Monday, March 14, 2011

Re-upholstery With Drop Cloth- Part 2

Welcome back, folks.  If you missed part 1 of this tutorial, please catch up here . We're learning how to re-upholster with a drop cloth, like I did with this chair.

Here's how to prepare your drop cloth for upholstery.  Although the drop cloth trend is all over blog land and DIY shows/ magazines, I still learned it first from my fave, Miss Mustard Seed (love that girl). 

Drop cloths are a fantastic fabric to use on re-upholstery for several reasons:
  1. They are CHEAP in price; my 6' x9' cloth cost about $10 from Home Depot
  2. The material is heavy, thick, and super durable
  3. The texture and color (post bleach) are beautiful with a "natural" feel  
  4.  If you mess up on your project you don't have to feel guilty about spending a ton of $ on a pricey fabric
  5. I love to have a neutral base color for the furniture piece so that you can change the look in any space quickly and inexpensively with accent pillows or throws
Even if you don't love the way that the material looks, I would highly recommend using this if you're a newbie to re-upholstery and want something inexpensive to learn with.  If you don't love the piece after you're finished (which I bet you will), sell it! My chair went like hot cakes as soon as it was posted online.

Here's what my drop cloth material looked like when I purchased it.

I'll be the first to admit that I was very skeptical when I first picked it up and thought Miss Mustard Seed must have a much better drop cloth variety at her local hardware store because mine definitely didn't look as pretty as hers all do on her chairs.  Trust me, it really does look beautiful when finished.  The texture is very rough initially and there will be a lot of different colored threads in the mix, along with a few nubbs in the fabric.  These will all work to your advantage on the finished piece!

First, I bleached my material by mixing about 2 cups of bleach into a large sink full of hot water.  If you have a top loading washer, I would suggest bleaching in there and allowing it to sit for several hours before running the whole cycle through.
 Per Miss Mustard Seed's suggestion from one of her readers, I also added 1 cup Hydrogen Peroxide to the mix, which neutralizes your bleach so that it doesn't continue to "bleach" later on. 

I let this little mixture sit in my sink for several hours, stopping by for a quick "stir" every so often.

I'll take a quick second to put in my plug for large single basin sinks... I LOVE ours.  We had one installed very apprehensively in our last apartment where we lived and never regretted it for one second.  It was one of my first requests when we built our home and I love it.  It's great for so many things (including bathing your babies).  We love it!

After the fabric soaked for several hours, I very carefully transported the cloth in a laundry bucket to my front loading machine, where I washed the cloth on a hot cycle with another cup of bleach and my regular amount of detergent added to the load.  Once that load was finished, I washed it once more without bleach or detergent, and added lots of fabric softener.  Lastly, I dried the drop cloth with about 15 dryer sheets to soften the fabric.

I did my best to iron the fabric and spent quite a while doing this, but realized afterwards that it really was an unnecessary step.  Because the fabric will be pulled very taut when stapling, you really don't need to iron.  If you are using the material for a separate seat cushion cover or a slip cover that won't be stapled into place, I would highly recommend taking the extra time to iron. 

As you remember from the first post, my frame was all ready to go and the foam had been cut.  I failed to mention in the foam section of that post that I secured my foam in place, to the back piece of heavy cardboard using spray adhesive.  This step isn't really mandatory but it certainly makes it easier to work with when you don't have to try and keep your foam held in the right place while you are also trying to hold and tug at your fabric.  I have read from other bloggers that they staple their foam in place first.  I personally don't think this is a great idea because you risk seeing the puckering between that space and where you staple your fabric in place, or you may be left with excess foam that needs to be trimmed, adding more thickness to the area that you will later try to cover up with your welting cord.  I suggest that you glue your foam in place and staple around it, not through it.

Next, I cut out my batting and fabric using the original piece of fabric that I had saved as my template, adding approx 1 inch all around the perimeter.

I always like to add a layer of batting on my pieces between the foam and new fabric for a few reasons.  Primarily, for comfort.  It simply means another layer of cushion and also "firms" things up a bit.  Second, it makes it so that you can't see the foam color through your fabric if it is a woven material or transparent at all.  Third, it softens the distinguished lines of the foam so that it curves better around the edges.  The extra thickness of the batting does make it a bit more challenging to work with, but I think it's worth the extra step.

and began pulling the batting and fabric (one at a time) through the inside back of my chair,

so that I was left with this:
You can see that I could have definitely gotten away with less fabric and had I been using an expensive fabric, I would have spent much more time calculating as minimal material as I needed beforehand but since this entire cloth of fabric cost me $10, I wasn't too concerned.

Once I had the material and batting exactly where I wanted it, I began stapling using my fabulous pneumatic staple gun.  If you are looking for one to purchase, the one I use is a pneumatic Porter Cable Crown Stapler (it cost about $80 at Home Depot).  If you don't know what pneumatic means (like I didn't a year ago), it means it is operated by compressed air, and has to be attached to an air compressor.  Our Porter Cable Air compressor cost about $100 (and included a few free tools like a nail gun and finishing nail gun).  These two tools were by far one of our best investments (and one of my favorite birthday gifts).  If you plan on doing upholstery projects, I cannot stress enough how much easier the pneumatic tools are to use than the hand held staplers or even the electric ones.  They just don't even compare.  Your hands will thank you.

When stapling your fabric and batting in place, you will want to always follow each staple with one directly across from the one prior, ensuring a snug pull.  For example, I started with a staple at the top center of my chair,
and went next to the very bottom center where I first pulled tightly at the fabric and then stapled in place.  On your very first section, however, I suggest stapling 2 side by side so that when you pull on the opposing end, it doesn't tear your fabric.  Once you have your top and bottom 2 staples in place, you can continue this pattern on the sides and rest of the top/bottom one staple at a time.

Here's what it looked like in back as I began to staple:
Here's what it looked like once all the stapling was finished on the inside back piece of fabric:

Since I decided to leave the top wood exposed on this chair, I was able to determine my own pattern.  I goofed a few times, so the staples that are above the line had to be carefully pried out after I was finished.

The next piece to go on was the outside back.  In this case, I first stapled my batting in place (since it was a very snug fit with the batting I had left to work with), and then followed the batting with my fabric.  This piece was easy peasy since there was no pulling through the chair.  It was simply a matter of working in opposites and keeping a snug pull the same way I mentioned above.

Lastly, I used a very sharp and small pair of scissors to trim away the excess fabric and batting as closely as possible to the staples in any area that would be covered with double welting cord. On hidden areas, you don't need to beat yourself up, just trim away the major hang-overs.

Are we starting to see it come together?  Hang in there for one more tutorial, and lastly we will learn how to achieve this fabulous bubbly seat cushion,
 and (drums please) how to make your own very professional and custom looking double welted cord to cover up all those icky staples.

Stay tuned!


Sharing this tutorial with:
freckled laundry


  1. That looks amazing! I love the chair itself--such a great shape. Nice work!

    Rachel @ Maybe Matilda

  2. thanks Rachel! Isn't the chair a gem? I have seen several at thrift stores since I found this one for free. Keep your eyes peeled and I am sure you can find one!

  3. Jen, you are officially inspiring me!! I can't wait to do... something, not sure yet what, but I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a good deal on a chair!

  4. I so love this chair! I found one identical to it at a consignment shop a few weeks ago. Could kick myself for not buying it on the spot but I was looking for something else and got totally side tracked. Ugh! Your's turned out beautiful!! Great job!!


  5. Wow thanks for this great post! I always wondered how drop cloth would work as a fabric cover. Your chair looks fabulous- I'm so glad I stopped by.

  6. OK I LOVE your blog! Adding it to my favs as we speak. I just have to ask... is your air compressor extremely loud? I always feel bad using my gun around my apartment because of how loud it can get!

    Thanks for the drop cloth tutorials... I really super-de-duper want to try this now. :-D

  7. Thanks everyone! Mrs. K, the air compressor is only loud when you first turn it on till the air compresses, then it doesn't make any noise again until the psi has gone down and it fills back up again. In an apt, your neighbors may not like you very much :)

  8. Wondering what size staples your stapler is sized for, and what size you recommend for general upholstery?

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  9. That chair is beautiful. I love how the color on the drop cloth turned out. You have given me the motivation to try it myself. Thanks for sharing!

  10. love your glad I found you...I'm currently working on a chair myself...hope to finish it soon...anyway, check out my blog...I'm hosting a giveaway that I think you will like...

  11. Beka,

    My staple gun uses 1/4" crown staples that are 1/2" deep. (1/4 wide at the head and 1/2" long). I have seen a few online that are specific for upholstery but I have used my Porter Cable gun on several projects now and have loved it for them all. Good luck!

    Mariaelena, love your blog! Thanks for the heads up on the giveaway!

  12. So, would it be like this model?

    Or maybe it would just be easier to ask what your model number is...sorry I'm just stumped at how many models there are.

  13. No problem Beka, I totally understand because I serached forever to fins one I liked and tried several out before keeping this one.

    The model number is NS100B, here are more details:,or.r_gc.r_pw.&um=1&ie=UTF-8&cid=16153303417158674835&sa=X&ei=2F-ZTYCUE-TPiAKYvo2dCQ&ved=0CFgQ8wIwAA#

    Let me know if you have any other questions on it. I use it with a Porter cable 150 psi air compressor but I'm sure any will do the job.

    Good luck!


  14. I am so happy I found your tutorial. I have been working on a chair and this has been very insightful. I started stapling today but it is an electric stapler and doesn't have enough power. I am debating whether to get the pneumatic and air compressor with this being my very first project. Now I have 5 other chairs waiting to be worked on, so I know if I make the investment it will at least be used 6 times.. thanks again!

  15. Awesome tutorial. And you are so right when you say that pneumatic tools make this easier than a stapler. I need to start hunting at the thrift stores for a chair just like this now!

  16. I have two chairs exactly like this one, so I'm excited to get started on them. Thank you so much for the tutorial!!!

  17. great info can't wait to see the 2nd part of the tutorial.

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  29. Did you ever post the third part to this tutorial? I am attempting a reupholstery project and your tutorial has been the most helpful but I really need that third part! :)

  30. Wish I'd seen this blog last December before I re-covered dining room chairs! Altho I wanted cut velvet fabric, the techniques you use are so useful!

  31. Hey there I realize this post is from years ago, but I read on another blog the easiest way to iron drop cloth material is to iron it while it's still damp. So dry the drop cloth about 80% of the way and then iron until dry!!

  32. I tried bleaching a drop cloth today. A 9x12 cloth sat in my sink with hot water and about 6 cups of bleach for 4 hours and it didn't change colors. Thinking I didn't have enough bleach, I cut a small piece of the cloth and put it in a bowl with 1 cup of bleach and 5 cups of water. The bleach smell was much stronger than from the sink. Even after 3 hours, the small piece of cloth hadn't bleached even a little. I used Home Depot's Everbuilt brand, 100% cotton, no coating. What do you think went wrong?

    1. I figured it out....while ironing the edges for hemming this morning, I found a hidden fabric content label - 65% polyester! No wonder it didn't bleach. I dug the plastic wrapper out of the recycling bin - there was no fabric content on the front, and I just assumed it was 100% cotton canvas. I like the unbleached look for my TV room but next time, I'll be sure to confirm the drop cloth is all cotton!

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