Sunday, February 28, 2016

How to re-upholster a chair in 2 weekends: part 1

Recently I've been inspired to upholster everything I see... especially chairs! Why chairs? Well they're versatile; can be used alone, in a group, in any room. They're low commitment; inexpensive, quick to finish. And they're easy to find; estate sales, thrift shops, flea markets. I've done 3 in a row (each project lasting about 2 weekends), and so now that I'm starting to get into a real rhythm I though I'd share my process!

My process falls into 4 main phases:

  1. Find and plan
  2. Tear down and prep
  3. Sew and upholster
  4. Assemble and finish

Step 1: Find and Plan

The search is so much fun! Sometimes I'm inspired by something I've seen online or in a shop, but most of the time I'm just out and about when: OMG there it is! The worst, ugliest, oldest, grimiest thing that is just begging to be new again. The best part about this is that, generally speaking, these are the pieces that no one else wants... meaning you get them at deep deep discounts. I'm talking $5-15 for a wing back chair that needs nothing more than new fabric. 

Note: This is the key, get chairs that have only cosmetic issues. Unless you happen to be a wood worker, or like to replace/restring springs, my advice is to really inspect the chair before you take it home. 

Now, plan the makeover! Going online for inspiration is always a great idea, but I also like to tie in the history of the item if I can. That may mean finding a retro pattern fabric, from the same time period (or at least inspired by), or it could mean accents like nail heads or fancy trims. 

Ready to gather materials! There are 2 things you will need to gather: materials and tools. 
In order to get the materials, first you need to know how much you will need...Inspect the chair to see how it was upholstered in the first place, then measure the approximate height and width of each piece (adding about 6 inches to accommodate for what you can't see). Remember to include things like piping, and other finishings. Now based on the width of the fabric you want to use, you can determine an amount to buy. If you do any sewing, you'll know that you also need to take the print direction into account when determining the amount of fabric you will need. In addition to fabric, remember to consider things like muslin or burlap, and batting, if you think you will need to replace the batting in your chair (I always do!). You may also need piping cord, if your chair has that detail, and zippers for seat cushions (they can be difficult to repurpose). 

Tools can be simple or professional, it's up to you. I would suggest investing in (at least) an electric stapler if you are going to be doing this more than once. Other than that you may already have what you need: heavy duty stapler (and lots of staples), a small hammer, screwdriver or stapler remover, needle nose pliers, utility knife, and face mask/goggles.

Step 2: Tear down and prep

OK, here's where the hard work starts! Depending on the chair you choose, and who worked on it before you, the effort needed here can vary wildly. In my example, the chair is small and only partially upholstered. In addition, upon inspections they've used upholstery tacks (small short nails) in most places instead of staples. The tacks tend to be really easy to take out, vs. staples which can be a real challenge sometimes just because of how many tend to be used. 
Be very careful and deliberate while removing each section of fabric. This is important for 2 reasons; one reason is safety, the other is that you want to record how this item is put together. Typically, chairs are upholstered from the inside front to the outside back. Meaning that the seat, arms, and backrest are upholstered before the outside arm panels and back of chair.
When tearing down, you'll want to go in the opposite order, taking note of the pieces and the order they're removed. This can serve as a time saving guide when your ready to begin re-upholstering. Of course if you're planning to do something dramatically different with your chair, this may not important.
Once the fabric is removed, you can fully assess the padding and foam. I don't generally have to replace the foam, but I will replace the padding just for the fact that is likely carrying years (or decades) of dust and who-knows-what. You should also check the frame to be sure that the joints and everything else looks good. In the case of my chair, I'm also going to do some sanding, and prep for painting.

Well that sounds like a lot of work, but it can all be accomplished in one day, or one weekend... if you're motivated ;D
Next time, we'll begin the rebuild!

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