How to upholster a channel-back chair

Updated February 21, 2017

A channel-back chair is a traditional type of seat, with a high fabric back and wooden legs and arm fronts. The back of the chair consists of a series of deep vertical grooves, or channels, providing padded support. Often, these comfortable chairs are passed down through generations, and can be in need of reupholstering to replace worn-out fabric, or to update the look of the chair. You'll need about 5 yards of upholstery fabric to cover a channel-back chair.

Remove the old covering carefully by removing tacks with a claw hammer or tack puller. Label each piece as you remove it. Set aside the rolls of padding from the channels and arms.

Clean and repair the frame as needed, such as refinishing any exposed wood. Clean the springs, using steel wool to remove any rust.

Tie the seat springs to one another diagonally with twine. Cover the seat with a piece of burlap or heavy muslin. Measure and cut to fit, allowing 1 inch extra on each side. Turn under the seam allowance and tack into place, starting at the centre front and back. Space upholstery tacks 1 inch apart. Using a long piece of twine and a curved needle, sew the burlap to the top of each spring, tacking it in three places on each spring and running the twine from one to the next without a break in the twine.

Determine the number of new channels for the back of the chair. Measure the thickness of each channel and determine how much fabric is needed to cover each channel. Multiply that amount by the number of channels and add some extra material on each side.

Cut two layers of muslin to size and mark the middle. Sew the bottom seams together with a sewing machine. Mark the position of each channel and sew seams vertically.

Affix the muslin to the bottom of the chair's back, beginning in the centre. Stuff the middle channel and tack the top and bottom of the channel to the chair with upholstery tacks. Proceed to the channels on either side of the middle one, stuffing and affixing with tacks until you get to the outside channels. Make certain that the channels are plumb vertically, then stuff end channels and tack into place.

Cut upholstery fabric 6 inches longer than the back and as wide as the muslin. Start at the centre channel and stretch the fabric smoothly over the channel. Tack securely into place along each side of the channel. Turn under the seam allowance at the bottom and tack into place. Proceed in similar fashion to the channels on either side of the middle one until you reach the outside channels. Trim excess fabric from the sides, turn under the seam allowance and tack into place.

Pleat the tops of each channel, and affix fabric with tacks to the back side of the chair.

Sew 3/4 of the seat padding to the burlap covering the springs, using the curved sewing needle. Tack a piece of muslin over this padding, starting at the centre and keeping the grain straight. Fill in any low spots in the padding as you tack the muslin. Turn under a 1-inch seam allowance on each side and tack into place, mitring the corners for a smooth fit.

Tack burlap onto the arms of the chair and sew padding onto it. Cover with muslin, and tack into place beginning at the bottom centre. Trim the muslin, leaving a 1-inch seam allowance, and smooth over the padding. Tack into place.

Using the old arm pieces as a guide, cut the new fabric and tack into place in the same manner as the muslin was affixed. Use upholstery pins to keep the fabric in position until firmly affixed. If you are using cording, sew that to the piece before putting it on the chair. Place the cording on the wrong side of the fabric, raw edges meeting. Baste the cording onto the piece, then affix to the chair.

Cover the back of the chair last. Allow a 3/8-inch seam allowance on all sides. Attach to the back of the chair with upholstery tacks, starting at the bottom centre, folding under the seam allowance as you go.

Turn the chair over and place a piece of burlap on the underside of the chair. Affix in place with upholstery tacks.

Things You'll Need

  • Claw hammer or tack puller
  • Fabric marker
  • Steel wool
  • Twine
  • 2 yards burlap or heavy muslin
  • Padding
  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • 5 yards upholstery fabric
  • Upholstery hammer
  • Upholstery tacks
  • Upholstery pins
  • Curved sewing needle
  • Sewing machine
  • Cording (optional)
  • Wood stain (optional)
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About the Author

Becky Lower began writing professionally in 2004. Her work has appeared in "elan" magazine, a northern Virginia publication, "Good Old Days" magazine, the "BGSU Alumni" magazine and on the website Lower has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and English from Bowling Green State University.