Oilcloth Chairs

Now that we’ve sewn some simple oilcloth projects, let’s tackle a complicated one…like an oilcloth chair cover.  In fact, my chair-covering project is what spawned the idea for our Don’t Fear the Fabric series.  I knew I wanted to share the finished chairs with you.  But rather than just sharing one post, it seemed better to do a series of posts and projects….so you can ease your way into a new textile.

So about 5 years ago I made these oilcloth covers for my chairs/barstools.
And they were fantastic and held up great for 4 years!  (till the fabric got a small tear and baby Clara started tugging at it)

So it was time to make new covers.
And I knew I wanted to use oilcloth again because the fabric is waterproof! and can be wiped clean…..which is priceless with little kids in the house.  And I love having a comfy stool to sit on when I’m sitting at the bar…..which makes oilcloth the perfect fabric choice.

When we moved to our new house in February I bought more stools.
And I asked for your input on my fabric selection, so I could make covers for all 6 chairs:

I couldn’t believe your responses!
Some of you felt very strongly in one direction or another.
I was actually nervous that if I went with sunflowers, some of you might never read my blog again!

So what did I do with all that input??
Well, this….

I laid out some orange fabric and the kids climbed all over it.
Cause when one comes, they all come.
And it gets a little crowded for Clara

So the real answer is Yes! Orange!
I went with the same orange toile that I had used before.

I know.  It sounds boring.  But there was a (reasonable) thought-process I went through…..to get right back where I started from.

And after a few weeks of sewing (on and off), I had a pile of pretty covers, which turned into a row of pretty chairs!

No sunflowers.
No corn flowers (though I still think the yellow corn flower would be cute).

Instead we’ve got a whole lot of orange, to contrast with the turquoise backsplash.

Now I’ll admit, even after sewing all these covers (which took longer than I thought they would…even with my assembly line sewing skillz) I’m still not 100% sure they’re the final answer.  So I might surprise you one day with another set of chair covers.

But it’s only fair to show you how it relates to the rest of the house, since we have a very open floorplan from the living room, to kitchen, to dining room.   I think the orange fabric ties in nicely with other orange accents in the house.

And the color makes me happy.
If it’s too much orange for you, I totally get it.  It’s not for everyone.

But here’s why I went with the orange toile.
I loved the fabric once, so I knew I would love it again.

AND, when I considered stripes or the plaid cornflower fabric, I realized how hard it would be to get all those lines matched up from chair to chair.  It could look messy from afar.

Plus, the orange fabric would hide more mistakes and inconsistencies….which is helpful when you’re working on an oilcloth project with lots of curves.

So, if you want to use oilcloth for your own chairs or stools…let me share some sewing tips!

If you’ve never used Oilcloth fabric before, I recommend reading through my previous post first:  How to Sew with Oilcloth.

Something interesting I want to point out in this post is that oilcloth does have a shelf life.  It can eventually tear and get holes. And it can fade with exposure to light, even indirect light.   I hadn’t realized until I sat down to make my new seat covers how much the old covers had faded.

Check this out:

Now I don’t point this out as a negative, but just something to be aware of.   I actually really love the tangerine color it faded into.
And seeing as I got a good 4-5 years out of those old covers, I was definitely willing to do it all again.

First, figure out how you’re going to do it.  What are you recovering?  And how was it covered before?  There’s no point in totally reinventing the wheel here.  So try to mimic how the manufacturer made the chair or stool.  Deconstructing a piece of furniture or clothing is the best way to learn new tricks and understand how patterns are put together.

If you’re working on basic barstools without a back, or a set of folding chairs…or if you want to recover the top of a card table, you might be able to recover them without even sewing….maybe just a glue gun or some staples?   See what your furniture has to offer.

Or if you’re able to take apart a chair cover to use as a pattern, do it.  Or, maybe try to trace a new pattern by holding paper up to your chair and drawing around the different parts, and then adding a 1/2 inch seam allowance all the way around

My chairs are from IKEA, so I had the luxury of purchasing a fabric slipcover, which I took apart with a seam ripper and used as my pattern. You can see in the photo below how dirty that white fabric became in just one month’s time! This is the reason I love oilcloth over standard fabric for kids chairs.

To keep myself organized, I gave each piece a name and marked the “grainline.”  Now there isn’t really a grainline to oilcloth since it’s not a woven fabric.  But it’s important to note a grainline direction so that the print of your fabric is going in the same direction each time.  You don’t want to end up with one upside-down chair in the mix of normal chairs.

I also kept a small notepad next to me as I sewed, jotting down the steps I was doing so it was easy to remember when I started sewing the next one.

Now as I’ve mentioned before, oilcloth is a stiff fabric to work with.  Try not to let that frustrate you.  You just need to use more arm power and work with the fabric, rather than against it.  And the great thing is…the edges don’t fray so you don’t have to worry about finishing things off where you don’t want to.  If the oilcloth is sticking under your presser foot, read my previous post for 3 solutions/ideas to fix that.

Tip #1 – When you’re going around curves, go slowly.  Pause periodically with your needle down in your fabric, lift your presser foot, and pivot your fabric to allow it to relax.

And what really works best around the curves is to clip the fabric before you sew it in place.  Just clip slightly into the seam allowance about 1/4 of an inch on the curved areas.  This will help it to ease and lay more flat as you sew.

Tip #2 – “Try on” your project in sections before you cut and sew all 6 covers!  It’s like creating a “muslin” for your chair.  Then you’ll know if you need to make any adjustments to a certain area.

Tip # 3 – Don’t sweat the details.
If you look closely at my chairs, you’ll see that they’re far from perfect.  The curves are not all curved, the lines are not all straight.  But they still look great!  So just do the best you can and don’t worry if your seam is a little off.

Most of all, have fun.

Then pull up a chair and enjoy the comfy new look.
Thanks for your input!

Now head over to See Kate Sew where she’s got an amazing pleather skirt project with a FREE pattern and tutorial Yay!

Don’t Fear the Fabric is an ongoing series on MADE and See Kate Sew.
We want to arm you with the info and confidence to try to fabrics and see where they take you!

Check out our other posts from this series:
How to Sew with Oilcloth  ••  How to Sew with Leather
Geo Garland
Simple Handmade Gift: Oilcloth Coasters  ••  Smashed fabric and Leather Pouches
Oilcloth Starter Kits Giveaway  ••  Win a free Leather Hide
Oilcloth Chairs and tips for recovering your own  ••  Pleather Circle Skirt tutorial

  1. my kitchen chair seats are covered in the same oilcloth but in black and white! Love that fabric. I went with a neutral seat because my walls are turquoise! 🙂 Great choice!

  2. Love your choice! Man, this makes me really want to make slip covers for our furniture!

  3. 3) deeanna

    I really like the orange, especially with the turquoise! I wanted to send you a follow-up from a question I asked you when you were asking us what fabric design to go with. I wondered if you thought laminated cotton would work as well oil cloth. I couldn’t find an oil cloth pattern that was exactly what I wanted for my kitchen. You very nicely replied that you weren’t sure it would hold up as well because it’s much thinner than oil cloth. So I thought and thought about it…I needed something really sturdy to hold up with my rambunctious kids! And then one day I stumbled on some laminated canvas in a navy arrow pattern and decided to try it. It’s held up great and cleans so nicely. But thank you for replying with your opinion, it helped, and thank you for the beautiful inspiration in your blog. Now I’ll have to try some oil cloth on another project!

  4. The chairs look excellent! I would have chosen the orange, too. Most certainly NO sunflowers 😀

  5. 5) heidimarie

    So funny–when you first posted those yellow sunflowers, I thought you had lost your mind! But then they really started to grow on me, and I admit that I’m a little disappointed you didn’t choose that oilcloth 🙂 But the orange looks fantastic too! I appreciate the way you centered the toil pattern on the chairs. I’m a total sucker for nice details like that!

  6. 6) Alisa Leabon

    This is such a timely post. I want to recover our dining room chairs with a slipcover but was unsure how to go about it. Your post really helps, although I may use a thicker canvas rather than oilcloth.

  7. I think you made a good decision. Orange looks best with the backsplash.

    P.S. I love your yellow Target pillow. I’m leaning on mine right now. =)

  8. I rarely feel intimidated by new projects, but this is one that I would soooo love to do, and yet also sooooo fear to attempt. they look great!

  9. 9) Sarah

    Um, OBSESSED with the orange toile. Looks so beautiful with your house. Great choice!

  10. 10) Angela

    Ok, I may be the first person (or not!) to ever point this out, but you’re not wearing red nail polish in these photos!!! Totally random, sorry!

    The chairs and your color choices are great!

    I love to look at your spaces and enjoy how clutter free they are.

  11. To be honest I love your choice of the orange over the yellow prints. I’m not a huge fan of yellow, and I think that orange goes so well with the turquoise in your rooms. I also love the toile print. I covered my bar stool seats with duck cloth and the one is already wearing thin at the front edge. I may need to get my hands on some oil cloth and cover the seats. And it would be super easy because I can just staple them. Thanks for the inspiration and these great posts on oil cloth.

  12. 12) Erika

    Love it! Loved the backsplash so much that I ordered samples in same color and various sizes to see if I can recreate that look in my new-to-me but older house. Bar stools are on the project list and I’ve been toying with similar color ideas. Love it and the tutorial!

  13. 13) Christine Kareus

    I know you are doing an oil cloth series, so maybe this doesn’t apply. I bought laminated fabric from Michael Levine for my best friend. She covered her dining room table chairs (the seats. She has 3 little boys, so you can imagine). And 4 years later, they are still holding up! The laminated fabric is not as shiny, but still wipes clean!

  14. 14) Wendy

    The colors are amazing.

  15. 15) Sandi

    i love the orange. of course i may be partial, it’s one of my favorite colors. i think i might be the only person in the world that actually bought orange clogs when they came out!

  16. 16) Petra

    I’m glad you did the orange – I love the look against the other colours you have 🙂 You have patience and talent with sewing – well done! Happy Christmas from Melbourne 😀

  17. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered what you settled on for your chairs. I’m so happy to finally know 🙂 I think you made the perfect choice for you and your house!
    p.s 4 1/2 years ago, when you posted your LA fabric shopping guide, I knew I wanted to go someday. I finally got to last month! I read and re-read that post in preparation (and shared it with the girls at FIDM scholarship store 🙂 and used it as my guide. Prices are considerably higher than when you posted, but still fabulous comparatively. I had so. much. fun!!! Thank-you so much for taking the time to write that post (and so many other valuable posts…)

  18. 18) kam

    unreal. miss ya

  19. 19) Jacee

    I love your home. It is stunning and beautiful! I just wish you would show us how the other rooms look. 🙂 You should actually start a design business. You totally inspire me.

  20. 20) Suzanne

    This really takes me back to my childhood. My mother was a homemaker and always made oil cloth (flannel backed) slipcovers for our dining room chairs. As kids, we never knew what our furniture looked like –except for the legs! I’m not sure how she did these projects as this was BV (before Velcro) if you can imagine. My mom always enlisted me to “pink” the edges of every seam with pinking sheers for a professional look on the inside seams. She loved freshening up each season, making new table cloths and seat covers and it seems I do the same with home furnishing fabrics now with my home. I’ve never thought about trying oilcloth, although that seems to have made a come back, especially for young families, and about time, too!

    Thanks for the great tutorial.


  21. 21) Priscilla Aguila

    Would you be willing to get paid to sew these, or know anyone who would?! I need four total, and I am just not capable to do it myself 🙁 I was looking at toile pattern too!

  22. 22) Beth

    We have faux leather dining chairs that have started to peel. We did get about twelve years out of them, which has been great, but I’d love to try making covers. Unfortunately, I’m working completely from scratch in terms of creating a pattern. This is incredibly helpful, but I’ll need to start by practicing with muslin or something of the cotton scraps that I have. Do you have any sense as to how much yardage I would need for one chair? I know dining chairs come in all shapes and sizes 🙂 but mine are the same shape as these, just not so high! Thanks for any suggestions!

    • 23) Dana

      Sounds like a fun project! I’m not sure on yardage…but probably about a yard a chair. Of course if you’re doing more than one you could cut out multiple pieces at once and probably get more chairs per yard.
      I think the method you’re doing is correct….do a muslin first to create a pattern. You’ll be happy you did that!
      And if all else fails…glue gun the fabric edges to the bottom of the chair. haha 🙂
      Good luck!

      • 24) Beth

        Thanks so much for the quick response! Now that I’ve started measuring for the muslin pieces I realized that I can lay them out and see what will fit in a yard 🙂 I love your blog and have learned so much from your tutorials and patterns. I would never have attempted this before!

        • 25) Dana

          Awesome! That makes me so happy to hear! It’s so empowering to feel like you can do that stuff….just like the pros in a furniture shop! 🙂

  23. 26) Lizzy

    Where can I purchase oil cloth fabric. Joann or on the web?

  24. 28) Calimom

    Do these feel sticky when you sit on them? I was thinking about doing this for dining chairs, but was concerned about how they would feel to sit on.


    • 29) Dana

      No I don’t think they feel sticky. Maybe a tiny bit if your legs are sweaty 🙂 haha. But they’ve been great! It’s been 6 years and it’s probably time to redo them now 🙂

  25. 30) Pd

    I bought some oilcloth but it is very sticky.
    Still sticky after washing with soapy water and distilled white vinegar. Help!
    Thank you

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