how to recover a wingback chair

How to recover a wingback chair

Dear Diary,

I am sure there are many tutorials on the internet on how to do this particular DIY job as wingback chairs are so popular and a true classic, but never less I will share my way and show you how I did a two-tone Country French inspired chair.  This is not the easiest chairs especially if you are working with cotton like I did here, but certainly not unachievable for the avid DIY-er.  Lets get straight into it and see how to recover a wingback chair !

Lets just look at the Before first…. the chair certainly was in good condition structurally, but fabric and colours are dated.  It definitely was time to update and give the room new life! (Fabrics I used for this two-toned chair is from  Floral is from Waverly Ballad Bouquet Blend colour Gingersnap and the tartan/check is Robert Allen Promo Cozy Plaid Ruched Stripe – Flame

Obviously, stripping has to happen first.  My advice on stripping the old fabric off any chair is to start at the bottom.  Next the outside back after that outside arms (this is the underside of the armrests) then the wings, inside arms, inside back and lastly the bottom of the cushion.  The new fabric will be placed back onto the chair in the reverse order of the stripping.

Once the fabric is stripped of, the chair can be covered with a layer of wadding if your frame and foam is in good condition and not degraded. It really is just big square pieces that’s cut and moulded around the foam, but work in the reverse order of how you stripped the chair.  It’s important…believe me. (you will run into trouble if the fabric or wadding gets stapled to the wrong side of the chair, and you have to undo it all!)

You can cover the whole chair with wadding at once, however, I prefer working panel by panel.  You will now need to copy your pattern from the fabric you stripped onto the new fabric, making sure the pattern is vertical as you want it.  Below you can see I sewed the bottom onto a thick canvas fabric.

Next we will do the arms.  As you can see below, I have cut into the fabric and wadding where the frame corresponds so that it can be pulled through without pulling the fabric and distorting the pattern.  You will have to do the same with the wadding.

Cut a square out where the frame corresponds at the front of the arm rest and a bigger square in the back, to allow part of the fabric to go under the arm to the side and part of the fabric to the back of the frame.       

Once this is done, your fabric can be tucked in under the armrest, pulled through and stapled onto the frame on the other side.  Make sure your pattern sits straight and stretch fabric evenly across the width.

See below the under side of the frame.  (Pic is taken from outside arm position)

Evenly work the fabric over the armrest towards the outer arm – underside, starting at the front of the arm and working your way to the back, closest to the wing.  Make sure the fabric is taught from front to back as well as bottom to top.  This is a tricky bit, but once you get the feel for it, it will go quickly.  As you can see below, the fabric looks like it goes a bit awkward towards the back near the wing, but that’s because your armrest is narrowing towards the back.  Don’t stress about this, its how it is supposed to be.

Now once the top and bottom is done, you can pull the fabric into pleats (I chose a random style) and pin down on the front of the arm rest.

The rear of the armrest fabric can now be pulled through the back frame and pinned to the back frame.  Pull tightly and make sure stretching is even.

Repeat the process on both arm rests. Now you can place wadding on the inside back and both wings.

The only sewing you will do for a chair like this, will be the wings and the cushion.  This chair will be a two-tone (using two different fabrics but colours that work together).  I have copied the pattern of the old fabric onto the new, making sure the pattern is all straight and vertical, added extra allowance for the seam and now putting the piping on the inside of the wing.

When you put the other side of the wing on, (or any other type like the cushion covers), turn your piped pattern up towards you, so you can see the first row of stitches.  Therefore you can make sure to sew on the inside of this row, a bit closer to the piping and then they will not show when you turn over the wing cover.  I love using a zipper foot for jobs like these, as the control is better and I can position the foot where ever I want.

This photo is taken from above the chair,( just incase you get disoriented haha)….Pull the wing pattern/cover over the wadded wing from top to bottom, pulling and stretching so the curve sits nicely on the curve of the chair.

Flip the excess fabric that’s right at the back, towards you (back onto itself) so you can better pull and work the wing into position.  (See below)  Make cut-ins where the fabric must go through to the back, (remember not to deep!!) and pull the fabric through the inside back and the little strip left over, will go over the top towards the back.

At the bottom of the wing, where the wing and arm rest meet, you will have to make cut-ins to allow the fabric of each side to fall to the sides they belong.  Make a few cuts to allow the inside fabric to stretch and lay flat along this curve.  Be careful not to cut to deep, and especially with this type of cotton – it tears easily!

Obviously the outside wing fabric and piping will be pulled downwards and pinned onto the same bottom frame as the armrest.

I decided to place a piping in the inside to finish it off better, but it was not on the pattern, only an after-thought.  Before pinning the sides of the wings to the bottom outside arm frame, pin the loose piping under the wing cover, onto the armrest frame.  When the chair is done, you will slip-stitch /blind-stich the piping to the arms.

Pull the wing cover through the inside back frame, pin down and then the outside wing onto the back side of the chair as seen below.

You can now close off the under side of the outside arms.  Turn your fabric upside down, and pin on the batten running from front to back under the arm rest.

I use thick cardboard strips to create a straight and neat edge.

 The cardboard is the waste/off cuts from a local picture framer that I got free of charge. (recycling at its best!!)

Before closing and pinning to the underside of the chair, remember to also put a layer of wadding at the same position as the card board strips.  Now you are ready to do the inside back.  Make sure your pattern is straight and centred.  If it’s a definite pattern like this chair, make sure you cut the inside back and cushion covers at the same time so you can be sure the pattern will match perfectly.  Now the same principle of cut-ins apply on the back.  At the positions where the frame will be, make cut ins to allow the fabric to go around the frame.

Pull the fabric through the bottom, staple onto bottom frame, then do the top, making sure the front stays perfectly centred and straight.  Only then, will you do the sides and pull through to the back, pinning on the inside of the back frame.  Once this is done, you can close the back with the back fabric, and sew the edges with a bent needle as I did here.  (and have more detailed pics on that step in this tutorial)

The last thing on the chair is to cover the front bits of the arm rests….(I forgot to take a photo here….sorry!!)  and finish with your choice of trim.  For this chair, I preferred strip studs instead of the old piping look.  (See the last photo at the end)  and then you are done with the upholstery part.  Now I haven’t taken pictures of the cushion process again…..(sorry!!! got so in the moment, I totally forgot) but its a simple box cushion with piping on both sides and zip at the back-end. I have taken this tutorial from one of my old books to help you through this process.

How to recover a wingback chair

When you have done the cushion, you have survived and made it through the process of how to recover a wingback chair!! Congratulations! Oh look, here’s the little French chair I did a few months ago ! 😉

Lets just see the before again…..

And finally, the After……with brand new covers, this chair is gorgeous and has many more years to give !

Beautiful isn’t it?  I just love the vibrance and colours of the two fabrics together.  Don’t be scared to mix and match or to be bold with colour.

The reveal of this living room is up next so stay tuned!  Good luck with your own wingback project, and have fun!

Till next time,





Article by Teresa

Australian Interior Designer / Decorator & Photographer. I share my style, my creativity and love for all things decor.

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