Six pretty chairs all finished!
Ugly old chairs.
UPDATE: I've had many visitors to this post and decided I should post some succinct steps for recovering chairs.
1. Remove chair seats from frame. They are probably screwed on at the bottom; you'll need power tools for this. Number each seat and frame as you will want to put the same frame and seat together at the end.
2. Pull out all staples holding existing fabric on. I used a hammer to tap a screwdriver positioned at the staple to get under and pry it up. I used pliers to pull out the loosened staples. This is the most time-consuming step of the process.
3. Use the old fabric to make a pattern for the new seats. Draw the pattern on paper and cut it out.
4. You will need fabric, firm batting and a good dense foam. The foam provides softness and the batting provides firmness. Use the pattern you made to cut the fabric (be sure to consider direction and placement of any design in the fabric before cutting). Cut the foam to the shape of the chair seat. Trace around the seat with a marker and cut out the foam. Cut the batting an inch or two larger all around than the foam (I just laid the foam on the batting and eyeballed it--it's not rocket science).
5. Assemble fabric, right side down, batting, foam and the chair seat.
6. Using a good staple gun, staple the fabric at the center of each of the four sides first, pulling it snugly tight but not mashing down the foam too much. You may have to experiment with staple sizes. I used 1/8" staples.
7. Staple near each corner, pulling fabric snug as before. Staple halfway between the middle and corner staple on all sides, also pulling snug as you go. Fabric should be secure enough now, you will need to do little pulling as you staple. Use plenty of staples to finish going around the seat, perhaps an inch apart.
8. Do corners last. Back corners are hidden by the chair frame, so not much fussing is needed with them. For the front corners. try to pull the fabric snugly and smoothly to make a nice rounded corner. It should have no pleats showing from the top. Staple securely with several staples. This is the hardest part to get right.
9. Reattach seat to frame with screws. Match up the same seats and frames you marked in step 1.
Sounds easy, but it is actually quite time-consuming. But the result is worthwhile.
Here's a recap of my experience.
1. I decided to first rip off one seat cover and make a pattern from the old fabric. Getting the screws out to remove the seat was hard and I was puzzled that most of the chairs had only three screws instead of four. Pulling out the staples was also tough. I had to pry with a screwdriver and pull with pliers. Took almost half an hour for one chair. I didn't do the next five chairs until a week later, and I did find some efficiencies and got the time down to about 10 minutes per chair. With the fabric off, drew a pattern on brown paper.
2. I was going to buy new fabric, but then I remembered I had, stuck away in a drawer, some pieces of the fabric left over from when I had my couch recovered - about 20 years ago! I pulled it out, it looked great. In fact, holding it up next to my couch, I couldn't believe how little the couch has faded in that time. Problem: The were not big enough pieces to lay out all six chairs. Solution A; Buy new fabric. Solution B: Piece together from existing. I opted for Solution B figuring the only thing I lose is time if it doesn't work. I cut six rectangles 17" wide by 23" long for the center pieces, and then 12 rectangles. 6" wide by 23" long. Stitched them together creating a piece big enough for my pattern (had to learn to use my new sewing machine, which delayed me about an hour or so). I didn't worry about matching with the busy pattern on this fabric and I figured the seams would be nearly invisible on the chairs. I was right. Cut out six pieces.
Here are pieces of fabric on the matching couch. There's the batting.
Cut the foam with my old electric knife. That thing is finally good for something.
One seat finished though not yet attached.
6. Finally, in an assembly line, I assembled and stapled the remaining five covers trying to perfect the corners--the toughest part.
7. When removing the seats, I had carefully numbered each chair and seat so I could match them up again, assuming the screw holes might not be aligned if I switched them around. A power drill made screwing the seats to the chairs again the fastest work of all.
The cost of the project was about $12 for the foam and I think it was $10 for the batting. The chairs now match my couch (not that I was striving for that), and I know this is good quality, durable fabric--I won't have to do this again for a long time, if ever. Thank goodness.