Barrel Chair Slipcover: How to Pin Fit a Smooth Inner Back

Learn how to pin-fit fabric smoothly on the inner back of your barrel chair. Follow these easy steps to create a slipcover that hugs the curve without fitting too tight.

Blue denim slipcover pinned on barrel back chair.

This week I’m slipcovering an upholstered barrel back chair in blue jean denim. Before I finish up the project, I wanted to share a few photos and tips for pin-fitting the curves, specifically the scooped-out inner back.

Black barrel chair sitting on risers.

The chair I’m working with is a classic barrel shape. The curved inner back is centered between the curved inner arm seams and rolls over the top to the curved back.

Black barrel chair view of top curve.

It can be quite challenging to cut and pin the fabric to lay smoothly over these curved shapes. Fabric will fight you every step of the way. It wants to drape flat but can’t because the curves force it to pull and bunch up.

The best way to pin-fit the fabric smoothly is by using relief cuts. Here’s how I did it on the inner back section of my barrel chair.

NOTE: I used the right side out pin fit method for this project.

Blue fabric draped over barrel back chair.

Step 1:

Center the fabric over the inner back right side out.

Smooth and pin it to the chair. Place your straight pins down the center first and then in a few spots to the left and right of the center.

Blue fabric folded over inner back of barrel chair.

Step 2:

Starting on the left side, fold back the fabric so it lines up with the inner arm seam.

I marked the arm seam with pins so it would show up in the photo. You don’t have to do this on your chair.

The folded edge will NOT follow the seam curve. That’s normal. Don’t force it. For now, make sure the folded section is smooth and flat.

Making relief cuts on blue fabric over a chair.

Step 3:

Next, find the spot where the fold touches the inner arm seam. Make your first relief cut. Stop the cut ½ inch away from the fold.

Relief cuts are used to shape the fabric around a curve. They allow the fabric to relax so it can be smoothed easily.

Blue fabric on barrel chair inner back pinned and cut.

Step 4:

Continue making relief cuts along the inner arm seam as needed.

I spaced the cuts approximately every 2 inches apart on this chair. The spacing on your chair might vary depending on the shape of the arm curve.

As the fabric relaxes, smooth it over the inner back towards the arm seam and the upper back. Pin it to the chair to hold it in place.

Repeat the pin and cut process on the right inner arm seam.

Blue denim chair slipcover top view of curve.

Here’s what the inner back looks like pinned smoothly to the inner arm seams and outer back seam. The fabric follows the curved shape without pulling or bunching.

For a barrel chair with a tighter or broader curved inner back, add a seam down the center for extra shaping. This will help the fabric relax across the curve, and relief cuts can be used where needed.

That’s it for this post! I hope you picked up a few helpful pin fit tips and are feeling encouraged to tackle the curves with confidence. — Karen

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  1. I need to cover a good condition leather club chair to protect it from my cat. Do you have a solution when you cannot use pins?

  2. You make it look so easy Karen! I reupholstered a barrel back chair once and it was so challenging! As always, your instructions are top-notch!

  3. Hi Karen — I’ve been making slipcovers for years and have always used the pattern method. I’m definitely going to try your right side out pin-to-fit method! I would like to know — when you cover a pair of identical chairs, do you pin-fit each one separately? Or is there a shortcut for the second chair? Like using the first chair pieces as patterns for the second chair? Thanks so much for your great tutorials — I’m so glad I found your website!

    1. Hi Kim! I’m so glad you found me! I typically use the first chair pieces as patterns for the second chair. However, some of my clients anticipate needing another set of slipcovers later on. So if that’s the case, I will pattern one chair with natural canvas and then cut two slipcovers at one time. The natural canvas becomes a reusable pattern.

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