Fabric prices and labor charges determine the cost of covering a chair -- and the final tally is frequently higher than first-time reupholsters expect. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a new chair. Expensive refurbishing doesn’t make financial sense if you’ve got braces to buy or expect cookie crumbs to get ground into the seat. To cover a chair on a budget, you’ve got to reduce the cost of fabric, labor or both.
To lower your fabric cost, you need to minimize the amount you need and the price per yard. Start by sticking with solid colors. It takes more yardage to cover a chair in patterned fabric because of the waste created by pattern matching; the larger the pattern, the more the waste. Find fabric for less than the list price by shopping fabric outlets for mill drops, dye-lot seconds and remnants. Painters' drop cloths also work as low-cost chair fabric.
Eliminate labor charges by making a removable throw or slipcover. Don’t opt for the latter unless you’re an experienced seamstress; custom slipcovers cost as much as reupholstering. If you decide to make a slipcover, pin fit the fabric to the chair -- with the wrong side facing you -- before sewing. If you’re not up to sewing a fitted slipcover, make a big throw for the chair instead. The throw’s size and shape depend on your chair. Hem all four sides using your sewing machine or iron-on hemming tape. Light- and medium-weight fabric works best for throws and slipcovers because it drapes better. Choose washable fabric and preshrink it before sewing to make your cover family friendly.
If you decide to hire an upholsterer, simplifying the chair’s design may make the job less labor intensive. If the chair currently has channeling or button tufting, switch to smooth surfaces, which take less time to complete. If it has a pleated or shirred skirt, opt for an upholstered base instead; you can always paint the legs if they’re scuffed. Simplifying the design of a wood-framed chair with fabric just on the seat and back may even make you willing to tackle the job yourself.
Skip both the fabric and labor costs by painting your chair instead. Stick with fabric paint suitable for upholstery, premixed by the manufacturer or your own blend of hobby-store fabric medium and water-based paint. If you opt for the latter, follow the mixing instructions on the fabric medium. With both types, the manufacturer may instruct you to spray the chair with a bottle of water before painting so the fabric stays soft. After the paint dries, feel free to stencil the chair with additional colors. If it’s a chair for a child’s room or play space, you can even let your young ones use fabric paint pens to create their own custom design.