Saturday, January 7, 2012

Quick & Easy Upholstery Tips

Yesterday I spent $35 and 3 hours going from this...


These are beloved pieces of furniture from my grandparents' homes, shared with me over the years by my parents. The oak rocking chair had been hiding in the attic, waiting for rescue. "Old pink," a comfy occasional chair was getting ratty, but it (kind of) worked when we had our old sofa.

However, we recently had an antique sofa and arm chair (originally belonged to my great-aunt, also came to us via my parents) reupholstered. Something about that shiny new gold upholstery just didn't go with the scruffy pink chair any more! Also, since our kids moved out last week, we rearranged a couple of rooms, and we needed another chair to fill in the living room. Time to haul the old rocking chair with its worn leather seat out of the attic.

How worn, you ask? Take a look. Sadly, this is way beyond vintage.
Happily, this kind of chair is easy-peasy to recover.

Turn the chair upside down and remove the seat. It will be held in place by screws in the corner. Just unscrew the screws, and the seat will come right off.

Then measure the seat, and add inches to go down around the sides + about 3 inches on every side to tuck in a the bottom.

Use a staple gun (electric or manual) to attach the fabric to the wood frame at the bottom of the seat. Sometimes I remove the old fabric/staples if there are lots of layers, but in this case I left the leather in place and just shaped my new fabric over the existing seat cushion.

 I attached the fabric at the sides first, same as the leather had been.

Corners can be tricky. Play with it different ways until you have a look you like. You can do a 45ยบ angle fold, or you can make a bunch of tiny pleats. Check to see how the original upholsterer did it. Be sure to pull the fabric tight as you're stapling, or it will be loosy-goosy on top when you're finished.

 Ta daaa!!
When you're finished stapling, trim the excess fabric and reinstall the seat with the screws.

"Old Pink" was a little trickier. I started with the seat, and kind of made it up as I went. Which is the point. Someday maybe I'll afford a real upholstery job on these pieces, but for now, at least I can use them and enjoy them! I promise that no one's going to notice the places where my less-than-professional upholstery skills are evident. No one is going to come into my house and turn my chairs upside down to notice all the funky stitching I did to pull everything tight, right?

 This time I didn't take the seat off. I snipped and folded the fabric to fit around the chair structure.
Then I turned it over and did a combination of stapling and stitching.

I stapled where I could, and where the stapler wouldn't fit, I ran long strands of upholstery thread (thicker than regular thread) criss-cross across the seat bottom. Like I said, no one is going to turn it over, right?

For the top of the chair, I cut one piece of fabric long enough for the front and back. I laid it over, inside out, and pinned the fabric to match the shape of the chair. Then I used my sewing machine to stitch up the sides according to my pin placement.

The sides taper in at the bottom, so I sewed the last bit by hand.

To finish off the bottom edge of the chair top, I first tacked the back piece to the old upholstery with a quick hand stitch.

Then I folded over the edge of the front piece and sewed it to the back by hand.

Oh, I love love love my pretty new living room! Thanks Mom and Dad for sharing the family furniture pieces with me!

But you don't have to have family heirlooms to tackle an upholstery project. Thrift store finds...or furniture that you bought new, but it's seen better days...can often be fixed with some ingenuity and a staple gun.

DO start with a simple project like my rocking chair. (DON'T start with a sofa.)
DO buy the heavier upholstery fabric. Mine was $9.99/yard at JoAnn Fabrics, and I used a couple of coupons to cut the price almost in half. (Thanks for the coupons, Polly!)
DO take someone to help you choose the fabric. There were so many pretty options! Thanks to my sweet hubby Mark for helping me make this great selection.
DO have courage! I really wasn't sure I could successfully cover the pink chair. But it has such classic lines that I wanted to try. I kept telling myself that if it didn't work, I had only wasted $35, not hundreds of dollars.
DO use the original upholstery as a guide.
And DO have fun!


Sarah said...

I see pictures of your house and I just can't picture it. I helped tear it apart all those years ago, but I still haven't seen the finished product.

Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Wow! What a difference. And I'm impressed it only took you 3 hours.

Katie Lewis said...

Great job, Mom!

Dorothy said...

It looks wonderful, Kathy! Way to go...keeping the memories, but making it lovely and useful, too!

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