Sunday, November 30, 2008


I mentioned in my last post that Tonya and I started a new project yesterday.

After my grandmother passed away last year, my family started going through the process of figuring out what to do with all her things. Anything that could be given away to family members, was; anything left over that could be donated somewhere else, was. I'm not sure how much stuff got thrown away. For that matter, I'm not really sure I want to know....

Anyway, Tonya and I didn't actually possess a real dining room set or china cabinet. We tend to live pretty simply, for one thing, and it had never crossed our mind to spend the money to get these things. Besides, we have young children, who tend to be pretty destructive of anything nice that crosses their paths.

Ooh! That sure looks pretty. I think I'll eat it....

Well, Granny had a china cabinet, dining room table, and set of dining room chairs that now needed a good home, so we agreed to take them. And they truly are very lovely, except...

...except that the upholstery fabric on the chairs had already begun to disintegrate by the time we got them. And then, of course, came the kids, who are more destructive than cats--especially if there's a thread loose, or a little hole. It's a little like the way a pack of wolves will try to bring down the wounded caribou of the herd instead of picking on the healthy ones, right? That one has a hole in it, so I'll make it bigger! That thread is loose, so I'll pull on it to see what happens...

Well, by the time this weekend rolled around, the seat cushions on the chairs had started to look like this:
Yes, that is plywood you can see poking out through the shredded fabric. And no, none of the foam padding is left. Our bums had all of one layer of ratty fabric between themselves and the hard, cold plywood seat.

Two layers if you're wearing pants. Three, if underwear too.

And yes, you'd better be wearing clothes, because the seat is attached to the frame by screws that come up from underneath, and some of those screws are long enough to come up all the way through the plywood into your tushie. This is bad chair design of course, but wouldn't be such an issue if there were still a few inches of padding on the chair. But in its current state, we occasionally found ourselves sitting on pins and needles as it were, and wondering whether our tetanus shots were up to date.

By this weekend, I'd had enough. I announced that we were going to reupholster, starting today. (Meaning yesterday, of course. Pretend, for the remainder of this blog post, that it's yesterday when I refer to today, because when all this was taking place, yesterday was yesterday's today. Got it? Good. Moving on....)

Tonya and I discussed color and pattern. Given the nice little floral motif in the middle of the chair back, we decided that some kind of floral pattern would be good (say, a fleur-de-lis). And with the color of some of the surrounding decor--like the quilt we have hanging on the wall by the dining room table--we decided that a dark blue background would be good, too. So we were decided: a dark blue (or black) background, with a strong floral pattern in red or gold, would be perfect.

So I went off to a store to look for materials, and quickly discovered that blues and blacks are totally out of fashion. There were a few, but they didn't have a floral pattern of the right size or shape. And there were a few patterns that were somewhat floral-like, but were too close to paisley (and my wife hates paisley). There were a few patterns that I found that I liked, but they weren't in a good heavy upholstery-weight fabric that could stand up to our kids' beating (that is, the kids are doing the beating, not receiving one). And so many of the colors were so muted; there was nothing like a good, honest, deeply saturated navy blue to be had.

So after two stores and much agonized on-the-fly contemplation, I picked out something totally different than what Tonya and I had agreed upon, with the hope and prayer that she'd go for it:

Tonya liked it! (Whew...)

In a fit of I'm going to do this right if it kills me, I also picked out the thickest foam padding I could find (4+ inches), and a good amount of muslin for lining. Upon coming home, I set to work.

I have to say, re-upholstery--even for simple, drop-seat chairs like the ones I was doing here--is an absolutely exhausting activity. If you haven't done it, you can't imagine how much sheer muscle goes into the job. You're trying to compress 4+ inches of foam under the plywood base with your knees, while stuffing the foam that's sticking out of the edges with your fingers, and trying to wrap the muslin lining up around by pulling with all your might to get it tight, all while handling a staple gun. And when you're done with the muslin liner, you do the same thing again with the upholstery fabric. All told, you do this for a total of two or three hours per chair (counting breaks and other odd related jobs).

By the end of the night, Tonya and I had finished two of the four chairs, and our bodies both hurt. Our knees, our hands, our knuckles our, backs, our tushies(!), every muscle ached. It's a good thing we were actually reupholstering chairs, because our tushies needed them.

Yup, that chair on the left felt mighty good on this poor weary tushie when the job was finally done.

We're still learning, of course. If you look closely at the pictures of the completed chair, you'll see that the pattern is slightly off-center. That is purely a result of inexperience on our part; we thought we had it centered, but when we tried to pull the fabric tight for stapling in place, it pulled the whole pattern slightly to port. We were much more careful on the second chair, and got it much closer.

Well, considering how much our bodies hurt the following day, we're thinking that two chairs a night is probably excessive. But hopefully we'll have the other two done before the week is out. And then...

Turns out, Tonya and I differ quite a bit on our vision of what the "and then" part involves. Now that we have a little re-upholstery experience, I'm eying this sofa here, which is not in the greatest of shape and could use a recovering. Tonya most definitely is not. (Eying the sofa, that is. And Tonya is in a perfectly lovely shape.) Tonya is more interested in completely redoing the garage--putting in a finished ceiling with good lighting and a garage door opener, and building cabinets in which to store all our stuff in an organized fashion. Merely contemplating the size of this task strikes fear into my heart.

Homeownership is a never-ending voyage, isn't it?

Still, it's nice to be able to tackle little projects like this one once in a while. For a small amount of money and work, we made those chairs a lot prettier, a lot safer, a lot higher, and and a lot more comfortable, than they had been. That made Saturday a day well spent.

Even if we can barely move come Sunday morning...


Lucy Ladham-Dyment said...

Well done. Love your upholstering job. Looks comfortable now. Or more comfortable.


jan said...

The chairs are lovely! If you do figure out how to re-upholster a couch, would you let me know? Ours is looking tired and a bit ratty.

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oltre logo said...
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B. Durbin said...

Jan— I know there's good books out there to explain in simple terms how to properly measure furniture for re-upholstering. Do a search— I cannot remember any titles right now.

And it's measuring that is the key. If you cut the pieces right, the rest of the work follows.