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23 September 2010

Yellow Cane Chair: A Tutorial

Hi there!

We've had quite a week around here...I'll tell you more about it all later. For now, I wanted to share a tutorial on my cane chair refinish. Many of you asked to see the step-by-step process, so here it goes! I recommend reading through the entire post before starting your own project. You might find places where you'd like to make changes or adjustments.

{PLEASE NOTE: I am not a professional...I didn't even read a book before I dove into this project head-first. There may be easier or better ways of re-doing a chair like this, which is great! I pretty much figured things out as I went along, and this is just the chronicle of my adventure in updating this little chair!}

Here's the finished product...we've been so pleased with the addition to our family room!

Here's the chair in it's $10 thrift store glory...

1. We started by unscrewing the seat bottom from the frame. (As I mentioned before, I did most of the work alone...Brett did pitch in a little in the beginning...he likes to work on things like this, too!)

2. Next, I pulled off the upholstery from the back of the chair...

I started by removing the piping and then went to work on the staples holding the rest in place...ugh! So many, many, many staples!

When I had the front piece of upholstery and the foam removed, this is how it looked. That black piece was added for support and the other piece of fabric is what shows from the behind the chair. (This will make sense later when we reupholster the chair.)

3. I sanded the chair with an electric sander. I did a *light* sanding by HAND of the caning. Thankfully, it was in great shape, so I was able to keep it in tact...yeah!

4. I spray painted the frame with primer first.

5. When the primer was dry, I sprayed about 3 coats of color, being sure to saturate the caning on the chair from every angle.

6. The wood frame was the only piece of the seat I salvaged. I bought 3-inch foam for the seat. Trace the frame onto the foam, and carefully cut the foam to size. I used a combination of serrated knife and sharp sewing scissors to cut...the thick foam is just tricky to cut no matter what technique you use. I've heard of people using an electric carving knife, but we don't have one. I'd love to hear of a simple way if you've got one!

7. I also cut a piece of batting to cover the foam. I'm not sure why this is necessary, but there was a layer of batting in the original chair, so I replicated! I had the batting on hand, so this step didn't add any expense for me.

8. I used the original upholstery fabric as a template to cut the new fabric. No great science here...just be sure to leave enough extra for stapling! You can always trim down the excess later.

9. Place the fabric face-down and layer the foam, batting, and frame on top. {NOTE: There is a top and bottom to the frame...be sure your frame is situated correctly for it to fit back into the frame of your chair.}

10. Staple away! I started by putting a staple in the 4 'centers' of the sides. After the fabric was secured in those spots, I just carefully and evenly stapled around the entire edge of the frame. For this step, be careful with how tightly or loosely you stretch the fabric around the frame. I was fairly firm with how tightly I pulled the fabric around, but I was sure to apply equal tension all the way around the chair. This will help you to have a nice, even, smooth seat.

All stapled!

11. Next, I cut out 2 pieces of fabric for the back of the chair, again using the original fabric as my pattern.

Look...from the back of the chair, this is what you see:

12. The first piece you place in the back is that piece shown above. Again, I started by securing the fabric in the center of the 4 sides and then worked my way around the back. Be sure the right-side of the fabric faces towards the back of the chair. I also added a piece of webbing down the center for some extra support.

13. I layered another piece of batting over the webbing like this:

14. Next, turn the edges towards the center and secure with a few staples around the edges. Trim off any excess fabric at this point.

15. Place the foam in place. I used 1-inch foam for this part.

16. Layer the other piece of fabric over the foam and staple in place. Obviously, the fabric should be right-side-out at this point. {NOTE: Be careful to staple as closely to the edge of the foam and in the straightest possible line as possible. You will need to cover the staples with some sort of trim, and it's much easier to cover them if they're in a straight line! When you've stapled all the way around the fabric, trim the excess as closely to the staples as possible. Again, keep in mind that the edge of the fabric and the staples will all be covered by the trim piece, so be as precise as possible.

17. Use a permanent, strong glue to attach trim around the edge of the seat back. This is where you cover the raw edge of the fabric and all those staples. Take your time! The original chair had fancy piping to cover, but I wasn't brave enough to attempt that! I love how this turned out, and I liked the added character brought to the chair by the teal trim.

18. The original chair also had piping stapled along the front of the chair, and again, I used teal trim. I'm sure you can tell, but I used the type of trim that looks like cording attached to a piece of ribbon. I stapled the cording to the frame before I replaced the seat bottom. At this stage, I found pictures taken of the chair as I took it apart to be incredibly helpful!

Here's what the cording looks like with the chair bottom back in place. The cording does a great job of hiding the gap between the upholstered seat bottom and the frame of the chair.

Ta Da!

This chair is surprisingly comfortable. Now I'm on the lookout for another one for our bedroom...I'm sure you'll be the first to know when I find one!

Now, get to work! And, please let me know if you attempt a project like this...I'd love to see the variations!


  1. Amazing! Thanks so much for sharing the link. So inspired. I hope ours comes our half as cool.

    s (& j)

  2. You did such a great job! I just found your blog through Young House Love. I reupholstered a chair that looks almost exactly the same as yours!


    We should pat ourselves on the back... it's a huge feat to reupholster yourself!