Upholstery Pop Quiz

Each week I get questions from readers who are elbow deep in a reupholstery project that has them flummoxed and frustrated. If I can see the problem, I can usually talk them right through it. This week’s question is from Melissa in New Orleans.

She writes:
Hi, It’s Melissa from New Orleans. I have a little project. I was given two of these barrel chairs that I want to paint glossy white and reupholster. So…I have labored to remove the original brass nailheads…OMG what difficulty so now I am done to a layer of a million staples….my question is “Is there an easier way to remove these staples other than one by one?” I have also included a photo of the tools that I purchased to help remove the nailhead trim…Are these what I should use to remove the staples? Do you push the fabric from the back of the chair? I think this fabric may be a little dry rotted to do that but I could try. I know the staples have to come out but how do I best remove them….Have I told you lately that I wish I lived close enough to come to your classes??
Thanks for any help you can give me….I will keep you posted on my progress!

Here are the tools Melissa is using for teardown: snipping pliers and the ripping tool that looks like a torture device. Both are fine.

These are my very favorite teardown tools, a staple lifter and some nifty little ergonomic pliers to pull out the staples.

It seems that Melissa has two questions at this stage of the teardown.
Q: Is there an easier and faster way to remove staples?
A: It’s hard work. You can’t get around it. What you can do is experiment with different ways of pulling out staples. Sometimes you can get a hold of the fabric with your pliers and then kind of roll your wrist from the loose end of the fabric towards the stapled section, a number of staples may come out at once. Depending on the hardness of the wood, length of staples and number of staples, you have to see what works. Don’t be afraid to try different techniques. Sometimes, I just get so frustrated, I tear the fabric off and go back to do staple clean up.

And yes, you do need to remove all of those staples. If you leave staples in the wood, during the reupholstery process new staples will hit the old ones and crumple up. One end may go in the wood, but the other end will fold up like an accordian, or stick out. Either way, that new staple will have to be removed and replaced. It’s best to have a clean slate to start.

Q: How do you remove the fabric on the back of the chair?

A: The fabric on the back of the chair is attached, facing outward from the inside of the chair before the padding and inside back fabric is attached.
Once you remove the the inside back (sewn in three sections), it will reveal padding, probably cotton. When you remove the padding, you will see the back piece stretched and stapled to the chair frame. You’ll be looking at the wrong side of the fabric. If you can remove those staples without tearing the fabric, you’ll have a good piece to use as your pattern. If it does tear, it’s not the end of the world, you can still use it for a pattern by carefully piecing it together.

The bright side of teardown is that it’s the worst part of the reupholstery process.

This is a crucial point for Melissa: Do not cut out your new fabric from the pieces you removed. Most of those pieces were trimmed after they were upholstered onto the chair frame. The only place you cut the fabric exactly like the pattern (old pieces) is where the fabric has been stitched to fit the chair, like the inside back seams on this chair. Those three pieces were fit, cut, and stitched to fit the inside back of that chair. Cut the new fabric exactly like the old pattern where there are seams. Other than that, I tell my students to cut 2″ to 3″ bigger all around the old pieces so you have enough fabric to grab a hold of and smooth, pull and staple in place on the frame.

Another tricky place on this chair, and all barrel chairs, is getting the inside back fabric smoothed, pulled and completely free of wrinkles on that big inside curve. I’ll explain that in another Upholstery Pop Quiz.

Posted in furniture, Headline Project, how-to, makeover, repair, repurposed, repurposed-furniture, retro, reupholstery, sewing, staple-gun, tutorials, Uncategorized, upholstery | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Upholstery Pop Quiz

  1. cat says:

    NIce! I love that curved staple removal thingy, where can I get that? And I know you would not approve Ms. Shelly but I have been known to staple either above or below old staples…

  2. shellyleer says:

    Me too. Don’t tell.

  3. Melissa Arnold says:

    Thanks, Shelly for the information. I am going to NeoFabrics again to buy the same tools that you have…..I have a little tool problem….but I have truly come to understand the importance of having the right tool for the job. So, it’s off to pull staples…1,000,000 gazillion staples. I will send the photos when I finish…I’m certain I will have more questions. Thanks again!

  4. Melissa Arnold says:

    Thanks, Shelly! First I think I will invest in a staple remover like yours. You can never have too many tools! I’m a bit of a tool nerd. And then, I’m off to pull staples! I’ll let you know how it goes.