Part I: Reupholstering & Refinishing a Rocking Chair

Today I meant to write about the nursery dresser restoration, but I’m very close to completing it and should wait until I have final photos.  The most important task of the day is to clear coat it, but I can never be sure when I’ll get to write the post.  So, I’m here this morning  with my next-ish project for a Before…

For a few months I’ve thought about getting a new (but fairly ugly and stupidly expensive) glider, reupholstering a small recliner (that I have waiting in a state of sad neglect,) or nabbing a (cheap, used) rocking chair.  I hated the idea of purchasing a new glider since they aren’t very attractive, cost a lot, and don’t meet my usual quality criteria.  A couple display models have been persuadingly comfortable though, and we began to seriously consider going for one.  Another annoyance with those is that it seems you must order in advance, and the few I’d liked (in the sitting test) were not available without a trip to inconveniently located stores.  Given my hesitancy I don’t know how likely it is that we’d deal with that in time?  Meanwhile I saw a very nice old rocking chair at a local sale.  The wooden frame was gorgeous and very compact, it was cheap at $15, and I was able to convince L that reupholstering would make a world of difference (and was simple thanks to the design)… then it turned out to have already been sold.  I would have snapped a photo but didn’t.  :Sigh:  Besides this I do have a comfortable and small recliner from a thrift store years ago.  I even reupholstered it once.  It could work out pretty nicely with better fabric, but I’d need to buy some for it and deal with the complicated shapes and sewing involved.  Most recently I was leaning toward doing this although L was suggesting a glider.  I still browsed CL, thrift stores, and ReStore but never felt like actually purchasing any of the many rocking chairs I found.

Then I was chatting with a friend about organising, and it came up that she had a “really cool rocking chair” from when her son was a baby, and she lit up with the idea that I might want it although it needed $1k of reupholstering.  Not a problem, I can tackle that myself!  A couple of days later she sent me a few photos, and yes!  I did want it.  She’d tried describing it, and I had imagined and Googled, but I’d never come up with the actual design or anything close:

I’m not sure what to call the style at all.  ???  I think it is pretty darned neat though, and I love having a nice backstory, so I’m excited to get it.  Hopefully that will be soon although I’m trying to be patient considering that I have painting and things that ought to be done first anyway.

The excitement of a new project has all of the fabric and refinishing options constantly on my mind regardless.  She said her cat had peed on it, but I wondered for a moment if I could save the leather (assuming it isn’t vinyl) or somehow manage to re-do it with a gorgeous new hide.  (Yeah, not likely given how much is needed and the unknowns of working with thick leather for the first time.)  Then I pondered upholstery fabrics and prices until I remembered that I have some on hand that may work too.  The most economical new fabric would be “Warsaw” linen from Grayline, which is what I used for our sofa (in wheat, I believe.)  It would look good, I think, but if I’m realistic then something a little heavier and more forgiving would be more ideal to work with and better for longevity.  Next up would be something from eBay… maybe even leather?  Maybe?  The most likely candidate is some beautiful linen velvet that I won on eBay at least seven years ago without having a plan for it.  It is fabulous steel/pearly/dark grey that I couldn’t love more.  I’m sure it would look awesome, and my biggest concern is just that I’ll have a hard time actually using the fabric for fear of messing up or wishing I had it for something else, haha.  When I looked in the closet to take a photo of the grey velvet I saw a forgotten remnant of light sand coloured velvet too.  It has some synthetic content and there might not be enough of it, but it is a perfectly decent option otherwise.  Next to the sandy taupe is a roll of sage green linen velvet, but that is slated for a sweet little round and tufted chair that I’ll hopefully get to some year.  Besides, I’d better stick to a more neutral colour.

The colours may not have come out so well in the photos, but there you go: steel grey, sage, sand, and wheat.

I highly doubt I’ll buy anything new, but I did think of using something fun like these when considering options for the recliner or this rocker:


Anyway, I need to get to work now.  I was delayed by writing this and phone calls, and it is getting rather late!  Just let me add a photo of a marble end table that I scored this week at one of my favourite thrift stores.  (I miss the thrifting on Long Island so much!  Furniture is hard to come by and pricey where I live now, but on LI I always found cool items, and it was often really cheap too!)  I ended up saving 50% off of it too, so I’m pretty thrilled.  I just have to make some repairs and then do some painting or a whitewash.  That same day I visited the Restoration Hardware outlet and scored a dresser topper (to make a diapering area) for only 20$ too!  I’m saving the photo for the dresser post though.


Both the base and marble can perfectly match the coffee table in our media room, but I might use it as a night table in the nursery?  (The coffee table is supposed to be replaced some day after all, but it has hung around for five years and a move despite the broken marble top, so… I’ll see.)

DIY Re-upholstering a Sofa part III… Taking it Apart and Replacing Foam

Hi!  I know that I haven’t been posting enough, but that is changing.  The freelance thing that made life entirely insane for three months has come to an end (just in time for me to enjoy some of the summer and take a vacation to my husband’s birth-country to meet his father for the first time.  W00t!)  I have a lot of projects in the works, and today have finally been able to transfer thousands of photos onto the computer from my phone.  (For several weeks this was not working, and it was the reason I never ended up being able to post when I had found time.  Very frustrating!)  Today I want to accomplish as much as I can, but there a some topics you can look forward to: a lot more garden and flower photos, installing a functional clothesline, completion of the sewing/work room, refinishing chairs, fancy accent pillow tutorials, basement/garage moisture remediation and waterproofing, more improvements to the master and main baths, and re-upholstering several items.

For example, yesterday I jumped into the very messy and very involved project of reupholstering the vintage sofa which I wrote about this spring.  As of this morning it has been torn apart, and I have all the materials required to make it a sofa again, but I’ll admit that it is a daunting task given how it looks.  This morning: foamless

I had to tear out the the seat deck padding and foam, which I hadn’t done last time, because of a pet problem.  This meant an unexpected trip to Joann’s in the afternoon to purchase some 1″ foam.  Luckily it happened to be 40% off!  (Upholstery foam is rather expensive.  Not much about upholstering in cheap, to be fair, but DIY is still far less than sending it to a professional.)  Now with the new seat deck foam in place, and the new cushion temporarily there too:

this morning new seat deck foam

Still quite the mess, but sweeping the hundreds of sharp staples and dust out of the way made for a less tiring view.  Today I’ll sew in a muslin seat deck and upholster a base over padding with muslin before cutting the real fabric.  I’m using a heavy linen, but I suspect that a muslin base will be wise.  It will also let me decide if I actually like the look of certain changes I am making, like using a one-piece inner arm instead of a corded and more tailored two piece style.

Yesterday I wrapped the new seat cushion foam in batting.  It isn’t too much of a pain.  Just lay the foam on the batting and spray both with upholstery adhesive before smoothing them together.  Trim the edges.  You only want the batting to cover the top, underside, and front edge of the cushion.

wrap the seat foam wrapping the foam

I took this as a before photo.  Sorry it is not much.

end before

Then I started by taking off the cambric underneath:

beginning to take apart, yikes

Next I tore off the welting, unstapled the back, outer sides, inner sides, and finally the seat deck.  I cut and left the front portion from some previous upholstering to make life easier, and I left my and other previous upholsterer’s work on the arms too.  Don’t mess with anything that is doing just fine.  😉

Then I sanded the frame some.  I have to continue that now.  Afterwards I’ll use wood glue to strengthen any wobbly joints.  I want to stain and wax it to match the coffee and dining table.  I still need to hand sew the cushion cover closed.  Then I can do the muslin base and eventually cut the linen.  When I bought the linen I allowed for a couple of extra yards over my calculations, but the yardage is very little according to charts.  I figured it carefully, but I only bought 13yds, as I recall.  This sofa is 8′ or 9′ long and all charts advise somewhere around 20yds for a large sofa.  Luckily this one is short, sparing in use of fabric, and I have the experience of already doing it once before… with a velvet of all things!  I eeked it by with 12yds of velvet, so I am confident with the easier to place linen, but I still must be cautious in cutting without any silly mistake and must have a plan for the layout.  The linen was super inexpensive as far as upholstery fabrics go, but no one wants to waste, eh?

Next time I’ll show how to construct and stitch down the seat deck.  While I am here writing let me share photos of some pretty fabrics I saw at Mood.  I used a similar velvet ikat styled fabric in greys for our kitchen chairs a couple of years ago.  The damask style teal velvet is one I used on a settee going on ten years ago and my desk chair.  I really love it an how well it holds up to use and cat fur.

IMG_8770 IMG_8771 IMG_8772 IMG_8774 IMG_8777 IMG_8779 IMG_8781 IMG_8783

Here are swatches of some that I have been dreaming of for future projects.  Too bad they are far to costly for me have used for the sofa!  I’m tempted to yet again re-do the big circular chair (that I already upholstered twice in a few years) with one of the really fancy fabrics.  Actually, I have to re-do a recliner too, but I must keep in mind the sofa it will be near (for a while,) annoyingly.  It is so hard to choose!

ikat velvets desk chair teal and awesome black pretty, pretty

The velvet ikats are fun, but I already know I will not use them.  What is super difficult to decide on are the others.  I always intended to use the damask teal, but now I am unsure.  I adore the black and grey one pictured with it.  That is more forgiving in colour too.  I really like the purples in the other velvets, but those are not good choices for the round chair.  Maybe the darkest one with the large design, and the light grey one?  I suppose I’ll decide after the sofa is complete.  As for the recliner, it will be in the basement with the rust colour-way sofa.  Purple and teals aren’t compatible with it at all,sadly, and even the neutral colour ways aren’t compatible in style.  😦  That sofa is slated to be replaced some day, according to the husband, but it may be years.  I’ll have to keep thinking, because I’d love to use the lighter purple!  They are all so pretty.

What to do with an ugly sofa: Part II -planning

Hi!  So in part I of the sofa series I talked about supplies and promised photos.  Today I am including some and will talk about the first steps of tackling the project.  Let me start with the photos.

Remember when I said that the sofa was covered in some rather hideous baby blue brocade when I bought it?  Here is that fabric:

original sofa fabric

I still have to try and dig up photos from back then, but they are all saved on a hard drive somewhere and…  I’m just glad I had saved a cushion cover.  Imagine eight feet of this fabric!  Not for me!  😀

At the time the sofa had two seat cushions, and I have changed it to a single one.  I think it will look better.  Let me continue to describe the original design before showing the current “before” look.  It had two seat sections and four matching back pillows.  They were all box construction with cording at the seams.  The arms also had a corded seam and were a two-piece design.  It was all very tailored and formal.  When I began ripping everything apart I found that the thing had been reupholstered at least twice before.  I know I took photos of this evidence, and I really will have to find them to share.  😉

As for now?  Well, I’ve mentioned the temporary solution of wrapping a blanket around the cushion, but I made some other changes to it when upholstering it last time.  I kept the corded seam on the arms, but I didn’t want to do corded box cushions for the back pillows.  Instead I simply used two pieces front and back for each but dressed up with pleated corners.  That also made them boxier which seemed better for their use than plain corners which would have been weird.  Oh, and I didn’t get around to using the matching velvet for those and chose dark blue silk dupioni instead (to tie in with the other blanket I was using for the seat cushion.)

Here is the result and current look with the temporary blanket cushion cover in all its glory:


The new plan is to eliminate the corded seams on the arms.  (I’ll need to prep the padding better than I did before too.  You may see the ripples?)  This time I want a less tailored look, and changing to a less fussy construction also hides a few amateur mistakes better too, I think.  😉  I am considering adding a final layer of padding using memory foam, but I have to make sure that isn’t unwise first.  The back pillows covers will be made just like the silk but cut a little larger since I think they ended up undersized.  I’m also making four matching throw pillow covers to replace the ratty old ones.  Maybe I’ll use some sort of self fabric embellishments on two of those?  Lastly, I think I’ll keep the cording for the seat cushion.  It shouldn’t look strange since the edges around the wood will be finished with double cord.  Perhaps I’ll cord the throw pillows too?  Yeah, I like that idea.  My plan had been to get the pillows and cushion done first since I dislike that sort of sewing and never get around to it at the end, but it seems I may need to leave the throw pillows until later for cording and deciding about embellishments.

Moving on, I obviously did some rough yardage calculations before buying supplies, but today I began the cushions and pillows by figuring the dimensions to cut.  The four throw pillows require eight pieces of 19×19″ fabric.  The back pillows need eight 20×27″ rectangles, and the seat cushion two 25×84″ oblongs, one 4×125 for the front and side edges, and two 2 1/2×93″ pieces for the back zippered piece.  I’ll be sewing it in the muslin first in case I messed up.  😉  The muslin is mainly being used to add strength, but it is also a cheap way to be sure I like the looks of the changes I’m making.

Something I recommend for calculating yardage is to not only use online charts but grab some graph paper and a pen.  Use it to plan the layout on the fabric and you’ll see a more accurate number for your project.  I just did this, and unless I made a mistake, there is a significant difference in yardage require from last time (due to the nap of the velvet) and from charts!  I’d estimated 12 yards in my head, I bought 16 yards allowing for extra throw pillows and just to be safe, but the layout shows that exactly 10 yards may suffice if I am careful.  Sketching a layout also makes you consider the nap or direction of a print if that applies, and it should allow you create a less wasteful layout.  If I had just started cutting to begin the pillow cover then I would have wasted yardage for sure.

Before penciling in the cutting layout on graph paper I made some very rough sketches of the pieces required for everything noting the dimensions.  Like this:


Quite rough, eh?  😉

I decided that the graph paper lent itself best to half scale with each square representing 2×2″.  I drew the boundaries of the fabric in pen then switched to pencil for the layout to avoid headache.  It made sense to begin by sketching in the largest pieces required, and from there I just fit things in as looked wise.  The shaded areas are waste.  The section reserved for bias isn’t drawn to scale.  For some pieces I rounded up to make using the graph more quickly, but it should all give a general idea of the yardage required.

cutting layout

I am quite happy about only needing 10 yards.  Even if it takes a little more I definitely have plenty extra.  (Although I keep wondering what huge mistake did I make?)  There should even be more than enough to do the matching loveseat-sort-of-chair that I’d planned for later, yay!  Using a plain fabric is the <strong>best</strong> way to save money on upholstery fabric.  Any pattern, stripe, or nap will add yards upon yards to the purchase.

Well, I think this is a perfectly good stopping point.  I don’t think I am up for cutting and sewing today, so this is probably the last post about the sofa for a while since I have to pack, paint, do repairs… but I’ll try to post about other things over the next few weeks.

What to do with an ugly sofa? Part I -supplies and where to get them

I meant to write sooner, but I’ve been sick.  😦  Today I slept in again and awoke feeling quite a bit better, so here I am.  (Actually, I began writing this a couple of weeks ago and am posting now that I finished the post.)   I had some normal cleaning to do, like vacuuming, and one thing led to another until I’d organised a very messy (embarrassing) closet and made the living room look a little better.  The closet project was very satisfying and was due to seeing a box of Space Bags at Costco.  I used all of them and shrunk my hoarded linen pile into comparative nothingness.  Yay!  It also eases my concerns somewhat about bedbugs in the building, because Do Not Want!  Anyway, I’ve mentioned an upholstering project that I plan to write about in the coming weeks, so here it begins…

A few years ago I was at the Salvation Army thrift store on half off day, and I saw a great vintage sofa.  It was mid-century-ish with a sleek wooden frame and rather ridiculously was upholstered in a pale blue brocade featuring some sort of blossoms.  (My mother loved the fabric.)  I’ll have to try to dig up photos.  Anyway, wooden frame sofas really appeal to me, and I figured I could re-upholster it.  Myself.  After all I was able to buy it for only $50, and surely upholstering wasn’t *too* hard, right?  Soon I’d bought some supplies, a book or two and tackled it.

It didn’t go too badly although there was a big mess for a while.  The only trouble is that one of my cats is really, really dumb… and she peed on it a few times to protest being left alone too much while I dated my husband.  Ugh!  Now all that work was ruined when the only things left to complete had been the pillow covers and part of the seat cushion covers.  :cries:

My solution for a while, which turned into more than two years, was to remove the cushion batting, wrap the foam in heavy duty trash bags, seal it with tape, and pin a heavy blanket around them as a sofa cover.  It worked very well, but it sucked.  😀

These two years I’ve wanted to re-reupholster the sofa, but my husband didn’t seem bothered by it and wouldn’t agree to fabric and foam as suitable holiday gifts to me.  This year I finally talked him into it, and the pain of having to redo the work has faded too.  My birthday was in November, I have finished sourcing my supplies, and I need to tackle the project before we move (in less than a month?)  In December I purchased new seat foam and wrapped it temporarily with a smaller throw blanket.  The new foam was a joy to sit on compared to the old worn out stuff, and my husband seemed to be happier about the project.

First things first: supplies and suppliers

For this project I knew I wanted to use heavy grey or natural greyish linen fabric.  Last time I tried velvet, and it is of course a cat fur magnet.  It also is trickier to work with due to the direction of the nap, and it requires more yardage.  I ordered a pretty dark grey swatch from a wonderful seller on eBay, but the fabric was too thin for a sofa.  The reason I mention them is that their customer service was excellent, and when the swatch didn’t work out they sent me other options at their own expense.  I feel bad for not ending up buying from them, so here is a shout-out instead.  😉

I did a little research and found several mentions that the Warsa linen line from Gray Line is suitable for sofas and chairs.  I had a colour card of their Judy linen since I use it a lot in clothing, but Warsa has fewer to choose from.  When I finally made it to the store last week the only colour that came close to what I wanted was “dark wheat,” and I bought 16yds.  I’m pretty sure that is enough.  I hope so and know I used less last time, but I’m covering more pillows this time around.  I almost bought extra for a round loveseat thing that I might want to match, but I can always go back for more.  Anyway, if I ever buy so much again I’m looking into the shipping cost, because lugging the heavy bolt home via the subway was awful!!

The cushion foam I wanted was 24×84″ and 4″ thick.  You may not know this, but aside from the fabric the most expensive item you may need for an upholstery project is likely the cushion foam.  Bigger pieces are pretty insane!  (Normally upholstery fabric can be 15$ a yard and goes up to hundreds or more, depending, but you can be thriftier with effort.)  In this case I could have spent more on the foam than fabric!  You don’t always have to buy new foam, but I sure had to.  First I planned to use diyupholsterysupply, but it was soooo much money that I shopped around first.  Joann’s often has coupons, so that was an option, but they didn’t quite have the size I needed.  I actually ended up purchasing it on Amazon even though it wasn’t a prime item and there weren’t many reviews or clues about the quality.  The foam turned out to be perfect and something like 50$ less than diyupholsterysupply.  (Gawd, from now on I’m writing DIY instead, because that is so unwieldily.)

I did order other things from DIY such as cambric for finishing off the bottom of the sofa, muslin to pre-upholster with, and seat decking.  From Joann’s I bought a roll of upholstery zippers and batting.  They didn’t have the invisible zippers I needed, so I purchased them in the city at Pacific.  I already have a staple gun, a roll of tack strip, a tack puller, thread, hot glue, and foam adhesive.  I’m not sure if I’ll end up using cording, but if I do I have a whole reel of it from last time.  As a note on the staple gun, if you will be doing a large item or many over time then try to get one that is air operated as long as you can use a compressor.  Living in an apartment building I couldn’t.

Alright, it is time for me to actually go work on this instead of writing about it!

Just a note, I have decided to give links to products that I use or stores that I mention.  At this point I am writing for myself and not encouraged, paid, or compensated for anything on this blog although it would be cool to become an Amazon affiliate or something eventually.  Anyway, I wanted to link to certain things and figure I better link to anything mentioned, wherever it is online, although it looks kind of weird and commercial .