Monday, March 30, 2015

Diving right in

Yards of pseudo ikat dots

We purchased what I like to call a "less little" house last year.  It's very similar to what we were living in (i.e. almost the same floor plan) with the notable exception that it has a second story.  It's been such a welcome adjustment. No one has a subterranean bedroom, we're closer to the school and the park and the closet space is epic for a home of this vintage.

One thing the prior owners left to us were a pair of 70's-ish wingback chairs.  Their silhouettes were classic, lines good, but fabric was worn and out of style.  I think the previous owners darling dog had claimed one of them as his own for a bit too.  They needed help and I figured what better upholstery experiment than on a piece that hadn't cost me much.  (Let's ignore that we had to buy a house in order to get these two chairs...)

Enter a birthday for the small fry.  She's got the perfect spot in her room for a chair and has a personal penchant for anything purple.  Off to the internet I went to research deconstructing a chair, and to shop for affordable purple fabric.  I hit the library up for a good book on upholstering and discovered that my handy husband had an air nailer that could be used to fire upholstery staples (big bonus)!

I took really detailed notes throughout the entire deconstruction.  My thought was that I would be able trace my way back through reupholstery by just working in reverse order.  And for the most part that worked.  (See the references below for some of the sources I used.)  I marked all the fabric panels with a sharpie and used an arrow to indicate the correct orientation on the finished chair. I was also really careful not to cut any of the pieces, as they were all repurposed as pattern pieces for the new material.

Hey, grubby old chair!
 I found some really interesting materials as I uncovered the chair, including this clever metal fastener strip that I was able to repurpose.  And thankfully, the chair's skeleton (woodwork, webbing and basic structural elements) were in really great shape.

Along the arched back.
 I was most nervous about finishing these arm end caps.  They are so prominent from a visual perspective and would demand really careful re-application.  Again, thankfully, the base materials that were used original chair were in good enough shape to be repurposed.

Original arm cap.
There was really a minimal amount of sewing associated with this project. Apart from reupholstering the seat cushion, there were very few seamed sections.  I did carefully break down the cushion as well and learned a few tricks about applying cording to a box pillow.  The zippers were reinforced well. On an interesting note… all the panels used to reinforce seams, create a stapling surface for long stretches, etc. were remnants from other upholstery fabric.  It was a funny archive of fabrics of the time.

Seat cushion zipper reinforcement.
I took my time with the arm caps.  They were broken down easily and consisted of a heavyweight fiberboard core and were outlined with piped cording.  The original was stapled together, but I ended up taking my time and hand-stitched it back together.  I did add a bit of quilt batting to the face as the original was a little thin after I disassembled it. (Tea and chocolate helped.)

Arm cap success… now to just replace it.
 Once all the fabric was removed from the chair, I cut similarly shaped cotton quilt batting to reline the interior surfaces.  When I removed the fabric, the cotton batts were pulled apart a bit and I was a little worried about the finished surface being bumpy under the upholstery fabric.

At this point, only the cushion was done.
 Disassembly and reupholstery ended and started (respectively) on the interior surfaces of the chair.  The first part that was replaced was the interior seat. Replacing that was one of the more tenuous jobs.  There was a nylon cord that was woven through the seam of the seat and stapled to the exterior to the frame to keep the chair bottom from coming loose.  Thankfully it was replaced fairly easily, and so far, there is no evidence that the tension is too tight.

Starting to see what the new chair
might look like.
Pardon the fluorescent lights.  
 The materials I used were pretty straightforward.  I found the fabric online at quite a discount.  $8 per yard, I think…  I bought a box of upholstery staples, new cotton cording, some new tack strip and the rubber mallet you see below.  That mallet is so fun.  I really couldn't have done the job without it.  It helped me get fabrics folded neatly into that metal finishing strip and to replace the arm caps.  It was also kind of therapeutic to bang it around.

Rubber mallet!!!
 The wings and back finished edges were both lined by this metal stripping. I actually removed it as carefully as I could and repurposed it because I though it was such ingenious stuff, and I had no romantic ideas about hammering in hundreds of upholstery tacks.  (No thank you.)  Unfortunately, I can't tell you where to buy it.  I salvaged it all and took care to bend it straight again and make all the "teeth" stand up before using it to refinish the edges.

Exterior wing and arm.
 The finished chair was a huge hit.  Our girl loves it.  It's become a favorite reading spot and it felt so good to not throw something away and breathe some new life into it.  She had a great birthday, complete with cake and friends and a few new Legos to build.  And I had a great time taking on something new.


References: This youtube video about breaking down the existing chair.  This invaluable reference from the library. And this reference for fabric quantities.


  1. WOW! I cannot believe you did this! It looks AWESOME!

    1. Thanks Molly! It was fun… although I'm going to wait a bit to take on the second one.