Reupholstering Dinette Seats

I consider myself fortunate to have retained the original dinette bench seats complete with springs.  These are very comfortable both to sit on and sleep on but the original vinyl after 56 years was showing it's age.   Time for a facelift.  Estimates for a custom upholstery job...ran upwards of $700 for both seats--so DIY was definitely in order.  Readers of this blog know I had been considering up-cycling vinyl saved from convention signs.  I even went so far as to pick out sheets of vinyl.  Several factors kept me from proceeding.

  • Not much experience sewing vinyl and a home sewing machine.  
  • Fear that the pattern would have detracted from the overall look
  • Concern that the ink on the vinyl might bleed upon interaction wtih sunscreen.
So I decided instead to go with Sunbrella fabric (found for $13/yd with free shipping, job required 5 yards) for it's durability, water resistance, UV protection.  For my seats I'm using Glacier Blue with a Kiwi Green piping.  Very simple, and hopefully not so light that every spec of dirt will show up.  

Out with the old. 

Here's the process.  
1.  Demo the old seats, RETAIN the fabric, springs and  frame.  Discard old burlap, horsehair and cotton batting.  Unfortunately these all had been home to numerous small furry friends over the decades. 
Zig Zag base spring, Cover with Burlap, Painted coil springs remounted with U nails
2. Clean and disinfect springs and wood with soap and water followed by a dilute bleach solution.  All of the original springs were then given a coat of rustoleum to protect them from rust for another few decades.  The springs were all in great shape.  Replacing any would have been a pain but doable, and I would say still well worth it.  Cover the base with new burlap, stapler.  U shaped nails are used to secure the springs to the frame. 
 This is a close up of the hinge that helps the cushions work as a seat of a fold down bed.  You can also make out the u-nails that hold the springs to the frame.

 Burlap on sale $1.49 per yard, requires 3 yds.

See how muslin is attached at
center of seat?
2.   Cut out fabric for seat covers using the old seats as a template.  If you aren't experienced/confident with sewing this may seem really intimidating....but really it's just mostly sewing straight lines, and taking your time to think each step through.  Unfortunately I didn't take too many pictures of my own along the way.  I do recommend buying a welting foot, it makes putting the welting on go much easier.  I don't think a walking foot is necessary.  However you should use the longest possible stitch length, a size 16 needle, and make sure to get the tension right.  One unusual part of these seats is a flap of muslin sewn across the line separating the top from the bottom seat.  The front is a continuous piece of fabric.  the muslin will be stapled through the joint onto the frame.  If you don't have these seats this will no doubt be confusing...I'm working on a way to explain it better. You can sort of see it in this picture on the right. .
 There are many videos on sewing box cushions which is basically what these are minus the bottom. I particularly learned a lot from watching the upholstery videos from this fellow.  Very easy to follow.

The videos from Sailrite (above) are also quite good here's an example.  most are quite short and they have them for most of the products they sell.

Here's one on how to make continuous bias cut welt-- for mine I used the same size as below and it was plenty.  If you want more just stick to the proportions.

3.  Cut foam and batting, upholster with muslin lining. I used 2 inch high quality foam called Everflex V44  (Density: 2.9 lb/ft3) guaranteed to last 15 yrs of regular use without dipping flattening or softening (so I suspect that will be much longer). I want these to last.  (You can also do it the traditional way with cotton batting and horsehair/coco fiber instead of foam but it's actually more expensive.  It was hard to find the fiber so I went with foam).

 Cut the cushions about 1 inch longer and wider than your finished cushion will be.  Foam compresses, and this is one of the tricks to keeping your cushions from sagging.  Then cover the foam with a layer of Dacron. Dacron will protect the foam from being "sawn" by the fabric and help it last longer.  Dacron also helps fill out any gaps. Use muslin to stretch across each of the top and bottom.  Use a staple gun to attach the muslin and stretch it onto the frame so as to compress the foam most of the way you want it to go.

You will want to leave stretching/compressing to be done by the finish layer of fabric.
muslin stretched and stapled to each piece

4.  Final layer of sunbrella fabric.  First step, pull your muslin center pieces through and staple to the frame.
From here it's just a matter of pulling and stapling. Start with the center of the fabric and center of the frame on length and width. Don't pull too hard on the corners or you'll bend the foam down too far.

Muslin which was sewn to the hinge of the cover
gets stapled to each box frame
Then the corners.  Then bisect each staple for the next staple pulling and smoothing with the flat of your hand as you go.  You may need to pull some of your original staples as things get tighter as you go.  Stand back and check with your eye every so often to make sure it looks and feels the way you want it to.  If not all you need to do is remove staples and make adjustments.  Loose Dacron works great for filling in areas to take away puckers.  I still need to do a bit of work here to get rid of the ones that you can see here.

The finished products: 

Cost of Materials
Sunbrella Fabric 5 yards at $12.95/yd  $65
Muslin  6 yds @ 1.99/yd                        12
Burlap 2.5 yds @1.49/yd                         4
Dacron 10 yds  @2.99/yd                      30
Foam (ouch)                                         118 
staples                                                      3

Total                                                     $232
Pro Job for comp                             700-800
savings                                              ~ $500 
Time probably about  6-10 hours

Sunbrella Fabric-- everywhere on line.  Look for sales.  I found a great deal at
Muslin, burlap, dacron widely available
Foam  don't buy cheap foam it doesn't last.    I like the folks at, and for me they happened to be local so I just went and picked it up.

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