DIY Upholster a Recliner

If you've ever reupholstered furniture, you were probably surprised at how easy it was to do.

Estimating Upholstery Fabric

Recliners, however, are complex-looking machines with lines and cuts and sewing stitches that look anything but simple. Again you'd be surprised. Reupholstering a recliner isn't so difficult if you have a sewing machine capable of handling upholstery fabric or vinyl. What they require is time.

Total up the square inches for the recliner by measuring all the pieces individually. Carefully examine the chair, and do a rough length-times-width measurement of each segment of the chair. Stick Post-It Notes on the sections done, and keep a running total on a piece of paper. After you get the total approximate number of square inches, divide the total by 1,944. That will give you the total square yards. Because you need whole pieces for each segment, you'll need to add 1 to 4 yards to the total to estimate the number of yards of fabric you'll need. Depending on the recliner, you could need 7 to 12 yards of fabric easily, more if you have to match patterns. Solid colors are much easier to match up than patterns, and if you're a beginner, don't try it.


Find a clean work area where you can lay out recliner parts and upholstery fabric pieces as you take the chair apart. Lay the chair back, and begin by removing the foot rest and taking apart the fabric. It's easier to reupholster as you go than to try to remember everything after you've disassembled the entire chair. Remove any screws or staples, and use a sharp knife to take apart the seams in the old upholstery fabric. As you remove hardware pieces, screws and bolts, lay them out on a large table and label them so you know where they go when you put it back together.

Replacing Sections

Use each piece of old recliner fabric as a template to cut the replacement upholstery piece. Allow some extra fabric so you have plenty of room for seams or stapled edges. After you have all the pieces cut, remove any batting or foam padding, and replace it with new material. New foam should be approximately the same thickness if it's in areas where moving parts overlap. Too much foam could bind the chair and prevent it from reclining. Rewrap the part you are upholstering with the new padding, and staple it in place. Use the old upholstery as a model for how to stitch the new pieces together. Leave an open side where the old upholstery did. You'll be able to tell where the original upholsterer left a hidden edge for assembling the piece. Pull the fabric over the part and staple it or hand stitch it into place.

Springs and Stuff

In some cases, covered seats with underlying springs or mechanical parts may be too complex to attempt. You may have to take this part to a professional or simply cover the old material with new material and staple or hand stitch it into place. If foam is glued rather than stapled in place, scrape the old foam away, clean the board and glue new foam into place. As you reattach the vinyl or fabric, stretch it evenly as you reattach it. When stapling, attach the ends pulling tight, then the center, the center of the halves and so forth to avoid fabric creep.


As you complete recovering the last recliner pieces, start reassembling the chair pieces in reverse order. If you labeled the hardware, bolts and screws, it won't be very hard to do. Remember, this thing was assembled on an assembly line by ordinary people doing the job as fast as they could. If they did it, you can too.

About the Author

Tom King published his first paid story in 1976. His book, "Going for the Green: An Insider's Guide to Raising Money With Charity Golf," was published in 2008. He received gold awards for screenwriting at the 1994 Worldfest Charleston and 1995 Worldfest Houston International Film Festivals. King holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Southwestern Adventist College.