Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tutorial: Fern 'n Bird Stenciled Denim Chair

Originally introduced waaaaay back in 2011, today I'm releasing this pretty Fern 'n Bird Stenciled Denim Chair project as a free tutorial on the blog, yay! In this tutorial, denim from an old pair of jeans is used to re-cover a chair cushion. The denim is simply embellished with freezer-paper stenciling and the outcome is elegantly casual, methinks. Shall we begin?

Fern 'n Bird Stenciled Denim Chair Tutorial

You will need:

  • an old pair of jeans
  • a pair of scissors
  • freezer paper
  • an Exacto knife
  • a cutting surface
  • fabric paint in white and black
  • a blunt paint brush
  • pencil and eraser
  • screw driver
  • industrial stapler
  • sandpaper
  • newspaper
  • iron and ironing board
  • a chair in need of re-upholstering
  • Fern 'n Bird Template ◀︎ click on the link to access the template!

Prepare The Chair

Step 1: Remove the cushion by unscrewing the screws from underneath the seat.

Step 2: Clean the chair with a damp cloth to remove any dirt and grime. If your chair needs painting, proceed as follows, and if not, skip on to Step 4.
Step 3: Working in a ventilated area or outside, sand down the entire chair with fine grit sandpaper to create a rough surface suitable for painting. Again, wipe down the chair with a clean, damp cloth to remove any dust created during sanding. Apply a coat of furniture primer. After the primer dries according to manufacturer's instructions, apply a few coats of latex paint, allowing the paint to dry between coats.

Refer to Young House Love: How to Paint Furniture for more detailed furniture painting instructions.

Prepare The Stencil

Step 4: Adjust the Fern 'n Bird template, sizing it to your needs using a photocopier, or leaving it as is. Trace the design onto freezer-paper. Working on a cutting surface, cut out all the grey areas using an Exacto knife. Keep all the little white bits. These are part of your stencil.

Step 5: Before you cut into your jeans, be sure that the chosen pant leg will fit the width of your chair cushion. Cut the pant leg off leaving plenty of room to reach around all sides of the cushion and a few inches round the back.

Step 6: Place your freezer-paper stencil where you wish it to be on your denim. Be sure that you give it plenty of room on all sides. You want it to be fully visible and not hanging off the edge of your seat, poor bird. Now with your iron set to "no steam", iron the stencil to the denim, plastic side down. Don't forget all the little pieces like the wing, feet, beak, head and eye. Iron everything in place. Try to avoid wrinkles in the freezer-paper like I have. Eesh.

Paint The Design

Step 7: Place a sheet of newspaper under your denim to protect your work surface. Have an extra sheet of newspaper handy for removing excess paint from your brush. Mix a tiny bit of black into some white fabric paint to give a light grey paint. Or start with grey paint if you prefer. If you're mixing paint, make enough to cover your template. You only want to mix it once. Moisten your paintbrush with water. Remove as much of the water as possible. Now load a little bit of paint onto your brush. Brush most of the paint off onto the newspaper. You want your brush almost dry but not quite. Begin applying paint into your stencil, pressing down firmly and moving your brush in small circles as you go. This technique is call "dry brushing". Repeat the process of loading paint onto your brush, unloading most of it onto the newspaper and then painting the stencil, until your stencil is covered and the paint is applied very thinly and evenly over the entire design.

Step 8: Once you're done painting, you can immediately but carefully remove the freezer-paper from the denim. It peels off easily without leaving any residue on the fabric. Finally, heat-set your painted design with the iron. Also if you are so inclined, you can re-use the stencil to make a second matching chair. Just remember to place a thin sheet of paper between the used stencil and your iron (to keep your iron clean) before using the stencil a second time.

Re-cover Your Cushion

Step 9: When I removed the green covering from my chair, the original blue covering was still in ship-shape. I decided to leave it in place and install the denim directly on top. You may not have that option, in which case you'd have to purchase a new foam cushion available in standard sizes at your local fabric shop.

Step 10: To install the denim cover, place the fabric good side down. Place the cushion, cushy side down, in the center of your fabric ensuring that your design is where you want it on the seat. Now, while firmly pulling the denim up, around the edge and to the back of the cushion, install a staple at the middle top edge of the cushion back. Continue in this way with the middle bottom, middle left and middle right of the back of your cushion, firmly pulling on the edge of the denim with each new staple. Keeping the denim taught at all times, place a staple in one corner, then the opposite corner, and then the remaining corners. Now fill in the gaps with staples.

Step 11: To get a smooth finish on the corners, many staples will need to be installed. Trim the excess denim to give the seat a clean look.

Step 12: Finally, place the cushion on the chair and re-install the screws.

Your work here is done, baby!

Now, grab a tall, cool one and take a load off on your pretty new Fern 'n Bird embellished chair!


P. S. Guess what? I finally joined Pinterest (just a few tiny weeks ago) so I'm pinning this project to my "Denim Forever!" Pinterest board. Check it!


  1. Such a cool project. Those chairs are fantastic. I love recycled denim projects. Happy Weekend.

    1. Yeah, denim is so versatile and as a chair cover is very long-lasting. :)

  2. Another great idea Michele and a delightful bird design too.
    Ive recycled several old chairs, distressing their new paintwork and covering the seats with vintage fabrics but so far, hadn't used denim. May now have to try a denim version too lol

    1. Thanks Liniecat! Chair projects are so much fun because they're so quick and easy to do and you don't need a bunch of fancy stuff to do them, right?


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