How to Reupholster a Tufted Stool

Written by jane smith
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It doesn't take a whole-house makeover to take your living room from blah to bravo. Small details can make a big difference. If your favourite tufted stool has worn out its welcome, it's time to give it new life. When you update the stool's finish, colour and fabric, it changes the mood and personality of your room. Unlike regular stools, tufted stools have a dimpled surface, created by stitching through the upholstery fabric. Sometimes the tufts also have buttons or beads to further accent the dimples and support the thread.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Flathead and Phillips screwdrivers
  • Pliers
  • Utility knife
  • 2 box fans
  • Chemical-resistant gloves
  • Cotton balls
  • Heptane-based rubber cement thinner or acetone-based nail polish remover
  • Large sewing shears or electric knife
  • Sheet of 2- to 4-inch-thick memory foam or other soft foam
  • Washable markers
  • Measuring tape
  • Upholstery fabric, measurements to be determined
  • Tapestry needle
  • Coat thread, yarn or embroidery floss
  • T-pins
  • Upholstery nails, or a staple gun and staples
  • Rubber cement
  • Flat decorative seam binding

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  1. 1

    Turn the stool over so you can see what type of fasteners, if any, are holding the upholstery in place.

  2. 2

    Remove the fasteners, if any, and set them aside if it is possible to reuse them. Screws and upholstery nails usually will come out without being damaged. Staples and nails usually will have to be replaced. Push a flathead screwdriver underneath staples or upholstery nails to remove them. Use pliers to pull a staple if the screwdriver will not work the it loose without damaging the stool.

  3. 3

    Pull the fabric away from the underside of the stool to expose the cushion. If the fabric has been glued in place, slide a utility knife under it. Using the point of the knife, pull the fabric away from the underside of the stool just enough to work the blade all the way around until the fabric either pulls or tears away from the stool.

  4. 4

    Open all the doors and windows and place box fans in windows, one facing in and one facing out, to create cross-ventilation. Don chemical-resistant gloves. Dip a cotton ball in heptane-based rubber cement thinner or acetone-based nail polish remover. Wipe the cotton ball anywhere you see adhesive residue on the underside of the stool.

  5. 5

    Use additional dry cotton balls to remove any residual thinner or polish remover. Allow the area to dry for at least one hour.

  6. 6

    Examine the foam cushion for evidence that it needs to be replaced. If it is crumbly, compressed, mouldy or otherwise unsuitable, remove it from the stool and discard it in an appropriate container.

  7. 7

    Cut a new cushion from 2- to 4-inch-thick memory foam or other cushion material, using large scissors or an electric knife. If the original cushion is in good enough condition, use it as a guide to mark the positions of the original tufts onto the new cushion.

  8. 8

    Decide what pattern and tufting method you want to use if you do not wish to use the original pattern and same number of tufts on the stool. The "pulled tufting" method is the simplest, according to upholsterer W. Lloyd Gheen, in his book, "Upholstery Techniques Illustrated."

  9. 9

    Mark the positions of the number of tufts you wish to make onto the cushion, using washable markers. Measure the cushion's length and width. You need that much fabric plus 1 inch for each tuft in each direction. This ensures that you will have enough fabric to make every tuft and still cover the cushion completely. For example, if you have three tufts across the width and four tufts up and down, cut the fabric 3 inches wider and 4 inches longer than normal, according to Gheen.

  10. 10

    Add the thickness of the cushion, plus 2 inches for overlap on the underside of the stool, to the cushion's length and width measurements. This will give you enough fabric to cover the sides of the cushion and pull it to the underside. For example, if you have a 4-inch cushion that is 18-by-24 inches, with the number of tufts previously mentioned, you must add 9 inches to the width and 10 inches to the length. This will require a piece of fabric 27 inches wide by 34 inches long, or about 1 yard long.

  11. 11

    Cut the fabric to the necessary length and width. Position the cushion on the fabric so the extra length and width of the fabric is even from right to left and from the side of the cushion closest to you to the side farthest away. For example, if the fabric is 3 inches wider and 4 inches longer than the cushion, there should be 1 1/2 inches of fabric on the left and right sides of the cushion, and 2 inches of fabric on the sides closest and farthest away from you.

  12. 12

    Thread a tapestry needle with coat thread, yarn or embroidery floss in a matching or contrasting colour. Push down on one of the marks you made for the tuft positions while pushing the tapestry needle through both the cushion and the fabric.

  13. 13

    String a fabric-covered shank button onto the tapestry needle. Push the needle back through the fabric and the cushion to the other side, pulling until the fabric and cushion dimple at least 1/2 inch deep.

  14. 14

    Move your needle over 1/16 inch or less to the left or right of the thread and push it back through the cushion and fabric. Wrap your thread three turns around the button shank. Poke the needle back through the shank of the button and back through both the fabric and the cushion a second time. Tie off the thread. Repeat the steps until all tufts have been made.

  15. 15

    Position the newly-tufted cushion on the stool. Pull the fabric to the underside of the stool, making folds as needed to keep the visible side of the cushion smooth. Use T-pins to provide a temporary hold for each fold.

  16. 16

    Replace each T-pin with an upholstery nail once you are sure the visible portion of the stool looks the way you want it. If desired, apply rubber cement along the loose edge of the fabric and cover it with seam binding.

Tips and warnings

  • Lesser-quality upholstery often uses staples instead of upholstery nails.
  • Heptane-based rubber cement thinner is a volatile chemical designed to break chemical bonds in the rubber cement. The Material Safety Data Sheet for Bestine, one of the most widely-used heptane-based rubber cement thinners among artists and painters, advises wearing chemical-resistant gloves if you will have prolonged contact with the product.

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