And no I have never actually recovered a chair before. I did however read a how-to article about how to do it and it seemed fairly easy. And at least I have two chairs – so if I mess up one…
An excerpt from the article and a link to photos of the process is at the end:
Collins started by taking her chair’s measurements – back, arms, seat. She transferred the measurements to her fabric, leaving a bit of extra fabric allowance as Shelton advised.
Next, she tackled the toughest part of any furniture reupholstery project: stripping off the old materials. Using a pronged tool and a hammer, she removed each of the decorative gold tacks holding the vinyl covering in place. It was painstaking work that took most of a four-hour class period. As the vinyl peeled off the seat, secrets the old chair had been harboring for years came tumbling out: plastic chips from a game, a puzzle piece, safety pins, a paper clip, popcorn and an orange “admit one” movie ticket.
What lies beneath
Once the cover was off, Collins could remove old stuffing: horsehair and cotton batting. Shelton says older pieces of furniture often used processed horse or pig hair for cushioning, while more modern pieces may contain synthetic foam. Some of the stuffing materials will be re-used, but Collins will also add some batting to plump up the chair.
She can keep the main zigzag-shaped springs in the seat, but a series of smaller springs will go.
“They don’t do anything but make noise,” Shelton says. Instead, Collins threaded twine between the main springs to produce firmer – and squeak-free – seating.
Strips of jute webbing across the seat back were stapled in place – three vertical strips, one horizontal strip woven between them. Collins covered the springs and back with stuffing – re-using some of the old materials and adding new ones. Finally, the back and seat stuffing were covered with scrap fabric.
A chair is born
With a power stapler, Collins attached her new fabric, piece by piece, to the chair’s wooden frame. With Shelton’s help, she cut the fabric to fit around the chair’s corners, pleating where needed.
Shelton showed her how to first smooth out stuffing, then staple fabric in place. Excess fabric was tucked into seams or was trimmed off.
Collins stapled braided cord along the outlines of the chair frame. Shelton explained that not only would it add a decorative touch, it would also act as a bumper to keep the furniture’s sharp edges from knocking into a wall.
Collins used workshop tools to cover buttons in her chair fabric, then sewed the buttons to the seat back with a giant needle.
“Buttons have a purpose,” Shelton explains. “They’re not just decorative. They help form the seat back for your shoulders and lower back.”
The chair’s skirt was constructed using six pages of instructions that Shelton developed. She hopes to have her secret skirt method published in an upholstery journal.
Using a curved needle and thread, Collins sewed the skirt to the seat fabric. Stitches hid behind the braided cord.
When she finished, other students gathered to admire Collins’ work.
But Collins was already thinking about her next project.
“I’m totally hooked,” she says.
Photo gallery of Wendy Collins creating her new chair.
LEARN HOW TO DO IT YOURSELF
The next session of Alyce Shelton’s upholstery class at Bates Technical College starts in September. Students can choose from a daytime or evening class.
The cost for one 14-week session is $315 (a slight increase from this year).
For information on how to register, call 253-680-7300.
THE COST OF A MAKEOVER
Here’s what Wendy Collins paid for materials to reupholster her chair.
• Old armchair: free
• Green chenille fabric: $13
• Braided cord: $10.50
• Striped accent fabric: $11
• Cotton and polyester batting: $1
• Class time (at about $21 per class): $63
TOTAL COST: $98.50
“Singer Upholstery Basics,” Creative Publishing International, $16.95 (1997)