The Colorful Life of my Junkin’ Treasure

I love shopping at Canton, Round Top & Warrenton Antique Fair, and estate sales in Texas.  The mystery of not know what I’m going to find is half of the fun while the potential that lies within the find is the other half.  I found this chair for $30 at an estate sale Summer 2010.  This wing back chair was one of my biggest undertakings.  I had recently recovered an armless chair for my sister and thought this would be a piece of cake.  I needed an arm chair for my living room and this was the perfect piece.  It was not like most wing backs because it had straight legs and no loose seat cushion.  There was no risking that the chair would be available day 2 of the sale – I bought it on the spot!  I couldn’t wait to transform the chair.  I hauled it off to my truck and got ready for the fun ahead.  Fast forward 6 months later, I bought two different upholstery fabrics, spent hours reading blogs on how to reupholster, and received a couple of estimates to recover the chair.  It had sat in my living room long enough.  I got the nerve to tackle this chair and saved about $400 dollars doing this myself.  I had faith in my abilities and loved the second fabric I bought.  If you are thinking about reupholstering a piece of furniture or are interested in the process, keep on reading to find out about my chair’s journey.

First, you have to find a sturdy piece of furniture with potential or transform something you already own.  I prefer the treasure hunt of junkin’.

After having my chair, I then read up on lots of blogs and websites about the how to’s of reupholstery.  I knew how to do a simple chair with a seat cushion but this was a whole new undertaking.  The web pages I found helpful are:

Once I had done my research, I had to find the perfect fabric.  I actually did this twice.  This first fabric I liked but didn’t love.  After living with it for a few months, I decided to look again.  My partner in crime, Robyn, helped with the selection of the second fabric.  I love it!

A few things to keep in mind about fabric:

1. It must be upholstery grade for it to withstand the rough and tumble of everyday living.  I don’t know about you, but I want this chair to last me at least 10 years.

2. While stripes or plaids may be cute, they will be very difficult to match up at the seams.  I had enough stress from the whole reupholstery process.  I didn’t need more from difficult fabric.

3. Choose a fabric that serves your purpose and you love.  Ultimately, you are the one that has to live with the piece of furniture.  Make sure you select the furniture and fabric to fit your needs.

A few good places to look for fabric: Hancock Fabrics, Jo Ann’s, Hobby Lobby, or your local upholstery shop.

Now it’s time for the fun and risky part.  It took me 6 months to work up the nerve and find the time to mark this project off my to do list.  I set aside one weekend before my last semester of college started.  It was finally time to remove all the ugly fabric.  I started with the piping around the base of the chair.  Then working my way up and around, I removed each panel of fabric.  As I removed a panel, I labeled and numbered it.  This is important for the second half of the project.  Some websites say to buy special tools and wear gloves while doing this but I used my bare hands and occasionally a screwdriver to work loose an upholstery tack or staple.  Prepare for sore fingers and using your muscles.



While I was removing the fabric, I came across a wide variety of things inside the chair.  First there was a second layer of fabric – the ugly gold fabric seen on the right.  Then, I found coins here and there, a gum wrapper, a prom or homecoming picture, a pen, and straw that was used for part of the cushion.  The best find was a paring knife stuck in between the seat and back cushion.

Batting, batting, batting – I must have gone through 10 yards of batting.  I practically reupholstered the entire chair with new fluffy batting.  No more straw to be found here.

My chair was starting to look good all fresh and white.  The only problem was I had stapled batting in some wrong places.  I had to slit the backs of the wings and underneath the arms in order to pull the fabric through.

I took all the old panels that I had labeled and numbered and laid them out on my new fabric sort of like a puzzle.  I allowed a couple inches all the way around and cut out each piece.  Once all my pieces were cut, I put them in the opposite order that I removed the old fabric.

I started with the back rest piece.  I draped it over and pulled it through the cracks from the wings and seat.  I started stapling at the top starting with one staple in the center and one on each end and working in sections repeating until it was all stapled.  I used about an inch spacing in between the staples.  After I had the top stapled, I moved to the bottom and then the sides repeating the same stapling process.  It’s important to pull as tight as possible when stapling the other 3 sides.  Sagging fabric is never a good look.  Once everything was stapled, I trimmed the scraps of fabric from the back and moved onto the seat.

Following the same principle, I did the same with the seat, arm rests, and inside of the wings.

On the front of the arms, I stapled piping before reapplying the panels.  To make the piping, I used a long piece of fabric about an inch wide and cording (found at the fabric store).  While you can sew piping, I read hot gluing it as well.  I’m all about the magical wonder of hot glue so I chose this route.  It worked quite nicely but took me a while to make it.  I needed about 5 yards for the whole chair.  I could have made and had more on the chair but I didn’t find that it was necessary.

For the panels facing out underneath the arms, you will need cardboard tack strip.  I found mine at Jo Ann’s.  The strip helps keep your fabric straight and hide the staples.  I hot glued the strip to the back of my fabric about an inch away from the edge.  After that was done, I proceeded to staple the strip with the fabric attached to the chair.  When the strip is completely stapled, the fabric panel simple comes over the cardboard and can be stapled on the other 3 sides.  Repeat for the other arm.


The most difficult part of reupholstering the chair is when you have to use the scary metal teeth.  Scary metal teeth, also known as metal tack strip, serves the same purpose as the card board tack strip except it is for curves.  The strip has holes on one side and scary metal teeth on the other.  I found mine online and needed about 15 yards.  First, I measured out how much tack strip I would need for the outside of the wing.  I cut off that length from the coil of tack strip and started stapling it to the chair.  I made sure to staple on both sides of each hole so it would not move.  Also, the scary metal teeth must open out away from the center of what you upholstering.  The fabric wraps over and is clamped shut by the teeth.  After it is all stapled in, I put my fabric panel in place and stapled it on the two straight sides.  I then trimmed it to a ½ inch over the tack strip.  Now it’s time for the amazing thing to happen.  The edge of the fabric gets tucked into the opening of the tack strip.  I used a screwdriver to help tuck it in.  I pressed the strip closed as I went around the edge.  Once it was all tucked in and closed, I went back with a rubber mallet and hammered the strip tight.  I did the same with the back of the chair.  In case you’re wondering, this is how the professionals get beautiful seams without any staples!  A helpful video demonstrating how they work can be found here.


The last part came with the piping on the bottom edge of the chair.  I stapled the piping all the way around and glued it around the legs.  Another important thing to note: if you are painting the legs of your chair, you should do it prior to reupholstering.  I did not and had to paint afterwards being extra careful to not get paint on the new fabric.

Finally, I could relax and enjoy my masterpiece.  It took me two days to do the chair.  If I started earlier and had all the supplies necessary to complete the chair, it would have been possible in one day.


My next reupholstery project comes in the form of a bench.  It will be much much easier than the wing back.  I found it at Warrenton Antiques Fair this past spring.  I love the curve of the legs!  It’s waiting for me once I return from Washington D.C. this summer.


A few of my other reupholstery projects include my sister’s chair found at Warrenton Antiques Fair for $20 and my dining room chairs that are over 50 years old also found at the Antiques Fair by my grandparents.

I hope I have inspired you to try your hand at reupholstery.  All you need is a staple gun and a little effort to have some homegrown joy spurting from your furniture.

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6 Responses to The Colorful Life of my Junkin’ Treasure

  1. Laura hilton says:

    You are GOOD! I want to start recovering more. I love the fabric!

  2. That is so fantastic! What an undertaking! I love your fabric choice. Great job.

  3. I think my jaw dropped when I saw this. Amazing isn’t a strong enough word! Linking up to you at

  4. Sanna Elza says:

    Loved this post! Kendall sent me 🙂

  5. Amy says:

    This is simply gorgeous! It’s really making me want to re-upholster something.

  6. janette says:

    Riley, I’m so impressed! I had no idea that your crafting skills went so far. Inspirational and makes me want to try my hand at it.

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