How to reupholster a barrel chair: DIY tutorial

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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.

transform barrel chair

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.

transform chair

Here’s what it looked like after we finished it:

upholstered chair

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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  • 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
  • string
  • small buttons
  • 3/4 yard burlap ribbon
  • thread
  • lots of staples
  • cardboard tack strips (comes in a roll)
  • utility fabric (bottom fabric under chair)
  • sandpaper
  • stain & poly


  • staple gun
  • hot glue w/gun
  • plyers
  • flathead screwdriver


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.

how to transform an upholstered chair

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.

makeover a barrel chair

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.

how to transform a cane barrel chair

And here is my chair after I removed all the cane and fabric:

transform barrel chair


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:

DIY Barrel Chair

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.

DIY Barrel Chair


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:

transform barrel chair


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).

remove cane from chair

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).

DIY Barrel Chair

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.

transform cane barrel chair

After everything was cut, I took all the fabric pieces that needed to be sewn together to my sewing machine. Here is a tutorial on single piping cushions and one on double piping.


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.

add buttons to chair

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:

add buttons to barrel chair

I made sure everything was tight and looked good on the front before moving on.

DIY button barrel 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.

transform arm chair

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.

DIY Barrel Chair

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.

DIY Barrel Chair
DIY Barrel Chair

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.

transform upholstered chair

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.

DIY Barrel Chair

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.

DIY Barrel Chair

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.

DIY Barrel 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!

how to transform an upholstered chair

And my new buttons…

diy cane barrel chair

Cost Breakdown:
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

transform cane chair

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.

cane barrel chair makeover
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    1. Thanks Karen!!!

  1. You did a fabulous job on this chair!!! The fabric is beautiful but pricey! Thanks for sharing your tutorial. I have a chair just like this. Now I know what to do with it!

    1. Thanks Kimberly! Good luck on redoing your chair!

  2. This looks AMAZING! I especially liked seeing how you tufted it–great technique.

    1. Thanks Emily! I really like the added buttons too, I still want to see how it would look with smaller/more buttons…

  3. I see how u did everything besides what u did for the seat part of it!?

    1. Hi Sandy, I redid the seat part the exact same way that I removed it but with the new fabric. If you’re wondering about the cushion, I followed the same process I used to redo my sofa cushions (tutorial in the link!).

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