John and Alice's Family Room

How to Reupholster An Occasional Chair With Tufted Back

Last Updated on August 11, 2018 by Kristi Linauer

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The next step in reupholstering an occasional chair is the tufted back. This is where most people get scared, so they do a simple wrap and staple, leaving off the tufts. If you prefer a clean, smooth, non-tufted look, that’s fine. But don’t leave off the tufts just because they intimidate you! It’s really not as difficult as it may seem, and hopefully these step-by-step pictures will help to clarify just how NOT difficult this process is.

First, take the piece of chip board that came off of the chair, and use it as a pattern to cut out a new piece of chip board.

Next, use spray adhesive to attach the foam to the chip board.

**Note: If the old foam isn’t in good enough shape to reuse, simply use the old foam as a pattern to cut out a new piece of foam the same thickness, and then use either scissors or the process outlined on the diamond-tufted headboard tutorial to cut out the holes for the buttons.

Now take a very long, thick needle with a large eye (either an upholstery needle or large doll needle)…

And use the needle to make two holes in each button hole. Space the needle holes about 1/4″ apart.

Repeat this in every button hole.

Now take a piece of high-loft polyester batting and place on top of the foam. Using your fingers, work the batting into each button hole. (If you actually end up poking a hole in the batting rather than working it down into the hole, that’s okay.) Trim the batting around the edges so that you don’t have to deal with a lot of bulk while working on the tufting.

Next, you’ll need to prepare your buttons. If you’re using metal cover buttons, cover them with fabric following the instructions on the package.

Now place your fabric over the batting. You’ll also need to cut pieces of polyester cord, one for each button, and each about 10 inches long.

Starting on the top row in the middle, use your fingers to work the fabric down into the button hole.

From the back of the chip board, poke the needle through one of the needle holes that you created…

…then thread the button onto the polyester cord, and poke the needle back through to the back, through the second hole that you created in the chip board…

Remove the needle and pull both ends of the cord so that the button is pulled against the chip board to create a tuft.

While keeping the cord pulled tight, tie a knot in the cord on the back to secure it in place. Trim off the excess cord. (You’ll have quite a bit of wasted cord, but it’s much easier to work with the longer pieces of cord.)

Now continuing on the top row of buttons, use your fingers to work the fabric into the next button hole.

You’ll notice in the picture above, the fabric between the button holes is gathered. This will naturally happen when you have so few buttons finished. However, the fabric should have enough give in it so that the wrinkles can be easily spread out with your fingers. If the fabric is pulled so tight that you can’t easily spread the fabric to remove the gathers, then you’ll need to allow a little more fabric between buttons.

Continue adding buttons along the top row until they’re finished.

Now move to the next row. Work with the fabric until you’ve formed nice diagonal folds. You can see that the gathers that I talked about above have been pulled out with the addition of this button on the second row.

Continue working row by row, carefully and patiently working with the fabric to create the folds in the fabric, and then adding the buttons.

If you compare the picture above with the picture below, you can see that the diamond shapes really do start to form all by themselves in the fabric. You simply need to work WITH the fabric, straighten the folds, and make the diamond tufted pattern look neat and clean.

When all of your buttons are finished, turn the chip board over and trim all of the excess cord.

Next, you’re ready to secure the chip board to the frame of the chair. Line up the chip board so that it sits just inside the routed out channel in the chair frame, and secure the chip board to the frame with your staple gun. If the chip board covers up any parts of the routed-out channel in the chair frame, simply use a utility knife to cut away the excess chip board. You’ll need the channel to be completely accessible all the way around.

With the chip board firmly attached to the frame, trim the polyester batting so that it ends either just before or just inside the routed-out channel in the chair frame.

Now using your hot glue gun, place a bead of hot glue into the routed-out channel in the chair frame, and then using a screwdriver or butter knife, push the fabric into the channel, and hold until the glue sets. I generally work on about 4 to 5 inches at a time.

Continue this process all the way around, until the fabric is firmly secure in the channel. Take note of how the corners should look below. From the button, there should be one fold in the fabric going directly up to the top of the chair, and one fold going directly to the side. These two folds should take up all of the slack in the fabric so that there should be no other folds or gathers, giving the corner a nice smooth appearance.

You’ll continue with this process all the way around the back, being sure that there are no wrinkles or fold in the fabric anywhere EXCEPT the folds going directly out from each button. (Learn from my mistake here: If you’re using a really heavy cotton fabric like this canvas, iron the fabric before tufting the back. I thought the wrinkles would pull out, but because this canvas has so much body to it, the wrinkles didn’t pull out at all. They can still be steamed out after the chair is finished, but it’s just better to take care of things like that beforehand.)

Along the bottom, use your staple gun to secure the fabric to the frame. Since this will be covered up with the attached seat, it doesn’t have to be neat, but just be sure that it’s low enough so that it won’t show when the seat is reattached.

Using scissors or a very sharp utility knife, cut away the excess fabric all the way around the chair back.

And finally, using your hot glue gun, attach fabric-covered cord in the routed-out channel of the chair frame to hide the edges of the fabric and to finish the chair back. If you prefer the double cord look, you can add two rows of cord around the chair back.

Are you still with me? It wasn’t that bad, right? I’m sure you can do it! That really is the hardest part, but we’re not done yet. Click below to continue to Part 4.

<< Return to Part 2                     Proceed to Part 4 >>

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