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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Deciding it was time to stop saying I wanted to learn this and just LEARN it, I signed up for an upholstery class last week.
My choice for the class is a mid-century club chair that belonged to my grandmother. She had it recoverd around 1970 in an OVERSIZED floral print in three shades of orange with lots of avocado and celery green accents. It sounds worse than it really is, but dog chews to the arm, fading to the fabric and the overwhelming smell of cigarettes and wood smoke meant it needed a fix or a toss. I chose to fix it!
Other than the instructor Ollie, I was the only guy in the class. My fellow classmates had all taken the class before, so were far into the reupholstering process already – boy could these ladies use a nail gun! They were tacking, cutting, sewing and stapling like mad. The woman next to me said “I’m finishing this during this class or my husband says the damn thing’s going in the trash.” I could tell she was serious about finishing it.
Since I was just starting, I spent four hours pulling upholstery tacks, decorative hammer nails and staples – and I didn’t even get the chair completely apart! There was a lot of dust and floating bits of old padding and foam in the air to go with it, and I was wishing I’d taken an allergy pill and worn a dust mask – there’s always class #2 for that, huh?.
I found a lot of “hidden treasures” as I ripped my chair apart – a screw driver that was lost inside by the last upholsterer, an ink pen, a few assorted pieces to board games, a couple candy wrappers, and a penny for good luck! The best thing inside was the instructor saying “this chair has a good frame and will look great when you’re done.” Nice to know I hadn’t chosen another fruitless effort to work on –
The chairs can’t stay at the class location, and as I had howmework – to finish ripping it apart – I loaded my chair back into the car to work on in the garage. My instructor said we’d be reusing some of the original padding, so I doused it with a lot of odor neutralizing spray that’s supposed to work on cigarette smell, but I don’t think they ever tested it on something as stinky as this! I’m leaving it outside to help with the de-smelling process.