Monday, January 20, 2014

Recover a chair? Yes, you can!

My husband and I got married while we were still in college and had no money. We went to school full time, worked part time, and had a lot of fun making do with what we had. Our second apartment was a "furnished" basement--the living room had formerly been a laundry room and had a large drain in the middle of the sloping, concrete floor--and the furniture was scary to say the least. I got permission from the landlord to recover the seat and back cushions on the two wooden arm chairs which were upholstered in orange burlap, and my career as a very amateur re-upholsterer began. (I should note that we couldn't afford to buy fabric, so I dyed some white, wide wale corduroy that my mother had given me--blue, if I remember correctly, to match the raveling, un-padded shag carpet remnant that was thrown over the drain.)

My most recent attempts at recovering furniture were making new covers for two glider rockers, one that belonged to my parents. . .

DIY: Recover a glider

. . . and another that Laurel picked up for free on Craig's List for her nursery. If you are interested in trying an upholstery project, this type of chair is a good one to begin with because the cushions are removable, and you don't have to deal with stretching fabric over a frame. I will try to walk you through it. I'm not sure my instructions will tell you absolutely everything you need to know; mostly it involves taking apart a fabric puzzle and putting it back together again. My goal is to urge you to give it a try. You can do it!

Step 1: Take pictures of the chair as it is so that once everything is torn apart you can refer back to what it is supposed to look like. Snap pictures from all angles, especially if there is something about it that is unusual--eg. the padded arm cushions on Laurel's rocker. Here is the "before" picture:

Step 2: One piece at a time, carefully unpick the old covers. Be sure to save every piece; these will be the patterns for your new covers. I actually pinned a label to each piece--"seat cushion bottom," for example. (The labels came in very handy on the tricky arm cushions.) Be sure to note and mark any pleats or places where you will be sewing in a zipper or sewing on ties or buttons--anything that is unusual. Then you can transfer the markings to the new fabric when you cut it out. Laurel's chair has both ties and buttons. Check out zippers, piping and other accessories; you may be able to reuse them. I was able to reuse all of the foam cushions.

Step 3: Using the old pieces as a guide, figure out how much fabric you will need. Basically, just measure the pieces, do the math, and add some extra (because my math is sometimes sketchy). Upholstery fabric is typically between 54 and 60 inches wide. We had a little left over, and Laurel plans to use it to accessorize the room. If you are nervous about how much to buy, there are on-line guides, and often the cutter at the fabric store can be helpful if you show her a picture. If you are a beginner, I suggest you use a solid fabric or a print that doesn't require matching. Avoid stripes and plaids, for example. The fabrics I used for both rockers were outdoor upholstery fabrics. Outdoor fabrics work well in nurseries because they are heavy duty and clean up easily.

Step 4: Spread out your new fabric--I usually do it on the floor--and carefully pin the old pieces on to the new, the wrong side of the old piece on top of the right side of the new fabric. Carefully cut out the pieces and transfer any markings you have made. (You can buy tailor's chalk for this purpose, but I often use a white or colored pencil depending on the fabric.)

Step 5: Unpin your pattern pieces; don't throw anything away yet.

Step 6: Using the ones that you have unpicked from the old covers as a guide, cut and sew the fabric ties for the cushion seat. Pin them to the cushion and sew them in place. Pin the two seat pieces together, right sides together.

Step 7: Make sure that you have an upholstery needle--size 16 for my Viking--in your sewing machine. I used regular thread, but I double stitched all my seams to reinforce them. You should be able to tell from the old pieces how wide to make your seams. Mine were about 5/8". Starting at an unobtrusive place at the back of the seat cushion, begin sewing around the cushion cover. Back stitch at the beginning and end of the seam and sew most of the way around the cover but leave a large enough gap to insert the cushion.

Step 8: Make tiny clips into the seam, but not through the stitching, around curves. Trim off the extra fabric on any corners. When you turn the fabric, this step will make the seams smoother and the corners sharper.

Step 9: Turn the cushion cover right side out, smoothing out curves and poking out corners for a crisp look.

Step 10: Stuff in the cushion and squoosh it around until it looks nice.

Step 11: Pin the gap closed and stitch it shut. This is probably the most difficult step. My parent's rocker had zippers, but this one was simply sewn across the gap. I just had to manhandle the cushion back far enough to squeeze the fabric under the presser foot. You can sew it by hand if you prefer.

Step 12: Repeat steps 6-11 for the back cushion.

Step 13: Laurel's chair has button detailing on the back cushion. We could have purchased buttons, but we chose to cover our own. You can buy metal buttons that come with the all the tools you need as well as easy-to-follow instructions. I sewed them in place using a lot of thread and a long upholstery needle.

Step 13: Tie the cushions in place.

One of the fun features of Laurel's glider is the detached footrest.

All that we had to do was remove the staples on the underside (harder than it sounds--we broke a couple of tools), use the old fabric as a guide to cut new, and re-staple it. Having two people made it easier to stretch the fabric taut. Note how we gently pleated the fabric around the corners:

Unlike my parent's chair, Laurel's glider has arm pads and pockets which gave us some additional challenges. The original ones attached to the chair with snaps that were actually part of the chair frame, and we couldn't find fabric snaps to match them. So we ignored the snaps and used upholstery tacks to attach the pads and cover the unneeded snaps on the frame. Here are a few pictures of putting the arm pads together:

Step 14: Sit down and enjoy!