How To Upholster Furniture With Leather

Upholster Furniture With Leather

You found the cutest chair, but there is a tear in the cushion, or you have a chair you would like to reupholster with leather. You can complete any of the projects with some of the tools at your home and just a little elbow grease.

You can do this project in many ways, but here are the simplest and quickest ways to finish that upholster in no time.

Gather Your Tools

First, you will need to gather the necessary tools to upholster the furniture you have picked out. Most of the tools can be found in your home, but some you may need to purchase.

For the easiest process when reupholstering your furniture, here are the tools that you will need:

  • Leather fabric
  • Cushion or padding (for chairs)
  • Tacks
  • Tack hammer 
  • Staples
  • Staple gun
  • Leather sheers
  • Heat gun
  • Tack puller

You can replace a few of these items if you don’t have them. These are the items that you can use instead of the specialized tools for the job.

  • A hairdryer replaces a heat gun.
  • Scissors or a box knife instead of leather sheers.
  • A regular hammer instead of a tack hammer.
  • A regular hammer instead of a tack puller.

You will need staples and a staple gun if you do not have one. Your upholstery will not be tight enough if you do not have these tools. You can rent or buy this tool at many different stores, and it is not hard to use. Make sure to take all precautions when handling power tools.

Choose Your Fabric

There are many types of leather you can choose from when upholstering your furniture. You will think about what you are needing and what color would be best for the spot you have chosen for it.

Many beginners don’t realize that many types of leather come from different breeds of animals. Here are your options when deciding if you want leather:

  • Aniline leather
  • Semi-aniline leather
  • Pigmented leather
  • Corrected grain leather
  • Faux leather

Aniline Leather

Aniline leather is the highest quality to choose from. It is smooth and natural. It is considered the most expensive because it must be of the best quality to be considered this type of leather. 

Generally, this rawhide is made from European cattle with very little processing. It is genuine material completely through. If costs do not bother you and you’re looking for durability, this is the leather for you.

One benefit to this fabric is that it becomes more gorgeous with age, while others can dry out, crack, and fall apart. It still requires maintenance, and you will need a special leather solution to clean it. Some chemicals can ruin leather, and you don’t want your leather destroyed before people can admire its beauty.

This type of leather doesn’t always do the best in the sunlight. If you plan on reupholstering furniture that will be placed in direct sunlight, you may want to choose another leather.

Semi-Aniline Leather

Semi-Aniline leather has many of the benefits as aniline but at a lower cost. Unlike aniline, it does have a protective layer because of how it is processed. This layer makes it more durable in some areas that aniline rawhide does not.

If you plan on using the fabric for a seat in sunlight or outside, this leather will be better for you. It is great for high traffic areas as well because of the protective coating.

Even with the protective coating, it still has breathability and holds many natural characteristics of aniline leather. The color will remain consistent, and you will not have to worry about scratches as much as with other leathers.

Pigmented Leather

Pigmented leather does not have the natural marks as semi-aniline or aniline leather and has a more even look. It too has a protective later like semi-aniline, and so you will get durability if you choose this fabric.

Because the protective layer is applied differently than semi-aniline, manufacturers can decide how the leather is protected. For example, if they want to protect the leather from scuffing or scratches and so on.

This leather is cheaper than the other two types of leather. It is great for high traffic areas. It is easier to use when upholstering your furniture. You do have the risk of it cracking over time. You can prevent this by conditioning it regularly and making sure to use the proper cleaners for it.

Corrected Grain Leather

Corrected grain leather is the cheapest out of the genuine leather choices. It is of lower quality and is processed more than the rest, which reduces the quality of the rawhide. This process also makes the leather less soft but gives the color a more even look.

The downfall of this leather is that it does not have the longevity of its counterparts. You will find that after a while, the leather will crack and tear. It almost resembles faux leather, which is fake leather for those who want an animal-friendly option.

If you are looking for something in a budget, you can go with this; just realize that it will not last as long as the other leathers. It may be a great fabric for beginners to practice with if you need something with the feel of leather but is not as expensive.

Faux Leather

If you desire the look of leather, but you don’t want to harm animals in the process, faux leather is for you. Technology has made it easier to mimic leather qualities. Although it is not quite as durable and has the exact appeal as real leather, you can get a close second.

This option is also much cheaper than any of the other genuine leathers while giving you more choices with colors and styles. If you are on a budget and you don’t mind if you are using leather or faux leather, this may be the best fit for you.

Remove Old Material

Before you can start applying the new material, you will first need to remove any old material. This material includes the old padding. You don’t want any old padding because it may damage or house bacteria you don’t want.

Remove all staples from the wood or seat. Any material left can cause the new staples not to attach properly and make the leather bulk in those areas.

For a smoother finish, you can sand any holes or areas of the wood. Doing this will allow your staples to attach more easily and will reduce the chance that the reupholstery becomes uneven in these areas.

Measure The Furniture

Measure the furniture, so you know how big you need to cut the leather. It is always better to cut larger than smaller. You will cut away fabric if it is too big, but you will not add material if it is too small.

It is best to write down any of these measurements. Although your memory may be at its best, those numbers may still slip through the cracks, and you will have to measure again. The most useful practice is to write the measurements down and make the cuts.

If you aren’t one to write down measurements, you can lie the cushion down on the fabric and do a loose measurement that way. This won’t require you to write down the numbers, which may be quicker than measuring. Just remember that this could cause some simple mistakes of mismeasurement. 

Cut The Fabric

Cutting Leather
Cutting Leather

Cutting fabric can be easy when you have leather sheers. If you use regular scissors that aren’t very sharp, you may find that the edges are jagged and slightly messy. Leather sheers are the best choice because they are heavy and sharp enough for the thicker fabric. 

When you cut larger than the measured area, you won’t have to worry about the messy edges. You will be able to trim this later on, to clean it up. So if scissors are all that you have, this will be fine. The edges will not be seen, so it’s okay if they are a little messy.

If you are a beginner at upholstery, sometimes cutting the fabric a little larger than suggested can help you out. You have more material to grip when trying to wrap it around the seat.

Add The Padding

Before you wrap the fabric around the furniture you are reupholstering, make sure to cut and place the padding as a cushion to the seat. You don’t have to add padding if that is your choice, but there is usually a cushion where people sit with this type of furniture.

Many chairs use about 2 inches thick of foam as a cushion. You can use 3 inches of cushion, but many chairs using this thick of a cushion have a sewn seat, which is a little more complicated than installing a 2-inch cushion.

Once you have measured and set the cushion on the top of the furniture, you can flip over the seat onto the fabric you have cut out. The material should be larger than the seat. If it is not, your fabric is not large enough to completely wrap the seat.

Secure The Leather

You have now placed your seat onto the leather with the top side down. This step will be the fun part. Pull the leather over the sides and tack them to the bottom. Make sure you pull them tight so that there is no slack.

Securing the leather is quite the process, and to complete this, you will have to do several things. Here are what you will be doing for this phase of the reupholstery process:

  • Tack the leather.
  • Staple the leather.
  • Work the corners.

Tack The Leather

These tacks you have placed will only be temporary. You don’t have to position them close together like you would the staples. A few inches between each tack should suffice. If the tacks aren’t kept the leather in place, you may have to move them closer together.

You will need to place the first tack in the middle of the front of your seat. Remember, the front will be the area that most people will see first. You want this area to look the most presentable. You will then pull the leather back and start placing more tacks.

You can also use a metal tack strip to hold the fabric in place. This depends on which one you prefer. The individual tacks are sometimes easier for beginners than the tack strip, but some have even said it is easier for them.

Staple The Leather

When stapling the leather, you will be doing this closer together than when you were placing the tacks. Start at the front of your seat and move around to each side. The usual size used for this seat is the ⅜” sized staple. Bigger staples will be used later on.

First, apply the staples around your seats. Once those have been placed, remove the tacks and place staples where the tacks were. Remember that you will always secure the straight areas before you move onto the corners.

Work The Corners

This step is one of the more difficult ones you will face. If you are a beginner, you may find yourself with a little frustration but don’t fret. It may take you a little more time, but with a little patience and learning the best technique for you, you will be able to do these corners easily.

Here are the different techniques and steps you can try when working the corners:

  • Heat the corners.
  • Pull the corners tightly.
  • Staple both sides of the corners.

Heat The Corners

Heating the corners of the fabric makes the leather stretchier and allows you to have a tighter fit on the seat. At this step, you will need the heat gun. If you do not have a heat gun, you can always use a hairdryer. When using the hairdryer, make sure the setting is on high heat.

Make sure you are a few inches from the fabric. You don’t want to burn the leather. If this happens, you will have to remove the material and replace it with a new piece. You don’t want to waste any more than you have to.

Once the leather becomes stretchy, you can now move to the next step to secure it in place.

Pull The Corner Tightly

Pull the corners tightly so that there is no slack. As you pull, you will see the wrinkles move to the underside of the seat. It’s okay to have the fabric a little messy at the seat’s base as long as the top side looks clean and taut. 

Fold the fabric diagonal from the corner. Give it one more tug and staple the fabric about twice. You don’t want to do too many at the beginning because you will be putting staples on either side of the corner to secure and not loosen.

Staple Both Sides Of The Corner

Next, you will make pleats with the fabric, which is where you fold the fabric within itself. This is to help you place a secure staple, and it makes it easy to trim the excess material. As you complete each fold, put down a staple on either side. Once done, cut your fabric.

Sometimes doing this fold doesn’t work when you have too much slack. Another approach if making larger pleats does not work, make micro pleats. Smaller pleats between the staples may help with the extra slack, as well as make sure your corners are still tight.

You can also choose to use the “Gift-Wrap” method for the corners. This method is where you fold the corners at a 45-degree angle and staple on each side of the fold. Using this style is one of the easier options.

Check For Slack

After you have stapled everything down, you will need to turn over the seat. You will check if there is any slack at the corners and on the seat in general. At this point, look for any bumps, wrinkles, or rolls. You don’t want any of these in the middle of your cushion. You may have a few near the corners, but this may be alright, depending on your preference.

If you do have extra slack, you will want to fix it. This may be a daunting task, but it will loosen over time, and that means you will need to have it taut so the seat will last longer. 

Remove the staples of one side to see if pulling the fabric from there can fix the problem. If it works, then you can restaple the material. When this doesn’t fix the slack, you may need to remove the staples from another area and improve it that way.

One simple way is to remove the staples from one side and see if you can roll the wrinkles out with your hand. You will then tighten the leather again. If the crease just seems to stay, try to find the side this issue is parallel with. Undo the staples on the side that runs similar to those staples and smooth them out.

Try to refrain from doing the corners until you have removed all the slack. Corners are difficult to do and so you don’t want to have to redo them every time you are trying to get rid of an annoying wrinkle. 

Remove Extra Material

Once you remove all the slack from your furniture, it is all smooth sailing from here.  You will begin by trimming any extra leather fabric. You don’t want extra flaps hanging from your seat that can easily be taken away.

Trim close to the seat but not so close that the fabric could tear from the staples. This cutting doesn’t need to be perfect, but it shouldn’t be bulky. You will be covering the bottom with simple fabric, and you don’t want to have too many lumps and bumps.

Add Long Staples

Before you add the cover to the seat base, place a few long staples for extra security. By using long staples, you will provide additional protection and more support. These are best to be used in bulkier areas. You can push these areas down using the long staples.

For longer staples, you should use something bigger than the ⅜” staple. The ½” staple should be enough, and you shouldn’t need anything larger than that. 

Add The Cover On The Base

At this point, you are pretty much in the easy stages of the reupholstery. You will be covering the rest of the base with a non-woven fabric that is often used in gardens to keep weeds from growing.

Here are the steps to covering the base with the non-woven fabric:

  • Measure the fabric.
  • Trim the sides.
  • Secure the fabric.

Measure The Fabric

Measure the fabric. It is okay to give yourself about an inch of extra material. You can trim it later or fold it under.

Place the fabric on the base to see if it fits. You can then eyeball if the measurements were accurate enough.

Trim Sides

Trim the sides so that you still have about half an inch. You will need this to fold the fabric under. Folding the material gives a clean edge and looks professional.

Secure Fabric

You will use the short staples to secure this piece of fabric. Make sure the material isn’t over the edges of the seat, and apply the staples. Now you have this covered to protect from dust, dirt, and other things.

Add Some Flare

If you are one that would like to add your style to this piece of furniture, there are many ways you can do this. You can frame the base of your chair or seat with different colored cords or braided chords.

One style that works best with dark leathers is rustic, decorative nails and tacks. You can add these to the arms of your furniture, frame areas, or to add designs. You will often see leather couches and chairs with these decorative tacks and nails. It gives a little flair and complexity to the furniture that it may not have had before.

How To Upholster Odd Shapes

Sometimes your chairs or seats are in odd shapes. If you are new to reupholstering with leather, it would be best to start off practicing on a regular seat shape to have some practice. Tackling an odd shape can be disheartening. 

When you have mastered or become quite successful at corners, you will be able to upholster those odd shapes. Corners are the biggest issue with these odd shapes and making sure the fabric is taut.

Obstacles To Upholstering With Leather

Leather can be very tricky when using it, so there are many things you need to keep in mind when you use it. Real leather is thick compared to other materials but still can stretch when using it. 

Different leathers do require different approaches to upholstering the leather onto the furniture. You will not be able to hand-stitch leather because of its density. If you have noticed, many leather pieces have nails or tacks to add flare. If you want this flare, you will have to use this process rather than stitching.

The corners can become very bulky when working with leather. This difficulty is because of the thick material. With practice and the many options on folding your corners, you will soon find what best fits your technique.

Tips To Upholstering With Leather

There are many things you can do to help you along the way, especially if you are new to reupholstering. Here are a few tips to help you better your technique:

  • Try to reupholster with an easier material first.
  • Be creative with the tools you have.
  • Use heat to make handling leather easier.
  • Understand that mistakes will happen.
  • It is best to have more fabric than less.
  • Do a little at a time rather than a lot.

Once you are finished upholstering, for a longer-lasting finish, make sure you condition your furniture regularly. You will also need to use specific leather cleaners because some normal household cleaners can dry the fabric out and you will realize you have to replace the leather sooner than expected.

Is Upholstery Leather Real?

Upholstery is made with real leather depending on what you get. There are many types of leather to choose from. Each type of leather offers different styles and looks so that you can make it unique to you.

Although there are many types, the most popular one is made from cowhide. Make sure to steer away from any faux leathers. These peel and flake over time and will not last. You will be reupholstering your furniture soon enough.

Final Thoughts

You have now completed the process of reupholstering your furniture. As you continue to work with leather, it will become easier and easier. You will soon be reupholstering your furniture in no time. You may start discovering new techniques and different styles for you to add flare.

With practice, you will be a master at DIY projects. And now that you’re done, the hardest part is figuring out where to put your beautiful piece of work.


Hi there! I’m Alex, the one behind this website. I ran and operated a Local Furniture Store in Southern California. The store opened in 2010, during the “Great Recession,” It is still thriving today; however, I have dedicated my time to helping our online customer base. My primary focus is to help you with all your furniture & mattress questions.

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