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Tips to Reupholster Outdoor Furniture Exposed to Rain, Sun & Soil

reupholster outdoor furniture

Is your outdoor furniture or boat upholstery looking a bit worse for wear? Before you start upholstering your outdoor pieces, check these tips to reupholster outdoor furniture exposed to the elements, which will help you do it correctly.

Before you embark on your first outdoor upholstery project, it’s important to know and understand the special needs of outdoor furnishings, that will make your project more successful. Here are some excellent tips for reupholstering outdoor furniture that will help you get started.

Tips to reupholster outdoor furniture EXPOSED TO THE ELEMENTS



When you first start working with outdoor fabric, the first thing that you will come to understand is that it is very different from the fabric used for clothing. For starters, it is a lot heavier and thicker than traditional indoor fabric.

It is also much sturdier, because of the special weatherproofing treatment that it has undergone. The fabric itself may feel smoother or slicker, because of the weatherproof coating that is applied. Once you get accustomed to working with outdoor fabric, it will become just as easy to work with as traditional clothing or indoor fabric. One of the best things to remember about outdoor fabric is that it is really good at holding its shape.

Some suppliers such as Joann stock a large range of different outdoor fabrics for various applications, so shop around to find a type and style to suit you.

Use the Right Thread FOR OUTDOORS

Using the right thread can never be over-emphasized. Common household thread is not designed to handle the wear and tear of outdoor use. Outdoor thread is generally composed of heavy-duty polyester, that is spun with multiple filaments. Much like the fabric itself, it has been properly treated to ensure that it is weather resistant. One of the most important differences is that because of its weatherproof coating it is a lot easier to thread into the needle.

Determining the Amount of Fabric

The first part of any outdoor upholstery project is to determine exactly how much fabric you will need to complete the project. While those who are new to upholstery may find this to be quite complicated, actually determining how much fabric to buy is fairly simple. It’s always important to remember to buy an extra yard just to ensure that you have enough. In the event that you have anything left over, you can simply use the fabric to make pillows. You will also need to take into consideration that when trying to match up stripes, large patterns, or even plaids, you will need to purchase extra fabric just to compensate for any misalignments.

You also need to invest in a pen, as well as some tailor’s chalk or a disappearing fabric pen. Tracing paper will be helpful to make a pattern, but you can also use newspaper instead. In order to properly transfer the patterns, make sure to have a good measuring tape or ruler, as well as a sharp pair of scissors. Last but not least, you also need to make sure you have plenty of sewing pins in order to lay out the cushions.


To determine how much fabric you need for the cushions, start by measuring the width of the cushion from side to side. If you are measuring a cushion for a loveseat, try measuring from arm to arm. Simply multiply the width by 2. Next, you need to measure the thickness of the cushion and multiply that by 2 as well. Finally, you need to measure the depth of the cushion from the back to the front and multiply that by 2 as well. Since a cushion is effectively a 6-sided polygon, you will want to add up these numbers to get the minimum estimated size of fabric you’ll need.

Always remember to measure the longest part of the cushion, especially if the cushion is L-shaped. Once you have the overall measurement of the cushion, you will want to multiply that by the total number of cushions that you will need to cover. Outdoor fabric, like most fabric, comes in rolls that are 54 inches in width. You will need to take this into consideration when determining how much fabric you will need. Sometimes using graph paper will help out a lot with this process.

Chair Pads

Chair pads are a lot easier to measure than cushions. In order to properly determine the amount of fabric you will need for a chair pad, simply measure the width and depth of the pad, then add an additional 3 inches to each side to cover the height and overlap. Keeping in mind that the rolls come in 54-inch widths will make determining how many yards of fabric you need an easier task.

Sewing Outdoor Fabric

While outdoor fabric is generally thicker than the fabric used indoors, it is not as difficult as many think to sew it properly. In fact, you do not even need to have an extensive background in sewing in order to reupholster outdoor furniture. While it is possible to hot glue the fabric on, hot glue will not last a long time outdoors. If you want to finish something right make sure to sew it properly. In order to sew outdoor fabric properly here are some tips and tricks to help you on your journey.

Use a Sewing Machine

Whenever possible, always make sure to use a sewing machine. Although it is completely plausible to hand sew all of your outdoor furniture, a sewing machine will definitely speed up the time and ensure that the seams are strong enough to stand up to wear and tear.

Since most sewing machines come complete with more than 1 foot, you will want to make sure to use the correct one for your project. A walking foot is generally recommended because it lifts more, which makes it a lot easier to feed the outdoor fabric through. The walking foot will help ensure that you don’t have any bulky buildups while you are sewing your cushion cover. Keep in mind that because the outdoor fabric is a little slippery, it will be a lot harder to feed through a sewing machine without a walking foot.

Although it is possible to use regular sewing machine needles, they really aren’t designed for heavier outdoor fabric. Instead, when working with the thicker fabric, make sure to use needles that are specifically designed for denim, leather, or even quilting. These needles are thicker and more durable. Because the potential to snap or dull the needle is increased by the thicker outdoor fabric, always make sure to keep extra needles on hand just in case.

For Cushions

Although it’s possible to sew by hand, it is generally recommended that you use a sewing machine to properly sew outdoor cushions. A hand sewing needle will also be important to have, especially when it comes to adding buttons to the cushion. More importantly, you need to make sure that you are using a thread that is specifically designed for outdoor use. Common household thread will not stand up to the rigors of outdoor wear and tear. Last but not least, you’ll also want to have an iron in order to smooth the fabric out while measuring, cutting, and fitting it.

For Patio Dining Chair Pads

When dealing with patio dining chair pads, you will also need a number of additional tools. Beyond that which is necessary for physically sewing and creating the cushions, you will also need a pair of pliers and a flat head screwdriver in order to disassemble any hardware or parts. Since patio dining chair pads are generally affixed to the frame, you will also need to have a staple gun with plenty of heavy-duty outdoor staples for attaching the outdoor fabric to the pad.


Removing the Old Fabric

The easiest way of reupholstering your cushions is to simply cover the old fabric with new fabric. But this is not always possible, and many do-it-yourselfers prefer removing the old fabric completely. This allows them to start off with a clean slate and ensures a more quality finish in the end. If you are removing the old fabric, make sure to take plenty of photos using your camera, in order to ensure that you’re able to fit all of the pieces back together properly.

When working with cushions, take the time to find the seams, and use a seam ripper to open them up. You want to keep as much of the fabric intact as possible because you will need to use this as the basis for your pattern. Any of the batting or cushion inserts can be set aside for later. It’s always best to take this time to thoroughly wash the cushions and let them dry out accordingly.

When you are working with chair pads, make sure to also keep a bowl or jar nearby in order to toss any staples or screws into. The last thing you want is to lose staples on the ground, in places where you may walk barefoot later on. You don’t want to step on an old rusty staple, otherwise, you’ll need a tetanus shot.

Tracing the Old Fabric

With the old fabric in one piece, you can lay it down on top of your paper, in order to make a pattern. All you need to do is simply trace around the old fabric using your pen and cut the patterns out. It is also possible to trace the old pieces directly onto the new fabric, however, be careful about doing this because the fabric may slip. If the fabric slides while you are trying to trace it, there’s a good chance that you may end up cutting the piece incorrectly. Make sure to also add an additional half-inch allowance for the seams. When working with chair pads, you will also want to add an additional 3 inches for overlap.

Pinning Your Patterns

Once you have all of your pieces cut, it’s time to start pinning them together. You will need a broad flat surface in order to do this step. Start by laying out your fabric with the wrong side up, and then pin your pattern to it. One piece at a time lay them out in order to reduce the amount of wasted fabric. Be careful when working with plaids, checks, or stripes, because you will want them to line up accordingly once everything is sewn together. If you are not careful, your patterns may not align properly once sewn. Once the pieces are pinned, you can then trace around them using your marker or chalk, making sure to add that additional half inch for cushions, and 3 inches for pads.

Measure Twice and Cut Once

As the old adage says, measure twice and cut once. Always make sure to properly check your pattern placement prior to cutting. Because of how large cushions are, it’s quite easy to waste yards of fabric, if it’s not measured properly. When you start to cut, you want to make sure that you have extremely sharp sitters that are specifically designed for cutting thicker fabric. Regular paper scissors are no good, as they tend to cause the edge of the fabric to fray. Once your pieces are cut out, you can then unpin them from the patterns, and begin pinning them together in preparation for sewing.

Be Patient

As with any do-it-yourself project, determining how much time you will actually need to finish the project is important. If you are reupholstering a patio dining chair pad, then chances are it will take you less than an hour to complete each individual chair. However, if you are reupholstering cushions for chairs, you will need to plan on spending an entire afternoon on your very first cushion. Additional cushions won’t take as long once you complete the first one.

Just remember not to rush through the project and ensure that everything is completed with the end goal in mind, a professional-looking finish.

Final Thoughts on How to Reupholster Outdoor Furniture

Learning to reupholster outdoor furniture is not all that different from upholstering any furniture pieces, except for the increased durability of the materials used, in particular the fabric and thread. Outdoor fabric and thread will often be weather-proofed, making it a little more difficult to maneuver than regular fabric.

To keep your outdoor upholstered pieces in top shape, remember to keep them covered or bring them under cover when not in use if you have that option. Keeping them out of the sun and wind, protected from dust storms, and away from falling tree branches and critters such as spiders, will ensure they keep a longer life and continue to look good for years to come.

Now that you know how to prepare for reupholstering outdoor furniture, try your hand at upholstering an outdoor bar stool in this article.