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upholstery class

Upholstery class – week #3…..and redecorating!

Well not a huge update this week, other than the fact that this was the last class and I DIDN’T FINISH MY CHAIR! I guess it’s not that big of a deal, as a couple ladies in my class were taking it for the second time and one was taking it a third time (although she was working on a pair of channel-backed chairs, which is quite difficult). So even though I hoped to finish it in three weeks, I’ll be signing up for one more round.

Adding more batting to the seat

Adding more batting to the seat

The first step was to add more batting to the seat bottom. I wanted the seat to sit up higher, and other than just making the cushion fatter, this will help beef it up. Then I had to put new batting on the arm and “reshape” it because of the snack my mom’s dogs had made of it. IMG_4120

At that point I was ready to start on the sides. My instructor did some magical calculations about how what size the piece of fabric needed to be. I really don’t understand how he came up with it, probably because too much MATH was involved, but however he did it, it was the right size. I was given this tool to push the IMG_4121fabric under the arm frame and to the back to attach it. It looked like a long, thick ruler  that was kind of beveled, and had the highly technical name of “stuffing stick.” After using it and getting everything tacked down correctly, I managed to get the other side cut out before class was over. There was a lot of extra stuffing going on for the front panels as well to get things “filled out”. I’m still amazed at how little sewing there is for upholstering – more stretching, tacking and stapling than I’d imagined. But I can see how the chair is going to look now and I’m excited!

The highly specific "stuffing stick"

The highly specific “stuffing stick” in action

I started to imagine some needed decor changes at home featuring the new chair, and if I change one thing, then a whole bunch of other stuff will need updating too, right? I’m envisioning some new paint in the living room, and I’m working a trade for an amazing 1960s “Declaration” secretary made by Drexel. Designed by Kip Stewart and Stewart MacDougall, the designers looked at creating a a clear modern aesthetic, while relating to Shaker furniture and the Shakers’ desire that the construction details of furniture be visible. This is a brilliant design, because it appeals to modernists and traditionalists, alike. And, it’s frickin’ FANTASTIC! If you are into mid-century furniture and/or design at all, you’ve gotta check out my favorite new website, retro renovation.

The great '60s secretary I'm working a trade for

The great ’60s secretary I’m working a trade for

Of course I will have to have a chair to sit on when I use the desk part, so I bought another chair to work on! I couldn’t pass it up – a beautiful mid-century Gunlocke arm/desk chair I snagged for only $5 on craigslist. It’s going to look great with the new secretary, and it should be an easier project to tackle (famous last words) as it only needs a small back and seat, and I know I can find some great coordinating fabric to go with my armchair. And I’ve got a great ’50s rattan chair that needs a little work, then I’ll need to tackle the beatiful Danish Modern sofa that’s been languishing in the garage the last three years (it was FREE – I HAD to get it!), but maybe that’s a project for a real upholsterer…..

My $5 craigslist score

My $5 craigslist score

This blog is just a little insight into the tangential way my mind works – from sock monkeys to crafts to furniture reupholstery then redecorating the house, I suppose it’s really not that big a surprise that I have so many unfinished projects and millions of ideas without the hours needed in a day to finish them. And I haven’t even gotten to COOKING yet! For that, you can check out my other blogs – COOKWITHSCOTT.COM and my blog for the Seattle P.I. newspaper. It gets a bit crazy trying to fit it all in on top of working, doesn’t it?

My chair's gonna look GREAT!

My chair’s gonna look GREAT!

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Uphostery Class – Week #2

Week #2 looked really promising as half the class didn’t show up, which meant I’d get more one-on-one time with our instructor, Ollie. He’d given me a homework assignment from Week #1 to finish ripping out the old upholstery tacks, nails and staples. Because I had completed it (I’m a model student), I was able to get right to work on the chair when class started.

Right off, I had to retie the springs because some of them were broken, and the front spring was tied incorrectly (said Ollie), which made it feel like the front of the chair had a slope to it when you were sitting in it. This was not too difficult, but since I never passed the knot tying section in Cub Scouts, it took me a little longer to figure out. But it’s done right now, and nobody will be sliding off the front!

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The springs I retied are the lighter color – some of the 40+ year old ties were still in great condition and didn’t need any work –

Problem two with the springs: there are these little staple things that I think he called “cinchers”, that anchor the springs to the heavy canvas webbing in the bottom of the chair. My chair didn’t have ANY of them, so that meant the springs could slide around the webbing, which always made the chair feel kind of spongy. I used the cincher tool to reattach all of the springs to the webbing and the result was fantastic – the bottom of the chair was now firm and felt like it would support weight a lot more evenly.

Step three was to fix a broken part of the frame holding the springs in. If you think of an old timey set of bed springs, this chair has a miniature version for the seat. One section of the outside frame on the top was broken apart, which made it uneven. Ollie was able to put it right with a barrel clamp and a new metal section – a piece he fashioned from a 10 penny nail! Then I wrapped and knotted it with lots of upholstery twine to keep it in place and make sure it wouldn’t poke up through the padding.

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Here you can see the repair of the broken outer spring frame we made using a nail! The new “cinchers” I attached to the spring bottoms and the webbing are also visible.

Covering the frame is a burlap/canvas cover that the padding sits on top of. This has to be sewn to the outer spring frame with a big, fat curved needle and upholstery thread, which is like a super skinny, industrial strength twine. This is one of those points in the process that hurt my head because each stitch is knotted onto itself as it’s sewn around the outside of the frame. I just suck at visualizing these things, and once I’d master it, I’d have to turn the corner to go another direction and then need to figure it out all over again. I think there must be physics or some higher math involved in this that my brain is just not wired for.

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I made a patch to a weak part of the burlap/canvas covering the springs in the upper left. Figuring out how to knot the thread to itself as I went along was a mental challenge for me!

Now on to some new fabric! The part the seat cushion rests on is called decking, and the funky old kelly green fabric had to go. I replaced it with a beige that looked great with my new fabric. There’s tacking and nailing involved to keep the foam padding tight over the front, which I had to do a couple of times to get right – too tight the first time and not tight enough the second, but third time was a charm.

And finally, some sewing – I cut and shaped the piece that goes on the front where your legs would be – I think there’s an actual name for this part, but I can’t remember it. Ollie told me my choice of fabric would make things easier to line up because if has a kind of grid on it, and he was right. I slid it right into place and I felt for the first time I could start to visualize how great the chair would look when it was finished.

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Four hours later, and I’m finally ready to start putting the new fabric on – I LOVE it!

These few steps had taken the whole four hours of class, and I was pooped out! All that knotting, pulling, pounding, stapling and stitching wore me out. I think I had it in my head that this was a more “gentlemanly” art, but it’s a lot more blue collar than I expected, and this boy is definitely a white collar, let’s-not-get-that-dirty kinda guy. But it was fun, and I can’t wait for Week #3.