temporary tack halfway in at the middle of each side. Fold over the surplus hessian along the back, take out the temporary tack and drive a tack in fully at the center.
Stretch out the fold towards each corner in turn and secure it with tacks. Drive in tacks at 1 inch intervals along the rest of the fold. Secure the hessian in the same way along the front of the frame and then along the two sides.
Cut a sheet of 1 inch thick foam the size of the seat plus Ã?Â½ inch all round. Use a hacksaw to trim all round the upper edge to chamfer it to an angle of 45 degrees, but leave the bottom Ã?Â¼ inch of the sides untouched to form a lip. On the underside of the foam sheet, center and glue a Ã?Â½ inch thick piece of hard grade chip foam 2 inches smaller all round than the seat, using a water based adhesive.
Arrange the foams, chip foam down, over the hessian. Tack the Ã?Â¼ inch lip to the top of the outer face of the frame. Work outwards from the center of each side; space the tacks Ã?Â½ inch, and stop 2 inches from the corners. Cut a V shaped notch out of the foam at each corner, overlap the sides of the V and use one to tack to secure the overlap to the frame. Finish the tacking at the corners.
Cut a piece of calico the size of the seat plus 4 inches all round. Center it over the foam and hold it to the outer face of the frame at the center of each side with a temporary tack. Turn the frame base up and tack the calico in place near the outer edge of the frame’s underside, turning under the surplus and working out from the middle of each side. Tack the calico at 1 inch intervals and draw it taut as you work. At the corners, smooth the point of the calico over the angle and tack it. Fold the surplus fabric into a neat pleat at each side, overlap the pleats at the bottom and secure them with single tacks.
Lay a piece of upholstery wadding over the calico cut to the size of the seat. Fit the main cover fabric over it. Use the same method as used for the calico, but drive in the tacks at the inner edge of the frame’s underside .
Fixed sprung seat
Remove the old upholstery and chamfer the outer edge of the frame. Cut the hessian 3 inches larger than the seat all round. Center it over the seat.
Lay a Ã?Â½ inch wide strip of cardboard on it all round the seat and Ã?Â¼ inch from the outer edge of the frame. Tack through cardboard and hessian at 1 inch intervals, drawing the hessian taut and working from the middle on each side.
Lay handfuls of fiber stuffing over the cardboard all round the seat. Pull the stuffing out to give an even layer all round. Use enough to make a Ã?Â¾ inch roll when it is squeezed tight. Fold the hessian tightly over the stuffing roll and secure it with tacks 1 inch apart driven into the frame close to the inner edge of the cardboard. Fold the hessian into neat pleats at the corners.
Cut the hard chip foam to fit just inside the roll, and the sheet of foam to reach comfortably over the foam onto the wood. To make the seat more domed, put a layer of fiber stuffing over the hessian before you fit the foam.
Fit the calico, wadding and top cover as for a drop in seat, but track the calico half way down the outer face of the frame and the top cover just below it. Glue on a decorative braid to hide the tacks. At the back corners, where the legs are inset in the frame, make a diagonal cut from the corner of the calico (and later of the main cover), but do not make it too long. Fold under the two points and pull the fabric down very tight before tacking it, or the foam will show when the seat is sat on.
If the padding and covering of the seat are in good condition but the springs are worn or broken, you can fit new springs without tampering with the top coverings. Put the chair seat upside down on a table so that the chair back hangs down. Prise out the tacks holding on the bottom hessian and remove it. Prise out the tacks holding the bottom webbing and snip the twine holding the top of each spring to the top layer of webbing. Lift out the springs with the bottom webbing attached.
Check the condition of the top layer of webbing. Replace any worn webbing strips, tacking them to the inner face of the frame as near its top as possible – you will not be able to use the webbing stretcher. Weave new strands in and out of the old strands. Fit new springs about 3-4 inches high – too tall and they will wear the cover. Put one spring at the center of the seat and arrange the others in a square around it. Attach them where webbing strands cross.
Use the curved needle and one long piece of twine to sew in the springs. Secure the center spring to the webbing with a slip knot, then make a half hitch over the slip knot. Sew that spring to the webbing at two other points with half hitches. Carry the twine to each of the four outer springs in turn, sewing each with half stitches at three points. Finish the last stitch by making it a double hitch.
Fit webbing strands to the base of the frame as for a drop in seat (but working on the base not the top face). Sew the bottom of the springs in place in the same way as the top. Fit the hessian cover (or replacement) to the base.
If the springs and outer upholstery need replacing, fit webbing and springs first and then the hessian with edge roll, padding and covers; you will have access to both top and base of the frame so there is no need to fix webbing to the inner face of the frame.