Calling All Upholstery Experts

We got this rocking chair for $25 thanks to craigslist, because we loved the simple shape and the low back and the rich chunky wood. Plus I’ve been dying to add a rocker to the new house’s living area (since I feed Clara all the time while hanging out in the public part of the house, as opposed to retreating to the nursery or the bedroom). Plus she loves rocking at John’s mom’s house, so we thought it would contribute to good quality time with the bean. But this rocker is obviously lacking a bit in the seat and back cushion area. No worries, we just figured we’ll reupholster it.

Until we realized that we had no earthly idea how to attack the double sided back cushion. As for the seat, we’re planning to remove the boards that make up the bottom, add a foam cushion, staple batting around the back to hold it down/smooth it out, and reupholster that the same way we’d do any removable chair seat (and then screw it back in from the bottom). But the back has us stumped with a capital um.

If you remove the fabric you can see right through the chair. In other words there are two upholstered panels on each side that were probably stapled and then trim was used to cover the staples, but we’re not sure if we should add some structure so it’s not just fabric that supports a person’s weight against the back. That seems like it could sag over time, right? Any ideas? We’ve seen that seat-belt looking stuff that you can weave to create support and we’re wondering if we need to do something like that for the back (so people can lean on the chair without feeling like they’re falling into a hole) and then somehow attach two more fabric panels on either side of it (you know, for a seat-belt sandwich?). Can you tell we have no idea what we’re doing?

In summary, this project reminds us of this song:

Somebody help us!


  1. says

    What about adding wooden spindles(though elegant and characteristic of the piece) to provide support in the hole, and then add a pillow on the chair for comfort? Are you planning to sand the chair down and re-finish it?

  2. Emily says

    You could use two thin pieces of wood and put batting/fabric on one side of each piece, then sandwich the backs together. You’re on your own for how to attach both of them without hardware showing, though. No idea.

  3. says

    Is there no way you can just wrap a piece of fabric around a thin piece of plywood or particleboard and then somehow fit and screw that in there? I have a dining room chair like that where there’s an upholstered piece in the back that is just slipped into the hole and then screwed in from the bottom bar so you don’t see the screws. I don’t think I would go for the seatbelt mesh in between two pieces of material – that might look a little mish-mash.

  4. says

    Hmm… I’ve never tackled something as confusing as that chair back, but in general I figure that the way something was upholstered originally is good enough… it looks like the original back lasted a long time! After all, the wood on top will keep people from falling through, right?

    When you do the seat, don’t forget to add a nice foam cushion. :) You only mention batting, so I just wanted to say that batting on plywood would be pretty uncomfortable.

    Awesome find!! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

  5. Corrie M. says

    Ooh…..good project! Great chair!
    It actually looks like you have a little bit of wiggle room there (albeit just a smidge) so could you use your fancy jig tool (can’t remember what it’s called) to “dig” narrow grooves inside the wood that frames the back? Then you could just have a very thin piece of wood cut to size, cover it with batting and material, and then wedge it into the grooves?
    let me know if you have no idea what I’m talking about- it all makes sense in my head!

  6. Rachel says

    Well, at least it has good bones! I’m as clueless as you guys on upholstery technique, but I’m sure you’ll figure out a good DIY solution. I can’t wait to see what fabric you choose!

    And, can I just say…I am DYING to see your ideas for your dining room after the discussion on your floor plan post. I am totally digging the cozy, library-eque look too, and I’m trying to achieve a similar vibe in our dining room which is currently empty. I would love ideas for sources! I have found some upholstered chairs I like on Overstock, but that’s about it. I may have my husband build a farmhouse table, but I am so lost on what to do for dining room storage, which we desperately need. China cabinets seem too stuffy, hutches too country, etc. I like the Hemnes cabinet and Stornas buffet from Ikea but I’m not sure if they go with the look that I want.

  7. says

    I would click on a few of those blogs you have in your Link Love section! I’ve seen several people reupholstering chairs with backs just like yours. Seriously I saw like 5 yesterday and now can’t remember where they were. It doesn’t look too hard nor did it seem to require any sewing (which is always a plus). I’d just google it or check out some of your favorite blogs! Good luck!

  8. Erika says

    Perhaps you could call an upholstery expert in your area…they might be willing to charge just a small fee for their expertise, if you want to do the work yourself.
    I would definitely get an “expert” opinion before tackling that!

  9. Mercedes says

    Great find! I’m on the search now for a nice piece to reupholster, but I plan on taking an upholstery class offered here in NOVA. You didn’t mention foaming, which is what an upholster would add to the bottom, then the batting and a dacron wrap (which required by VA law, makes objects flame resistant), then of course your fabric. The back you could either use a foam or a poly fill may be easier to manipulate. I’m assuming the webbing may work the same or in addition to the fill. I also work at a design center where we send out our clients work for reupholstery to local workrooms, so I’ve been able to gain a bit of insight into the process. I love the idea of taking a traditional piece and making it funky! Good luck to you.

  10. Jen says

    A while back, Thrifty Decor Chick reupholstered her dining room chairs and they had fabric on both sides of the chair back. Maybe check out how she did that for some guidance.

  11. Hannah says

    That upholstered back probably slides into some grooves on the sides, top, and bottom of the chair. You’d probably have to remove the horizontal bottom support, reupholster the back piece, and slide it back in. Then reattach the horizontal bottom support piece. I think that made sense :)

  12. Jenn(ifer) says

    serious envy, that is a beautiful chair.
    You don’t need to support the back (because of the wood on the top and the bottom) as long as you use fabric that was meant for upholstering and accordingly durable…
    Just staple is on and you can hide the harware with upholstery nails or cord or even selfmade binding out of the same material…
    Can’t wait for the after pictures!

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