Common Mistakes With French Chair Upholstery Fabric Selections

Over the years of upholstering french chairs, I have tried every trick of the trade to use some of my favorite light weight fabrics as upholstery material and have learned over and over again that light weight fabrics just don’t work on chairs.

When shopping for textiles for your french chairs ONLY consider recovering your chairs in upholstery weight material.  After upholstering dozens of french chairs, picking the wrong material defeats the whole process.

Living in several cities through out the years I know how hard it is to find material that you love.   I do think it is worth the time and effort in finding a pattern that you adore, because you will end up looking at it every day.  Living in a small town, the selection of nice fabrics were quite limited.

Spend the money on ebay finding what you love.  Just be sure it is heavy enough for your chairs.

I didn’t bother looking through the custom ordered fabrics because they were out of my price range in my 20’s, so I opted for what I could afford.  My upholstery skills were not the greatest in my 20’s, so in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t spend the majority of my paycheck on fabric that would have been butchered because of my lack of skills.

I tend to look around for my french chairs on craigslist, or at flea markets, and I don’t pay a lot for my chairs unless a statement piece comes along.  Getting older I learning that less is more and often times a great chair can really make the room.

After exchanging out some of my pieces for better ones through the years, the french furniture is what has stayed, as other pieces moved on and out the door.

Who can go wrong with a gold leaf french accent chair?  Ebay is reaching out to those people in smaller towns that are looking for something unique.  Ebay has been my source for fabric as well.

French chairs for the most part can be found at a bargain and so can fabric.  You don’t need to pay top dollar for either, but you do need to have time and patience for that one perfect chair or fabric to come along.  With layers of paint and distressing, your chair frame can be improved to look like antique heirlooms passed through the family.  What is left is fabric selection.  Where do you go, and what do you avoid?

French chairs often are pieces of art on their own, and finding the just right fabric, and pattern can be a very hard to find.  If you are anything like me, you are very selective when it comes to color, and pattern.

Pattern can say a lot about the design of your home, so sometimes it is best to upholster in a simple material in your staple color.  As you update your home through the years, your french chairs can be there through the changes, and your accent pillows can be switched out.

Some of MY costly mistakes: (AND I have a lot of them!!)

1.  Mistake ONE- Using Silk Material:

When I couldn’t find a fabric that I truly loved, I would go down to my local decorating store like Ross Dress For Less and buy drapes that would then serve as my upholstery material.   I upholstered 4 slipper chairs in a orange and yellow modern stripe, which took me several weekends to finish.  After they were fully STUFFED, upholstered and trimmed with upholstery tacks, the final product was done, and I was exhausted.  About 2 weeks after the fact, we were sitting at the dinner table, and I spilled water on the seat.  It wasn’t grape juice or ketchup, but simple water.  The next day after they dried, it looked as if someone had accidentally wet them selves in our chair.  The water stained the material, and there was no way of getting rid of the water mark.  Silk has a lot of restrictions.   In addition to being stained easily, they are almost impossible to clean.  Silk WILL bleach out when exposed to light, and in addition are bound to stretch.  Today those project chairs STILL sit in the basement, because the material over time has stretched and loosened making them look very badly upholstered.  I will never ever again use silk, and I have another couple weekends of work to fix my mistake.

French Settee - From Home and Garden Magazine

This settee has a silk upholstered cushion, which was not apart of the original settee.  I love the stripes, but it would be very hard to clean if it got dirty.  This French Settee is from Peacock Feather Events

2.  Mistake 2- Using Fusible Backing.

Backing is a coating applied to the back of the fabric, which gives fabrics more strength and stability.  Acrylic backing is used for both upholstery and wall applications.  Knit backing is most commonly used for upholstery and draperies.

Heavier fabric is always the very best for upholstery, but if you are wanting a fabric that is lightweight, backing could add strength.  Lightweight fabrics could be used for draperies, and fusible backing often times is the perfect solution for drapery or clothing.  Intefacing can be sewn into the fabric and the more popular of the two is iron-on, which one side has glue which molds to the fabric.

French Chair Toile Gold Chairs In Progress

French Chair Toile Gold Chairs In Progress

A good way to test whether or not the backing is needed is to take the fabric swatch in your hand and try stretching it diagonally. If the fabric stretches considerably then go with the backing. If it only pulls a little then you should be fine. Again, I would recommend you toss the light weight fabric aside and go with upholstery weight, and here is why:

I painted a  set of Louis XVI chairs in gold and I used red toile fabric I found at my local Calico Corners fabric store for the upholstery material.  I wanted something punchy in our home that consists of beige furniture and the red was the perfect solution.  Fusible interfacing I thought was my solution to buying lightweight material, but after I ironed on the interfacing, it became almost too stiff to upholster with.  I found pulling the fabric around the corners next to impossible that with all my might, the upholstery job still turned out very shotty at best.  Today I either have to exchange out the fabric, or look for seat cushions, because guaranteed over time, the pattern will become pulled.  So again, I am looking at another weekend project, if only I selected the right fabric in the first place.

Although Iron on interfacing seems to be a perfect solution, in the long run you will pay the price.  Sitting on a piece of fabric over and over is much different than closing drapes at  night.

Associates at your local fabric store are going to suggest that if a chair isn’t  going to be used frequently then you don’t have to worry too much about the fabric wearing down.   With the amount of effort it takes to upholster a chair, it is better to invest in a fabric is strong enough, than simply guessing the chairs aren’t going to be used.  Fabrics should be strong enough to take a staple without visually seeing that a staple has punctured the material.  That should be a measure to look for when considering fabric for upholstery.

Another reason why Iron-on Interfacing falls short is that the pattern will get distorted as you move the fabric around to iron on the interfacing.  Even if you are careful, such as I was with my red toile chairs, today, the interfacing I used is separating from the fabric which is causing little bubbles in the fabric.  For some reason I thought that the glue would stay put forever, but that simply is not the case.  I have only sat on them once, so consider what would happen if you used them for every day use.  It is not fair to tell family that certain furniture is only for display only.  Chairs are meant to be used.

Consider just backing your fabric.  When you sew two layers together the process is called “flatlining”.  If you are needing fabric backing, consider backing the piece of fabric with a layer of fabric that has the correct body and stability that the chair actually requires.

In summory go for the heaviest, sturdiest fabric you can find.  If you go with a lightweight cotton, you will eventually pay the price .  Upholstery weight fabrics look professionally done, where as lighter weight fabrics often have a texture or pattern that screams DIY, and often times signals that someone  did not know better, or will be a dead giveaway of poorly done DIY.   The right fabric can turn your OUTSTANDING French chairs into stunning statements for years of enjoyment!

French Barrel Chair Photography by Elizabeth Lavin

French Chair & French Decor - Frederic Fekkai's Home By Elle Decor

French Button Tucked Apple Green Vintage Victorian Chair

Inside Frederic Fekkai's Home

French Chair & French Decor - Frederic Fekkai's Home By Elle Decor

Inside Frederic Fekkai’s Home Found on Elle Magazine

FRENCH Louis XVI Arm Accent Chair NEOCLASSICAL From Vintage Way Furniture on ebay

French Chair & French Decorating From Thibaut

Close Up on Thibaut's French Chair

French Chairs & French Decorating From Traditional Home Magazine

French Settee From House and Leisure Magazine From House of Turquoise Blog

Close Up of the French Settee

French Chairs - Liz Williams From House of Turquoise

French Chairs - Liz Williams From House of Turquoise

These beautiul pictures were from Erins House of  Turquoise

French Settee- Brocantegirl's Photostream Flickr.

French Chairs - House Beautiful Magazine/ French Pink Chairs Decor Pad

French Chairs - Homes and Gardens Magazine

French Chair & French Decorating - Stunning Lilac French Settees From Decor Pad

French Chair & French Decorating - Stunning Lilac French Settees From Decor Pad


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