Making the Old New Again

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Chair before. Wish is was a clearer photo.

I am proud to say that I have completed a major upholstery project.

We have had a pair of chairs in our family room for quite a few years. They belonged to my late mother in law and were manufactured in the 1950’s by Jamestown Lounge, a hometown furniture company. My mother in law had them professionally reupholstered in the early 1980’s, shortly before my husband and I got married. He claims they had been done at least once before that, as well, having been pretty well used and abused when he and his brother were kids.

When we inherited these chairs the fabric was outdated and already somewhat worn looking. But they were comfortable and fit well in our smallish room. So I immediately started looking around for fabric. Two years ago, I found a print I liked in a rusty red paisley with just a hint of green that went perfectly with the wall colors in our room. I bought the fabric, brought it home, and looked at it. I looked at it for a long time. Two years is a long time. But it took me that long to muster up the courage to cut that lovely piece of fabric. You don’t get a second chance when cutting fabric.

My husband offered a couple of times to have them sent out to be professionally done. Two things held me back: I did not want to spend the money on professional reupholstering, and I really wanted to try it myself. Then, finally, when one of the backs of the old chairs started to come apart, I knew it was time to begin this project.

Here’s a short list of my previous furniture projects. I have refinished a dresser and shelf unit, and six antique chairs we found at a junk shop. Those chairs had no seats, so I cut some of plywood and made upholstered seats for them. That was many years ago. Since then I have upholstered a bench seat, another chair seat, and built a headboard from plywood and upholstered that. I have also slipcovered a sofa, but that’s not the same as upholstering. Even with all that experience, reupholstering a pair of chairs was daunting. It’s all the curves that concerned me.

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The chairs after. What a difference!

I enlisted help from my mother to get the fabric laid out so the pattern would line up properly. She has never upholstered but is an expert seamstress and very good with fabric layout and matching designs. We used the pieces I had removed from one existing chair as patterns, allowing for some minor changes since I wanted to eliminate the buttons and create smooth seams along the inside back.

Since I am far from an expert on this subject, I will offer a few tips for upholstery beginners:

  • You will learn a lot when you take apart your old upholstered piece. Watch carefully to see how pieces were put together: were they stitched, tacked, or stapled? Take pictures and take notes if you need to.
  • Give yourself time to take each piece apart carefully. You will want the old fabric pieces intact to create a pattern for the new pieces, and you may be able to re-use batting, foam, or other items as you go.
  • The last piece you take off will be the first piece you replace. Essentially, your reassembly will happen in reverse order that you took the fabric off.
  • Use heavy duty upholstery thread and a heavy duty needle on your machine. And invest in an electric staple gun. I bought one after the first chair was complete and am now wishing I had bought it years ago.
  • Don’t rush the job. It’s okay to read online tutorials about reupholstering in a single day, but if this is your first job it will take a lot longer. Getting it right is more important than doing it quickly, since you’ll be looking at that piece of furniture in your home for quite a while. I would guess that I have about 60 hours into this twin chair project, and that represents quite a few weekends and evenings.

If your sewing skills are half decent, you know how to use a hammer and staple gun, and have a little ingenuity, you can do this. I took some books out of the library and watched a number of online tutorials before embarking on this project.

It would probably help if you were a very patient person. On a scale of one to ten my patience level is about a minus two, but my level of persistence is about a plus twelve, which makes up for the lack of patience.

So this is not a tutorial, but it is meant to be an encouragement. There is nothing like the feeling you get from having accomplished a task yourself, especially one that is a little challenging.

Oh, and if you stop over, don’t look too closely or you will definitely find the flaws in my chairs.  But do take a seat.  They are pretty comfortable.

 

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