How to Measure a Chair for Upholstery Fabric

We all have it—that favorite chair in our home that we simply can’t do without. It’s been reupholstered a couple of times, or perhaps you’re now hiding yours under a layer of old scarves and drapery, hoping nobody notices that your favorite chair has also become your ugly chair. 

So you decide it’s time to reupholster your favorite chair again, but this time, you’re going to do it yourself. Great! 

How much upholstery fabric do you need? Just where can you learn how to measure a chair? Right here. 

How to Measure a Chair

A simple chair is a wooden, steel, or plastic frame where the seat is made from an upholstered section. This section is often removable by loosening the set of wood securing bolts that attach the seat to the frame. 

Measuring this section is relatively easy if you are working with plain-colored upholstery fabric, but things get a little tricky when you are using patterned fabric. 

The Essential Chair Upholstery Measurements

You will need the following:

  • A fabric tape measure or a string and a straight ruler
  • A pen
  • Paper
  • Calculator (if you’re not mathematically inclined)


  1. Use your measuring tape. Measure around the widest part of the chair. This would be the distance of the seat from one front leg to the other front leg of the chair. The seat will typically be a little larger than the distance between the two front legs, so be sure to measure the distance or width of the seat. 
  2. Add four inches to the measurement and write it down. 
  3. On the bolt of fabric, the width of the fabric should more than adequately accommodate this, as most fabric bolts will be 44-54 inches in width. 
  4. Next, measure the length of the seat. The best place for this measurement is from the middle of the front section (where your knees would sit on the chair seat) to the middle of the back section. 
  5. Add another four inches to the measurement and write it down. 
  6. When you place this on the bolt of upholstery fabric, the length should run down the length of the fabric. 

Calculating How Much Fabric You Will Need in Total

The length measurement is what is also known as a running measurement, and it “runs” down the length of the upholstery bolt. This means that you will buy the length of the seat. If the seat length was 12 inches (eight inches plus four inches), then you would need 12 inches of fabric. 

Easy, right? For plain fabric, it’s very easy. However, you’re not necessarily a plain person, and you’ve decided you want to buy patterned fabric. Now you need to factor in the pattern repeat or vertical repeat (as it’s known in the upholstery business). 

Calculating for Vertical Pattern Repeat Based on Your Chair Measurements

While you know how to measure a chair, it’s not so easy to measure a patterned fabric. If you had access to the whole upholstery roll, then you could simply move the pattern until it fits perfectly, but you don’t. 

This means you need to accommodate the differences between patterns as they run vertically along the bolt of upholstery fabric. Luckily, you can work this out fairly easily using the length measurement you have of your seat and the guidance pattern repeat percentage the manufacturer recommends. 

For most patterns, the repeat will look something like this:

Pattern Repeat for 54-inch Upholstery Fabric Rolls:

Pattern Size (Repeat)Percentage Extra Yardage to Purchase
2 – 14 inches10
15 – 24 inches15
25 – 27 inches20
28 – 38 inches25

Pattern Repeat for 44 Inch Upholstery Fabric Rolls

Pattern Size (Repeat)Percentage Extra Yardage to Purchase
2 – 14 inches50
15 – 24 inches55
25 – 27 inches60
28 – 38 inches65

How a Repeat Works in Reality

Now that you know how to measure a chair, you simply use the length measurement to determine how much the straight fabric length is. Next, you would need to know what the pattern size is. 

For example: An upholstery fabric has large daisies on it. The total size of the pattern is 24 inches. This is on a 44-inch upholstery fabric roll. Your seat width fits in with two inches to spare on either side (all good there), but the length is 28 inches (including the extra four inches for folding over). You want to ensure your seat has the daisies front and center and is not lobbed off because the pattern doesn’t fit. 

So, on a 44-inch width roll, your pattern repeat is every 24 inches. Your seat length is 28 inches in total. To ensure you get a full pattern of daisies on the seat, you need an extra 55% fabric for your chair. The total length of fabric you need to order is then as follows:

Seat length55% of the 28 inches Total length 
28 inches15.4 inches 43.4 inches 

Sounds very technical, but it’s not nearly as difficult as you imagine. The real question is what you do with the extra fabric. Once you have centered your pattern, you can simply fold the excess in to help improve the strength where you will be stapling the fabric to the seat board, or you can cut the excess off and use this in a DIY project. 

The extra fabric is so you can align the pattern to the full pattern strategically placed on your seat. Some patterns are so small that they don’t need a pattern repeat, while others are so large that they have their own pattern repeat percentage. Your fabric consultant can help you by advising what the marked repeat is on the fabric roll at the shop. 

Kovi Fabrics’ consults are all expertly trained to advise you on what the actual repeat percentage is for the fabric you have chosen. If you don’t believe you could ever learn how to measure a chair, then you can rely on the Kovi yardage calculator that features most furniture designs with their measurements. 

A yardage chart can really help you decide what length of fabric to purchase for your upholstery project. 

Measuring a Chair for Upholstery FAQs

I want to upholster several chairs, how do I calculate the yardage for this? 

If you have more than one chair, then measure the length of the seat at the widest point. Times this measurement by the number of chairs you want to upholster. 

Next, find out what the fabric width is, as well as the length of the pattern repeat. Using this information, calculate the repeat percentage of the pattern, determine this percentage of your measurement, and add that percentage to the final measurement. 

This is the yardage you need to purchase for all your chairs. 

Can I use the same method of how to measure a chair for upholstery to measure a pillow for upholstery too? 

The same principles apply, and your chair measurement method can be used for large scatter pillows too. The important thing is to keep in mind you will have to accommodate the pattern repeat on the pillows too. 

The Final Measure

In the end, how to measure a chair is not that difficult. The real challenge is calculating the pattern repeat. This can be done by adding in the percentage for the pattern repeat based on the length measurement. 

If you are uncertain of how you measured and just how to determine the actual length of upholstery fabric to order, then speak to a Kovi Fabrics consultant today.  

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