Have You Used Burlap to Upholster? Here is My First Experience With It

by Jeanne
23 Materials
3 Days

When I created the heart-shaped patio in the backyard, hubby talked about wanting chairs that he could easily use. At the time, the only chairs on the patio were two Adirondack ones.

Broken chair back

One day, he came home from a run to the dump and said he had seen 2 chairs on the side of the road that someone was giving away. He said they were wood and leather and wanted to know if I thought he should go back and pick them up. Wood and leather? Well, yes! So, he went back to pick them up. Were they wood? Yes. Were they leather? No. They were Naugahyde bar stools.....and both were broken! Not to mention, they were ugly! Was I thrilled with them? No, but they were free. They were also too tall to be used on the heart-patio; I feared someone would tip over while sitting on one of them. However, if I was able to repair them and make them less ugly, they would look nice on the upper deck and I could move the chairs currently there to the patio! Not one to turn down a project, I told him I'd see what I could do.

Tools used

The first thing I needed to do was take off the Naugahyde on the broken chair to see if the back could easily be repaired. I grabbed some scissors and started cutting and tugging then realized I would need several more tools.

Removing the upholstery

If you've removed upholstery before, you know that there are usually a lot of staples attaching it to the frame. These chairs were no exception to that rule. I needed pliers, screwdrivers, and a lot of muscle to get them out. I did a little research on staple removing and found a great little tool. I decided to buy one online. What a difference it made in removing the staples! While I was on a roll, I removed the upholstery from the 2nd chair also. I set the foam aside to be used when reupholstering the chairs.

Fixing the broken back

Now that I had a good look at the bones of the chairs, I could see that the wood was nice and solid. It looked like I should be able to fix the broken back. The first thing I did was to use Elmer's wood glue and clamps to hold the broken pieces together. Even though the glue was strong, I didn't think it would be strong enough on its own to prevent the back from breaking if someone leaned hard against it.

Repair complete

I looked through my supplies and found some scraps of thin trim that I thought would work to give the repair more strength. I cut 4 pieces, glued them on, and when the glue was dry, used my nail gun to secure them to the frame. The repair is not pretty but I plan to make it less noticeable.

2nd chair repair

The 2nd chair needed one new support between the front and back legs. The broken support was with the chair but the wood was cracked so I couldn't reattach it. I found a piece of wood in my supplies that would work. Using the broken piece as a template, I cut the new wood to size with my miter saw. I then used a Kreg jig, to drill a hole on each end of the support then attached the support to the chair with glue & screws. One of the holes didn't drill straight so I ended up adding a screw through the front of the leg.

Removing the dark stained finish

Now that both chairs had been repaired, it was time to decide how I wanted them to look. I really liked the look of the raw wood that had been under the upholstery. The rest of the wood had been stained with a dark finish. I didn't think I would need to use a stripper. Besides, it's messy!

Sanding finished

So, I used my 5" orbital sander & a 220 grit sandpaper to remove the finish. It worked beautifully!

Sealing the wood

Since I loved the look of the sanded chairs, I decided not to add any stain. I usually use water-based Polyurethane for all my wood furniture but since I planned to use these chairs on the deck, I wanted to protect the wood as best I could. I did some research to find the best product to use and found Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane. It is an oil-based finish created for outdoor use. I didn't need much so I planned to buy a quart. Home Depot didn't carry the product and Lowes only had the Satin in a gallon size. Ah well, maybe I'd find other uses for it. I bought the gallon (*spoiler alert - I've already used it on two other projects this summer) and brought it home. Because it is oil-based, I also bought a couple of paintbrushes that I could toss if I wasn't able to get them clean after use.

Applying the sealer

The instructions on the can are to apply 2-3 light coats, allowing at least 4 hours of dry time, then doing a light sanding before applying the next coat. I followed the directions exactly, applying 3 coats and the finish on the chairs came out great! Although this is Satin, it does have a bit of a sheen as opposed to being flat like the other brands of topcoat I have used. It also provides a warm, golden glow to the wood.

Upholster time!

Have you seen pictures of deconstructed furniture? Usually, the pieces are older ones, not newish like these chairs. People take off the old upholstery but leave the burlap that is underneath the fabric or add burlap if there is none. Then, they leave the nails showing and sometimes, ragged edges where some of the upholstery didn't completely get removed. Well, I like that look! I wondered how I could create it from what I had. My oldest son gave me 4 burlap coffee bean bags a few years ago and I've just been waiting for a project where I could put them to use. Here it was! I also ordered a roll of jute webbing and upholstery tacks to use on the back of the chairs.

Washing the burlap bags

The burlap bags have been in our garage for years and before that, they had been in an outdoor shed at my son's place so they needed to be cleaned before I could use them. I filled the bathtub with warm water and added a little laundry detergent. I placed the bags in the water and swished them around a bit then let them sit.

Washed bags

After a while, I swished them again then let the water out of the tub. I rinsed them twice then gently squeezed out as much water as I could.

Drying the burlap

I placed them over the railing of the deck to dry (after that, I read that they shouldn't dry in direct sun as they can yellow - they did yellow a bit). When they were dry, I tried to iron out the wrinkles using a hot iron and wet pressing cloth. I was able to remove some of the wrinkles, but not all.

Old coffee beans

I even found a few coffee beans in the sacks

Making the cushions

I was able to salvage the foam from the chairs but wanted to add more cushion to the backs of the chairs, so I included some 1" foam & quilt batting that I had in my sewing stash. To protect the foam from the elements, I used an old shower curtain that I had (also in my stash) to create slipcovers for the foam.

Sewing the protective cover

I mitered the corners of the chair back slipcovers but didn't need to do that for the bottom ones.

Cushions complete

After placing the foam & batting inside the slipcovers, I used safety pins to close the opening.

Securing the chair backs

The first step I took to upholster the chairs was to attach the jute webbing to the chair backs. I used my staple gun for this and that was hard on the hands! In order to keep the fabric tight, you need to set your staples very close together. I now understand why there were 'millions' of staples in these chairs!

I was going to have to find a more efficient way to attach the burlap. I used two strips of jute in each direction and wove them in a waffle pattern. The jute covered the repair I did on the broken chair. I can still see it, but if you aren't looking for it, you wouldn't notice that it had been repaired.

Backs done

Since the bottom of the chairs had good, strong springs, there was no need to add the jute to that part of the chair.

Time to cut the burlap

The next step was to cut the burlap. Since I only had 4 bags, and 1 was a different pattern, I was very careful when measuring the sections before cutting them. I wanted to use the lettering in a design where most of the letters were visible so proper measuring was vital.

Attaching the burlap

I started attaching the burlap on the underside of the seat so I could figure out just how to do it.

Chair backs

When both chair bottoms were done, I stapled a piece of burlap to the seatback of each chair. In this case, I didn't turn the fabric under for a clean finish because the cushion would cover it. This time, I used my nail gun with staples loaded in it. So much easier!!!!

I placed the lettering to the outside. I had used the webbing so that the new burlap would display through it.

Attaching the cushions

Now it was time to figure out how to attach the cushions. Normally, I would have sewed the burlap into a cover and put it over the foam. However, my plan was to attach the burlap to the wood, leaving some of it exposed, and if it was already sewed as a cushion, I felt it would make that task harder. The first step was to staple both the pieces that would cover the cushions to the frame at the back of the seat. I started with the bottom piece. I laid the piece face up on the seat and stapled it to the frame at the back of the seat. I then laid the piece that would cover the top cushion face down on the seat and stapled it to the frame on top of the first set of staples. I regret not taking pictures of this step. I then held the seatback cushion against the chair back and attached it to the webbing. Using a long needle and cotton thread, I pushed the needle through the webbing into the slipcover and cushion then brought it back through the webbing and attached buttons.

Bottom cushions

After that, I brought the burlap up and over the cushion, tucked the fabric behind the cushion and began stapling it to the chair back frame at the top of the chair, placing my staples very close together. I then moved on to staple the sides, beginning at the top and working toward the seat. I would put in a few staples on the left, then a few on the right to ensure the fabric went on straight. Once the top cushion was secure, I lifted the bottom piece of burlap, slid the bottom cushion under it, and then turned under the raw edges to staple it on the other three sides of the frame, moving side to side to keep the pattern straight. As I stapled, I pulled the burlap taut to remove the wrinkles but not too tight as it needed to 'give' when someone sits on it.

Finishing touch

When both chairs were done, I trimmed around the top cushions with the braiding from the coffee bean bags I used some upholstery tacks to hold it in place.

New deck set!

I am really thrilled with how these chairs turned out! The project was much easier than I anticipated! Hubby loves the outcome also and says he had no doubt I could do the repairs. :) Since the chairs were free and I had most of the supplies on hand, this project cost was low. I bought the webbing, staple remover & tacks = $25 +/- I did also buy the Minwax Spar Urethane, but since I'll use that for lots of projects, I don't know how much to assess for the small amount I used on the chairs. Oh, I also found a table at the Goodwill, refurbished it and now we have a set on the deck. We've used it a few times already. It's the perfect size for the top deck! I'll write about the table refurbish soon!

p.s. Hubby bought himself a rocking chair for the heart-shaped patio :)

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  2 questions
  • Sallison Sallison on Oct 07, 2020

    Love this! Great work! What was the tool you found to help you remove the staples?

  • Kc Nordquist Kc Nordquist on Oct 09, 2020

    First, I wanted to tell you to iron this kind of fabric when it's still a little damp. That will definitely help get more of the wrinkles out. Second, isn't burlap highly uncomfortable to sit on? Especially when wearing shorts?

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  • Lannen Lannen on Oct 07, 2022

    Sooooooo hard to say no to free! 😀

  • Katen Katen on Oct 07, 2022

    daughter had chairs similar to yours. Her seats were exactly like yours but they sagged terribly, you felt like you were sitting in a hole. Just as you wove strapping in back, I wove the seat, with sagging springs in place under springs, weaving strips side by side, right to left and up and down and really tight using tool you show (easy to use), then added padding and covering and fashion fabric. Oh my goodness. Those chairs were 200% more comfortable and firm. No more sinking into opening. I can’t recommend this seat “lift” more. Held 300lb man no problem and years later still comfortable. Tool was kind expensive but strapping affordable. Back then $50 for six chairs. In 2022 probably $75-$100, still less than six new chairs and totally a diy (one day)