Learn how to reupholster a barrel chair and turn this antique into a modern masterpiece!
My first attempt at reupholstering a chair was such an adventure that I couldn’t wait to do another one!
This chair is a cane barrel chair that we actually found before the other chair. We really liked the style of the chair and wanted to keep the basic shape with a few design changes.
We bought it through the classifieds, from a sweet man who was moving and did not have room for it. But, with most used chairs, it had some wear-and-tear problems. The biggest problem was that the previous owner had a dog that liked to chew on the arms and scratch the cane of the chair.
Here’s what it looked like after we finished it:
When I was looking for the best ways to fix this chair, I found a post by Oh Everything Handmade. Bettina had a barrel chair and she removed all the cane and put fabric in its place. We loved this idea because we were sure the kids would ruin the cane (probably put a hole right through it…).
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DIY CANE BARREL CHAIR
- fabric (I bought 5 yards but 4 yards would have worked)
- 6/32″ piping (I bought 12 yards)
- 1″ foam
- 1″ quilting batting
- fabric buttons
- small buttons
- 3/4 yard burlap ribbon
- lots of staples
- cardboard tack strips (comes in a roll)
- utility fabric (bottom fabric under chair)
- stain & poly
- staple gun
- hot glue w/gun
- flathead screwdriver
You can print the material list and instructions below.
STEP 1: TAKE APART THE CHAIR
First, I took lots of ‘before’ pictures so I could remember how the chair originally looked.
Then, demo started on the chair. You’ll want to grab a flat head screwdriver and long nose pliers – these tools will make it easier to remove the old fabric carefully.
It was a little slower removing the fabric around the cane so if you are planning on saving your cane, take your time.
I first removed the double cording around the fabric (this was glued into place). The glue made it hard to see the staples that were holding the fabric to the chair.
I then started removing all the staples, not being too careful about it this time.
After all the fabric was taken off, I started to remove the cane. I first pulled off the wood trim around the cane, which was stapled in place. There were lots and lots of staples.
And here is my chair after I removed all the cane and fabric:
STEP 2: SAND THE WOODEN FRAME
Next, I sanded the whole chair because I needed to fix the arms and wanted everything to look the same. Here is my chair all sanded smooth:
And now, the arms are fixed. The edges are now rounded, after sanding away the original marks. If I wanted a less rounded look, I could have used wood filler before sanding to repair the arms.
STEP 3: APPLY A STAIN TO THE FRAME
After the chair was sanded, I applied a wood stain. I decided to use Special Walnut to match our other chair. I also applied two coats of polyurethane, lightly sanding in between coats with 600 grit sandpaper.
And here is our chair frame, re-stained and ready for the new fabric:
STEP 4: PREPARE THE FABRIC
Speaking of new fabric, now I could finally cut it out.
I used the old fabric as a pattern for the cushion and seat base. However, for the back, I used the foam as my pattern and cut 2″ extra around all the sides.
And what about the sides where the cane was?
Originally, I forgot to trace the old cane onto the foam. To fix this, I pinned the foam/batting to the chair (I pushed the pin into the wood).
Then, I traced where the foam would go on the chair and cut the foam out. And just to make sure the foam would fit, I placed it back onto the chair to check the size.
Once I was happy with it, I traced the same foam piece onto the batting and both foam/batting for the other side (there were 4 pieces altogether – 2 foam & 2 batting).
I also cut out 2 more batting pieces for the back panel, using the old foam as a pattern.
I then cut my double piping (3″ fabric strip) and single piping (1.5″ fabric strip). I used double piping where the back panel meets the sides of the chair and one that went all around the back of the chair (sides & back).
Here is an example of what I am talking about: see the piping that goes all the way around the chair and the strip that is in between the back and arm side.
STEP 5: ADD EMBELLISHMENTS
To give my chair a little more character, I added some buttons to the back panel. I thought about adding lots of little buttons but then I decided to use the buttons I already had on hand from the last chair I reupholstered.
Attaching the buttons was not as difficult as I thought. First, I marked where I wanted my buttons on the front fabric piece (I decided to do 5).
Then, I placed my fabric on top of my foam and batting, leaving the back batting out to use later. I pinned the layers together to hold everything into place until I added the buttons.
Next, I took my string and placed my fabric buttons where I wanted them, leaving 5-6″ of string on the back of the foam to tie off.
After I placed my fabric buttons, I took the strip of burlap ribbon and weaved my string through the middle of the ribbon. Then, I added the small buttons. Finally, I tied the strings together like this:
I made sure everything was tight and looked good on the front before moving on.
STEP 6: SECURE THE FABRIC TO THE CHAIR
Now it was time to put the new fabric onto the chair.
I first started with the arms. I placed the fabric so the right side of the fabric was facing out (the inside was facing me). Then, I stapled the top, then bottom, then sides.
While I stapled, I made sure that everything was pulled tightly.
I had a small problem where my stapler would not reach into the slot. Instead, I stapled right next to it, being careful not to staple at an angle or else it will go through the wood. Don’t ask how I know that…
I repeated the process for the other arm and back. I also trimmed the extra fabric after each side (I used the slot as my guide).
Now it was time to add the foam and batting. I started first with the side again, placing the foam, then the batting, only stapling on the top and bottom, and trimming if needed.
For the middle, I placed the other batting (not used when adding the buttons), then the button fabric piece, making sure the fabric was out of the way. I stapled the top and bottom, trimming again if needed.
Next I added the front fabric. I started with the arms again, stapling the top, bottom, and then the front side (using lots of staples). For the middle, I only placed a few staples.
Then I did the other arm side the same way, but not trimming anything yet.
For the middle, I stapled the top, then the bottom.
The sides were a little more difficult because I could not get my staple gun to staple straight so I stapled like this (sorry it’s a little hard to see). I also overlapped the fabric from the sides.
After everything was stapled, I trimmed all the fabric 1/2″ away from the staples. Then, I used a flat head screwdriver to push the extra fabric into the hole.
Next, I took my hot glue gun and glued the double piping into place. I started with the middle section first, then wrapping the big piping all around the chair.
I reupholstered the base of the chair by adding new fabric, batting and piping with the nail gun.
Once the new fabric was attached to the base, I set it back into place.
SIDE NOTE: I had a hard time putting the base back because of the new fabric, batting, and piping but eventually, everything worked out.
After, I placed the cushion onto the base.
And finally, here is my chair, all finished!
And my new buttons…
fabric – $43
chair – $25
zipper – $2
piping – $5.50
smaller buttons – $1
burlap ribbon – $2.50
everything else I had on hand – FREE
Total – $79
Anyone else wanting to redo a chair by upholstering it? We are loving my new chairs! They are sturdy, full of character and just our style.