Tag Archives: upholstery

My chair

I got my grandparent’s c. 1939 club chair  and ottoman over 15 years ago, intending to make a new slip cover within a year or so…

It is where I knit and sew by hand (usually while watching TV), read, and occasionally nap. It’s the one piece of furniture that the dog isn’t allowed on (though he doesn’t always agree), and I feel I have a right to boot the other household member off (it’s also the spot with the brightest light in the room).

It showed up here once already when we finally moved out of the too-long held storage locker – and it’s a beast, but N thusfar has moved it with seemingly little effort, but with follow-up of ibuprofen and tiger balm…

My mom states the original fabric was something like a mohair velvet in dark green, then it was reupholstered in a nubby boucle, also in a dark green?, then my aunt had it rebuilt and reupholstered in the ’70s (or maybe early ’80s) in a loosely woven rust-colored acrylic, then finally, my mom had a professional slipcover (seen above) made for it in the early 1990s. I never liked the slipcover – too stodgy? or maybe because I’m just not a fan of navy? But it worked in their house, and it never looked horribly out of place in ours, until it finally became utterly threadbare and faded. The rust fabric underneath actually works fine in our room, but it is heavily pilled and continues to do so even after grooming, and is a fiber/dog/people hair and dust horder.

I stocked up on a few upholstery-appropriate fabrics around 15 years ago as well, both for this chair and my old sofa, though all were various remnants and/or one-of-a-kind bits from other’s stashes found at thrifts and such. Originally I had a floral faux barkcloth and complementary orange velveteen stuff picked out for this, but I was about a yard too short on both, (or I still have and like this woven orange) but we’ve ended up with a muted, earthy color scheme in the living room at the moment, so I narrowed it down to two browns:

The folded-ish wad on the right is actually a fabric I like – a nice woven with several shades of brown – but I didn’t want to “waste” it since it was over 7 yards and could still be used to cover that old sofa. And the other is a medium to heavy weight cotton canvas in a faded tobacco-spit color.

But to rewind for a moment – I wanted a nice well-fitting professional slipcover – I can sew, I can use a sewing machine, but I can’t fit, or rather have the patience and determination to make things fit. So I called around to some reupholsterers who said reupholstering would be cheaper than slipcovering (it wasn’t), then I called some seamstresses whose rates were reasonable, but they wanted the chair in their shop* (renting a truck or paying an additional fee), and preferred I buy their preferred fabric (limited choices and $$$ – and I get that’s so they don’t have to sew with shit and the customer gets angry if it doesn’t hold up). And I sat on this for a bit – the chair is worth it – it’s in perfect condition structurally, has built-in nostalgia, is timeless, and the most comfortable piece of furniture I’ve ever had – but – dog. And flying bits of fiber. And coffee cups on arms. And not realizing my knuckle is bleeding. And the internal workings and foam cushion are fine now, but I can see the need to replace/repair them in another 5-10-15 years so it will need a full treatment in the future anyway.

So then I shopped for pre-fab slipcovers – I won’t go into the weeds about finding them for the chair but not the ottoman, or the ottoman but not the chair, then nearly settling on one boring drab sage-green (other choice was chino-khaki – no, or white – no) for the chair and resigning myself to sewing one for the ottoman out of a complementary fabric and making a cushion for the chair out of the same, and all could be done for around $50…

But why spend $50 when you don’t have to, and get a temporary cover that won’t fit right and annoy you, when you can make that shit yourself and have the same annoyance and not be $50 richer either?

So before most projects, even though I can flip the suck it up buttercup switch and get it done, there must be a self-sabotaging period of procrastination. This one involved sewing machine choices. I wanted to use the hand-cranked machine, but it was still sluggish and I figured it needed to be fully dismantled and cleaned and greased-up, but I’d never done that before, (and I found and lost and ordered? and lost the spool pin for it) so in the interim, I ordered heavy-duty needles and thread and forgot to order machine grease.

Those came, so I opened up the innards, saw everything was sticky and blackened, wondered what else I could buy to make it worth my while for a trip out, or order of grease, and tried to watch a video about properly cleaning old machines, but said fuck it and doused the whole shebang with oil.

It worked.

So in theory I was ready to sew, but I still didn’t know if I had enough fabric. (I think it was just 5 yards, but wide ones, and I lost the paper I jotted it down.) So I cut out chunks roughly the size of the parts. It seemed that I had exactly enough (minus the seat part that would always be covered). I tried using the old slipcover as a pattern and marked and measured for about 3 minutes, but that’s tedious, so I just started pinning shit together and sewing as I went.

That worked surprisingly well, though I had to remember left vs. right shit on the arms, but I didn’t have to pick out a single stitch, so that deserved a triumphant lap (or lying on my back on the floor until the light noticeably shifted). I used what was trimmed off of a too-long curtain for the seat part, and got good use out of a fancy letter-opener for turning out corners.

Somehow I got through it – start to finish on a weekend (probably 3-day weekend) – the hemming in place was probably the worst part and shredded my fingers and back ligaments. There was a moment of staple gunning on the side panels, but it had no purchase, so a few pieces got sewn to the chair, and it fails as a removable, washable slipcover.

A newly covered pillow rounded everything out, and yes, I didn’t bother ironing the fabric when my back will eventually do that job, and yes, the ottoman has nipples, but my heels will eventually smash those down too.

I’m still not happy with the color (I wanted something in the muted aqua/dirty teal/not quite forest families), and it still looks like its wearing a somewhat baggy slipcover even though it isn’t, but it’s not preppy/nautical/90s faded threadbare anymore, so that’s what counts and that’s what it will be until I get around to getting it reupholstered for real in a few more decades…

*When my mom got the navy slipcover, a woman went out to their rural house, took a shitton of measurements, and came back with a perfectly fitting cover with strategically placed zippers a short time later. The cover has been washed and dried and abused and still fit like a glove decades later. She knew her shit.

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Perhaps this one is one too many…

The last time I got a mid century chair on the cheap we actually needed it despite my slight chair collecting issue, but I stated that any more after that would be unnecessary.

I now have an unnecessary chair – though it isn’t quite, it’s more of an aspirational piece – meant to go in a corner of my workroom that is currently the home of a tall stack of quilt batting, large cuts for quilt backs, upholstery fabric, a couple of old quilts and bedspreads, and this still unfinished quilt.

(When arranged neatly, this stack can serve as a sort of chair in its own right, but things encased in plastic storage bags tend to squirt out of the middle.)

The chair can’t go there until there is another space freed for the aforementioned pile which means a small closet or several tubs of supplies needs to be emptied/disposed of/made into something/sold first.

But a few months ago this chair caught my eye – it was only $10 – but with newfound minimalist resolve, I passed it by…

another-chair-restore

But then it was still there weeks later, and half off, and in my hands without a thought.

(That glorious and giant coral formica table was still there too, but too big for my hands, and finally gone by the time our last visit.)

I liked the bright plaid cover – it was something I’d probably have chosen in the late 60s? too, but it was threadbare in parts and a bit too acrylic. So I went digging for the original cover knowing I’d likely need to reupholster anyway.

another chair-worn cover

And the original cloth was revealed to be a pleasant nubby tan/gold – it was in decent condition but a bit stained, and I decided to re-cover it rather than try to clean it.

another chair-old & new cover

I still had that lovely large sample piece of grey and yellow linen (or linen and silk? blend) that I considered for the last chair, and I decided to use it on this one – I think it looks pretty damn period appropriate if I do say so myself – and depending on the light, it looks green too.

I added another layer of cotton batting on top first to make it slightly more comfortable and protect the original fabric.

another chair-rocco roll

And discovered that my plan to be able to lay out large quilts for basting on the wide open basement floor will be foiled/spoiled by the dog – he loves to roll on anything new. It’s likely an undesirable behavior – perhaps marking to claim as his, but it’s cute and I’ll take any time he seems to be having fun rather than expressing rage.

(And all the more reason I regret not getting the giant coral table…)

I always get very mildly grossed out when seeing images of people’s pets lying on their fresh knitting/sewing/projects – thinking about hair, poop paws, ticks, burs, poison ivy oils – being deposited even on microscopic levels, but like with babies (I’d imagine) it’s less gross when they’re yours, right?

(But if this was something I was making to sell, I would keep him away from it – he’s banned from my tiny upstairs work/stash room, mostly for his own safety.)

another chair-bottom

I left the old peeking out from the new, and in less than 20 minutes, I had a freshly re-covered but currently purposeless chair.

another chair-done

But there’s still room in the basement for it, right?

another chair-in basement

(Actually, this new chair ended up where the last chair was and the last chair is now in this spot in the basement and looks good – like it belongs – so I suppose I haven’t quite filled my chair quota yet, right?)

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Cheers for chairs

I have a slight problem with obtaining chairs. We don’t yet have more than we can use, but perhaps one more would be unnecessary.

There’s an awesome antique mall in a rust belt near ghost town on the way to visiting my family. We used to live close enough to it that it would be a fun weekend day trip. We both, however, drive sedans – N’s is fairly large, so a chair or two can fit in the back seat, and mine is small and can fit one small chair, but it’s also an old beater, so we’ve had no qualms about strapping a huge old oak library table to its roof among other near impossible things.

On our way back from this past Thanksgiving travels we stopped in. I was very close to obtaining another small rocking chair, a “sewing chair” that was similar to this one I got a few years ago:

chair-sewing

That I use as my spinning chair and re-covered in a lovely (and once expensive) vintage linen sample that came from an estate sale.

But then we spotted a homely mid-century chair for the whopping price of $12.00 in the basement. The basement in parts, is a dim and dank place. Good things have come from this basement, but far better things have had to be left behind due to our vehicle limitations, or the expense of renting the van to haul it home. We sort of needed a chair for the guest room/N’s study, and I didn’t need another little chair, so we considered it. The wood seemed like it was likely walnut, but it was covered in a dark streaky stuff. There was a ghastly 1980s wedgewood blue and peach dot fabric covering the seat, but in the dim light I was able to see that there was a plaid cover underneath and thought it could be the original – possibly a wool blend in black and white and red.

chair-first cover

N set out to strip the unfortunate goop off of the wood.

chair-before

And I began to pry off the nasty insipid fabric to unveil the “original” upholstery.

chair-three covers

Only in better light, I saw that it was a nasty 1970s acrylic brown and orange and gold and barely perceptible mint green thing. And likely the top layer of dark “stain” or goop was poorly applied to the wood then too.

chair-second cover

So I pried the staples off that one and got down to the original cloth.

chair-original cover

A black and brown plaid chenille-like fabric in surprisingly good condition.

But though I was pleased with finding the original seat in perfectly usable condition, it felt too dark for our house and didn’t show off the freshly restored walnut well.

So I hit our town’s shop that sells used/excess art supplies and got some more upholstery/drapery samples.

chair-after

In the end, the one that worked best and N liked the most – a nice linen – doesn’t quite match the era of the chair, but it works well enough. I’ve also got some solid-colored but nubby-textured linen and silk blend samples that look spot-on for the time should we wish to change it or sell the chair eventually. This fabric was probably meant for drapes and likely not especially hard-wearing, but it won’t be used too often and it is easy enough to change.

And the original cover is still safe and sound and protected.

Now it needs a little pillow perhaps…

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