Dining room chairs are the easiest reupholstery job you can find in your home. New covers can brighten up a dreary room and update your furniture, all for a minimal expenditure and a few minutes' work on each chair. Just pull the old cover off and staple the new one on. Since you're saving money on labour, buy the best covering material you can afford, and don't forget to spray it with stain-repellent to keep it looking new.
Assemble your tools. You'll need a heavy-duty staple gun with blade-edged staples. The little bent claw-shaped puller on the antique upholstery hammer shown here works equally well pulling upholstery tacks or staples. Bent-nosed pliers are useful working with staples (or jammed staple guns). Other than that, all you'll need are common hand tools. Find a large flat place to work so you can upend the chair and cut fabric.
Remove the old cushion. Most dining room chairs are composed of a chair frame and a cushion board that is covered with padding and fabric and attached to the frame with four wood screws at each corner. Use a screw driver (generally a slotted or Phillips-head) with a long shank to remove the anchor screws from each corner. Remove the seat and set the frame upright so the screws fall out. Pick them up and set them aside so the cat doesn't knock them under the bed.
Examine the old seat cover and padding. If it's in good shape (or even if the fabric is worn but the padding's good), you can put the new fabric right over the old. If, however, the old padding is worn through or worn flat, remove the fabric and padding and replace the old padding with 1-inch upholstery foam, cut just slightly larger than the seat board so it hangs over the top edge. Cover the foam with a piece of polyester or plain muslin and staple a few times along the sides of the board to hold the padding on. Trim along the bottom edge.
Cut the new seat fabric larger than the seat board by 3 to 4 inches all the way around, depending on the depth of the padding. Cut regular patterns carefully so they don't "lie" crooked. Starting on the outside edge (the one you see when you look at the chair from in front), staple the fabric to the underside of the board, then do the "back" edge, pulling the fabric evenly but not tightly as you work.
Fold over the sides the same way and staple. If your chair has arms, make a "Y"-shaped cut so you can fold three sides back around the base of the arm and continue stapling around the side. When you get to the corners, tuck a bit of fabric back (this used to be called "making a military corner") so the fold doesn't show along the front and back edges. Once all the staples are in, make any adjustments and pound staples completely flat against the board to hold the fabric securely. Upend the chair frame and reattach it to the seat board at the four corners.
Before upholstery foam, there was "rock wool," horse hair or tufted Dacron. You can still buy "rubberised curled hair" and tufted Dacron but a layer of foam secured with a piece of polyester works just as well for dining room chair padding. Mark any screw holes that you cover with fabric with a felt-tipped marker or make a pilot hole through the fabric with the tip of your scissors or needle-nosed pliers. If your fabric is especially heavy, cut it several inches larger than the seat board and fold over the edges to get a good grip when you staple. Then trim the excess back once you're finished. Yes, you can use upholstery tacks--but a staple gun is so much faster, and odds are that your guests will never look at the bottoms of your chairs.
Be careful to avoid pulling fabric too tightly as you staple. Stretching shortens the life of the fabric and can warp patterns, causing you to have to start all over again.