How to Upholster Dining Chairs with Piping

Do you ever have those times where one event cascades into a long list of things to do?

That’s what happened to me recently.  You may have read about me acquiring three tables in one day, well that weekend has translated into several events.  

A New Table

While Andy and I had been discussing replacing our dining table with something smaller for some time, we had not made any decisions.  He had told me that he wanted a rectangular table, not an oval or round table. I had been half-heartedly looking for a new table but, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I could part with this beautiful table.

Enter the free table and a desire to do something different.

This resulted in a list:

  • Paint new table
  • Paint and upholster new chairs
  • Sell old table.

That seems pretty easy, right?

Well, you would think so but what happened next meant quite a bit of work.  I’m not complaining, as I’ve enjoyed doing it but…

There was a large stain on one of the dining chairs from the existing table so I thought I’d remove the cover and wash it, then put it back on.  

On closer inspection of the other chairs, I decided that I needed to reupholster all of them before selling it.

Not what I had planned, but that’s OK.


  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Cardboard
  • Staples
  • Staple gun
  • Pen
  • Sewing Machine
  • Zipper Foot
  • Regular Foot
  • Piping Cord
  • Thread
  • Staple Lifter
  • Pliers

A Word About Velvet Fabric

I chose a velvet fabric. This required me to ensure that all the pieces were cut in the same direction.  You will know that when you run your hand along velvet fabric it is rough one way and smooth the other.  The direction of this is called the nap.  You want the nap to be running all in the same direction.  Basically, when using velvet fabric make sure that when you run your hand from the back to front of the seat, it feels smooth.  If you run your hand down the back of the chair, it should feel smooth.  You want to cut the sides so that it is smooth when you run your hand from top to bottom.  While we are talking about fabrics, why not check out the selection that Kovi Fabrics has. This is where you can choose the best upholstery fabrics.

Remove Old Covers

The first thing I did was remove the covers (obviously).  This takes ages and is quite hard on the hands but it’s somehow quite rewarding. You can use a staple lifter for this.  Just pop the tool underneath the staples and lift them up. You may also need some pliers – they do tend to be a bit resistant to coming out so just give them a tug with the pliers.

Make a Template

Next I made a cardboard template by tracing around the seat.

Once I had a general outline, I tidied up my template with a ruler.

Cut Out the Fabric

I spent quite a lot of time working out how much fabric I needed - you'll be amazed at how little this actually takes. Your fabric will be different depending on the size of your chair seat and whether you have upholstered backs. I just wanted to include this image so that you can see how I worked it out. All up, my chairs took just under 3.5 metres of 150cm wide fabric.


Next, join all of the piping pieces together with a bias seam. I production lined these so I didn’t need to cut the thread after every seam.  Trim the seam allowance to about 1cm and finger press open.

Cut out Seat Fabric

Lay the cardboard template on the fabric.  My fabric was 150cm wide and the template was approximately 50cm so it fitted three times across the width. Draw around the template and then add 1cm seam allowance. Cut out.

Add Piping

Lay the piping on the fabric, ensuring you place the beginning in the middle of the back of the seat.  Lay the piping cord on top of the piping and position it in the middle of the piping strip. Fold the piping fabric over the piping cord.  

Using a zipper foot so you can get in nice and close, stitch through all three layers beside the piping cord.

Put the needle into the down position to turn the corners.  You will need to clip into the corners of the piping to make it turn the corner.  

When you have stitched all the way around the seat, stop about 5cm before the beginning. Cut the piping cord so that the ends slightly cross.  Pull the ends of the piping down towards the seam allowance and cross them slightly.   Stitch across all layers.

For some reason I didn’t take a photo of this so I hope you can see what I did here.

Add the Side Pieces

Join the side pieces into one long strip.  Finger press the seam open. Fold over 2cm of the end and, starting at the centre back of the seat, lay the side piece on top of the piping and stitch all the layers together. Use your regular foot for this, not your zipper foot.

Cross the fabric over by about 2cm at the end, stitch and trim.

Clip into any corners and trim off any excess fabric to reduce bulk and ensure that the cushion is sitting nicely.  Try it out on the seat and ensure it fits well.

Upholstering the Seat

Lay the seat cover you just made down on the table.  Lay the seat on top.  Find the centres of the back, front and sides and pull the fabric to the back then place one staple at each point.  You will need to stretch the fabric quite tight as you don’t want it to be wrinkled on the right side. Turn the seat over and check that things are looking good.  Now, staple the rest, working at opposites (back then front, right then left). Place the staples quite close together.

Leave the corners until the last.

Pull the fabric at across the corner tight and place in one staple.

Next fold over the fabric to create a mitre and staple.  

Trim off any excess fabric.

Upholster Back

My chairs have upholstered inserts in the back. I initially thought I could get away with not taking the covers off but then it wouldn’t fit back in so my shortcut became a long way.

What I did find, is that I only needed to remove the back – I could leave the front on and just upholster over that.

After removing the back covering, lay the fabric face down on the table and lay the back on top. Ensure that the nap is going from top to bottom as described above.

Place one staple at the top, one at the bottom and one on either side, pulling the fabric taut.  Turnover and check that it looks good and that you have enough allowance on each side to pull to the back and staple. Staple all the way around, folding the corners in as you did on the seat.

Trim off any excess fabric.

Place the front fabric face down on the table and lay the back back side down on the top. Centre.  Staple on the opposite sides again, this time placing the staples on the sides, rather than taking the fabric all the way over to the front.

Staple all the way around.

Trim off any excess fabric. On my chairs, these staples are hidden when the cushion slips into the chair so I didn't need to worry about covering them.

Put the chair back together and you’re done.

Now I just had to do this five more times!

I actually really enjoyed this project.  It took me about a day and a half including the time it took me to work out the fabric requirements and go and get the fabric.

Now, the table is going to be sold to make room for our new one, once it's got its new paint job.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how to upholster a dining chair with an upholstered back and piping.

If so….. 



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February 18, 2024