Why Take the Old Fabric Off?
I have personally been upholstering furniture as my full time job for over 12 years at Walker Fabrics. I have literally re-covered thousands of furniture projects. So I can tell you from first hand experience that there is a first step which needs to be taken for every piece... TAKE OFF THE OLD FABRIC!
I am so adamant about this because everyday, I have customers come to me with furniture that they "had done years ago" and "have never been happy with." The first problem is always the same, some supposed upholsterer recovered the piece and did not take the old fabric off. If you want your piece to look professional, you will have to do it the professional way which means taking off all the old fabric.
Typically you can tell that something is wrong even before you start work on your piece. If it is obviously old and lumpy, or flat and sagging, there is a problem that must be addressed. That is the reason you need to get that fabric off.
Another reason that people don't want to take off old fabric is a fear that they might "mess something up". That is simply not true. Just take your time and be careful. The worst thing to happen is that you move some foam or cotton out of place and have to put it back.
So here are some tips to keep you on the right track.
1. Take lots of pictures. With the current technology in cell phones, this is easy. Take pictures from several angles. Get close ups of corners, seams, and so on, as well as plenty of pictures of the piece as a whole. You can't have too many pictures!
2. Work from the "bottom" up. What I mean by that is to start at the bottom of the piece and work your way to the top. For most pieces, this will mean flipping your piece over and taking the dust cover off first. Then progressively take each layer of fabric off.
3. Take pictures as you go. (Did we say this already??) This will help you when putting it back together.
4. Get the right tools. You'll need staple lifters, pliers, and angle pliers. Sure, you can get by with a screwdriver, just expect the job to take longer and expect a sore hand.
5. Take more pictures. if you haven't figured it out, taking pictures is important.
6. Save your old fabric. You can use it as a template to cut out your new fabric. Cutting your new fabric will have to wait for another blog post, but trust me, this step can be very helpful later.
7. Throw away sharp hardware pieces. You will see cardboard strip, tackstrips, curve ease, decorative tacks and panel nails. Throw them all away. You can not re-use them, and they are inexpensive enough to replace. Hop on Walker Fabrics supplies page and order new hardware, you'll be glad you did.
8. Spend some time cleaning up the wood. Pull all the old staples and tacks out. Use some wood filler on really beat up areas. This is also a good time to repair or refinish any exposed wood like legs or rails. It could be as simple as using some scratch repair, or completely refinishing the wood, it is still best to do it when the fabric is off.
So whatever piece you are upholsterying, don't miss this first step. Take off the old fabric. Your finished product will look more professional if you do it the professional way and don't skip this step. Its a few more hours of work, your upholstery work should last for years.