Monday, September 23, 2013

Life Lessons of recovering thrift store chairs...

Do you ever find something at the resale shop and see the potential hidden under the layers of dust and bad upholstery? Can you you bring that gem home and really turn it into the vintage masterpiece it could be? Will you?? I found out the hard way what it takes to turn the ugly into the unique, but I lived to tell about it and to share what I learned in the process so your reupholstery project will go much more smoothly than mine did.

I found these chairs at my favorite Cincinnati thrift shop and immediately noticed the lovely, smooth and nearly perfect wood backs. I knew the copper legs would match my 1950's upcycled copper kitchen cabinets too. But then there were the hideous yellow vinyl replacement seat cushions. I know these chairs once had lovely wood seats to match the backs, but clearly it had long been replaced with this horrible yellow stuff that was disintigrating and stained. I almost walked away but after a few laps around the store, couldn't resist. I snapped them up for $5 a piece and took them home to be transformed. I'm a professional clothing designer and quite familiar with patterns--this should be easy-peasy, right?


After bringing them home, I removed the seats right away and threw the horrible foam and vinyl straight in the trash. Then the chairs were banished to the basement indefinitely until time and inspiration would allow me to finish them.

My First Lesson:
Three months later, after the wettest spring in Cincinnati memory, my beautiful wood backed chairs were resurrected from the basement, but now covered in a thin layer of mildew. I was heartbroken to realize that the lovely finish was ruined. We Googled solutions to removing the mildew and decided to wash them with dishsoap, this worked well but the varnish completely disappeared.  Never fear, my super helpful husband rubbed several coats of the same oil we coated our new wood kitchen counter top with into the wooden chairbacks. Several coats rubbed into the surface gave the wood a beautiful deep finish without the glossy shine of varnish, perfect!

My Second Lesson:
New foam proved to be insanely expensive at the local fabric store so I got online and found this company that will cut your seats to size and also offers several choices in density and thickness. I ordered 4" foam at a cost of $5 per seat.  When the foam arrived I was shocked to see that I had ordered them way to thick. They looked absurdly tall on the seat--what was I thinking?? I had to shave an inch off the top with my trusty electric carving knife. I will tell you that this was not an easy process and pretty time consuming.  At this point I was really frustrated with how complicated this "simple" project had become.

The fabric choice for the seats gave me some anxiety too. I can't afford to spend a fortune on them and let's face it, my children are not easy on my furniture. I decided that vinyl was my only logical option and started scouring the internet. I found this black textured option at my favorite source for down pillow fills. It's beautiful, sophisticated and doesn't have that shiny-cheap vinyl look. And at $10 per yard, it was within budget.

To cover these seats I would need 1 top piece of fabric and 1 piece to wrap all the way around the seat and wrap under the seat where it will be stapled to the base. To figure out how much fabric I would need I measured the size of the wood seat base front to back and side to side. then the circumference of the base, and the depth of the foam. Here is the formula I used:

Front to back and side to side, square the size regardless of actual shape, mine was 15 x 15" add 1/2" all the way around for seam allowance. Then the circumference of the seat which was 55" + 1/2" seam allowance at ends= 56" long by 3" (depth of foam) plus 2 1/2" for pulling under and seam allowance.  So I knew I needed 6 squares at 16" x 16" and 6 long pieces at 56" x 5 1/2"

I drew a rough sketch of the fabric to figure out how much I would need to order:

From this I knew that I needed at least 2.66 yards so I ordered 3 yards.

After the fabric arrived I traced the shape of the seat base onto a large sheet of paper and added 1/2" all the way around the edges for seam allowance. After cutting out the pattern, I then traced it directly onto the back (the wrong side) of the fabric. The long edge pieces I drew onto the fabric with my yard stick.

Lesson Number Three:
After sewing all of the fabric covers together and leaving the bottom open, I stuffed the foam into each seat cover. The foam has pointy corners but i just ignored those and stuffed them in. They filled out each corner nicely and took on the shape of the sewn seat cover. Then I pushed the wood seat base into the cover and totally panicked!

This is the point where I realized that the wood seat bases were actually 2 different sizes! I had used the small seat base as my pattern and now the other 4 seats were too big for my covers. But again my super laid back, handy husband calmly took my seats out to the garage and trimed them down to fit with a jigsaw, yay! Always check the sizes of every seat before cutting and sewing!

As you may know, these 'great thrift store finds' are often a great deal of learning and frustration. I'm pleased with myself for battling through the Life Lessons and sticking the project out to the finish because I really do love them!

- Jenifer

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