Well, if you know anything about our family, you know we have a lot of kids (6, going on 7, to be exact).
Spills have become part-and-parcel of Connell family mealtimes. And now, 12 years into this parenting gig, I’m nearly… getting better about… almost… past freaking out about spills at the table.
One thing that has helped me not to worry about spills is that I recently took some old (stained, ripped) cloth-covered dining chairs and spent a few hours recovering them with oilcloth.
In case you aren’t familiar with oilcloth, it’s often used for tablecloths. It’s a slick fabric (typically vinyl backed with a sturdy mesh backing) that is perfect for use around food and drinks. Spills are repelled completely, and sticky foods and any residue from previously spilled drinks wipe off easily without becoming embedded in the fabric.
This is an inexpensive project, with big bang for your buck. It’s not only beautiful, but it’s immensely practical.
AND I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THE RESULTS!!!
(As one friend recently said, “These are the happiest chairs I’ve ever sat in.”)
Here’s the before and after:
So first, choose the fabric you’re going to use.
You could go to a fabric store, and maybe you know of someplace that carries amazing oilcloth. But the truth is that for most of us, even if we visit a very large store, their oilcloth selection is going to be rather small.
I saved myself the gas money, time, and hassle and instead, looked on Amazon for oilcloth.
My selection process went like this:
- I knew I wanted a cheerful, vintage feel. We live in the Pacific Northwest now (read: it’s going to rain a lot, even though this spring & summer have been uh-MAZE-ing), so I wanted colors that would make me smile even when it’s perpetually gray outside.
- I decided to purchase 3 different fabrics, rather than recovering them all in the same fabric. That way, in case any of them get permanently damaged or ripped, I can replace the 2 matching chairs rather than having to replace all 6. (That’s cause… full admission? I’m a cheapskate.)
- I pulled up my favorite designs in multiple windows on my screen, comparing them to one another so that I could narrow down my selections.
Here’s what I ultimately picked:
The combination of these three designs is exactly what I was going for!
In case you’re curious, the three fabrics I chose were:
- Oil Cloth Bloom Light Blue Fabric,
- Oil Cloth Polka Dot Red/White Fabric, and
- Oil Cloth Pears & Apples Yellow Fabric.
I measured my seats (thickness in addition to width/length), and ordered 1 yard of each, as each length of oilcloth was enough to cover 2 seatcovers. With shipping, the total cost was just $24.
(And like you can tell in the picture, they ship them to you in rolls rather than folded. So, there are no creases, which would definitely be a problem with oilcloth since it’s so thick and sturdy.)
Once you’ve got your fabric in hand (and they ship fast!), gather the chairs you’re going to use.
We’d left our (creaky, part-broken) dining chairs in Dallas when we moved because there wasn’t any room left in the moving truck. Once we moved here, I bought these chairs for two reasons.
1. I loved the detailed backs of them and thought they’d fit well in our circa-1925 house.
2. They were $5 each at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, making the set of six just $30.
Oh who am I kidding?
The price is totally why I bought them. I told you, I’m an utter cheapskate.
First, turn them over and unscrew the seat from the chair frame. Mine had been recovered multiple times, so some of the screws required Phillips head, and some were flathead.
Once you completely remove it, it’ll look something like this:
My chairs had 3 layers of fabric on them– the original fabric (that white tapestry fabric peeking through), and plus two more (they had apparently already been recovered 2 times).
You could pull off the old fabric, but you don’t have to. I didn’t bother. I just moved right on to recovering them.
- Place your oilcloth face down, with your seat cover on top of it, also face down.
- Make sure you leave a margin of fabric that allows you to pull the fabric up tight around the seat and gives you plenty of room to staple.
- Turn over the seat cover and eyeball what design of the fabric will show. You may wish to rotate the seat one way or another, keeping in mind which edge will make the front of the seat. You will need to do this with more caution and care if you choose a design like gingham or stripes, which requires a certain orientation in order to look “correct,” so that the chairs will match one another.
When you’re ready, begin stapling.
I couldn’t find our staple gun when I did this project, so I borrowed a friend’s and just bought a box of staples in the right size. But if you’re in the market for one, here’s a great staple gun. Make sure you get the appropriate-sized staples as well.
It’s easier if you begin on a long side (even better, begin along the back edge, which will be covered up by the back of the seat) while you get the hang of manipulating the fabric & stapling.
For the corners, it will look cleanest if you make long folds and bring them back at an angle. I forgot to take a picture of this part. So just imagine it’s there. 🙂 But you’ll want to do 2-4 folds per corner, keeping your work nice and clean. The oilcloth is thick, so just keep working with it to find the right fold for your corner. Once you get it folded in a way you like, hold it tight with one hand while you staple with the other.
If you look back up at the picture above, you’ll see that my staples aren’t all smooth and wonderful. Part of that was my wonky staple gun, but part of that was that I’m just not a professional upholsterer. And I’m OK with that. The most important part, which you’ll see in the photo as well, is that the edges are nice and smooth and look good from the top.
When you’re finished, the seat should look smooth and crisp like this:
Then turn the chair over (I found it helpful to turn it upside down and place it on top of the dining table) and reconnect the seat to the chair frame with the screws. You may have to use an extra measure of force to get it through the oilcloth if the fabric covered up the old holes, but that will actually end up helping to hold the screws in.
Once you’ve done this for your set, you’re ready to enjoy your new chairs!
I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to sit in my new chairs! It makes me even happier that anytime something sticky or messy spills onto them, it takes a simple washcloth to wipe off, and there’s no more evidence of the mess.
Have fun dreaming up your new chairs!
What you’ll need:
- About 15-30 minutes of time for every chair you want to recover
- Dining chairs
- probably 1 yard of oilcloth for every 2 dining chairs. If your seats are extra wide, or the padding is extra thick, you’ll need to allow 1 yard for each chair.
- Staple gun
- Correct-sized staples for your staple gun (I used 9/16 inch staples)
- screwdriver that matches the type of screws used in your chairs
11 thoughts on “Oilcloth Covered Dining Chairs: Tutorial”
LOVE! Love! Love! I like the idea of being adventurous with color, practical with the material–who would have thought of oilcloth?–and paired with great chairs, too. Fun! Thanks for sharing!
Fantastic! I am excited for you, and a proud mom to boot! Love the color combination, and I can understand why you are happy when you sit in them!
I first saw Oilcloth used to make placemats years ago on a DIY show, and I remember thinking what a great idea that was, and they did it for similar reasons as you – being able to re-use the placemats over and over when things spill, etc.
Thanks for sharing that! Love them!
LOVE. These are so fun and functional! And easy! Our chairs are just wood now, but someday we will need to replace…and when we do, this is definitely on the list! Thanks for sharing!
I’m wondering how the oilcloth chair covers have held up over time. I’m worried little climbers or buttoned pockets will rip the oilcloth.
I think we’ve had one rip in the last 2 years of using them… and that’s with 6 rough boys, and daily 2-3 times/day use. We’ve been very pleased with how they hold up. Hope this helps!
I guess I’m not too familiar with oilcloth. I’m not sure how to word this exactly, is it soft when you sit on it, or does it make a “crunch” noise like plastic.
It’s more supple than vinyl/plastic, but it is easily-wipeable. It’s kind of a vinyl-type bendable fabric, with more give than straight plastic would have. It does not crunch or make a sound when you sit on it. It wipes clean, folds neatly (to tuck under on the sides), and is easy to work with.
I LOVE oilcloth! I’ve used it for other projects, but not recovering chairs. I have a vintage set of iron patio furniture and want to recover just the chair seats.
Can you tell me if using oilcloth for recovering chair seats is a good idea? Will your bare legs “stick” as with vinyl? Thanks!!
Hi Christy, They don’t stick with shorts/bare legs when inside… but I think that could change if they were outside in the sun. I wouldn’t personally do it on outdoor chairs, unless they were on a porch/mostly shaded.
Hope this helps!
Question: Do you ever feel a puff of air escape from the seams of the oilcloth when someone sits down? I do, with my recovered kitchen chairs.
It seems like that pressure could be causing the covers to rip more quickly than I’d like. I’ve recovered them twice with oilcloth in about 7 years. Any thoughts?
We did used to have that, some. My covers were almost all intact until recently.
(I’ve recently replaced my chairs… the oilcloth was still going strong but the chairs themselves were weakened and the screws kept needing retightening.)