Northwest Renovation Magazine

A Home Improvement Magazine

I was out walking one day when I found a discarded chair beside a dumpster. The seat was sagging and the seat webbing was hanging loose. I immediately fell in love with the homeless chair and brought it home. My husband was less excited about my find. He was used to me bringing home homeless animals and plants and now furniture. The new find went to the basement to live out the winter as a cat chair. With the sagging bottom it proved to be a comfy kitty bed.

Once again I was out for my walk and met Priscilla Burns at the time she was the owner of theHouse and Home Fabrics located in southwest Portland, OR. She was so personable when I told her about my little captain’s chair and that my husband and I know nothing of upholstering. She offered to help after store hours.

We brought the chair to her shop and she too agreed that the old 1930s chair was worth saving. After careful consideration we chose a beautiful striped fabric that would go well in our 1909 bungalow and complement the period of the chair.

With Priscilla’s guidance we began removing the old fabric with care to save the fabric in case we needed to use it as a pattern. To remove the fabric you must carefully lift each tack. The recommended tool is a ripping chisel or a tack-lifter. We did not have these tools and had to use a screw driver and needlenose pliers. On most chairs you would need to remove the dust cover or “bottoming” from beneath the chair but this was missing from our chair.

Tools & Materials: Pliers, scissors or knife, and staple gun.

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The removal sequence from a drop seat pad (which we chose for our chair) is, after the dust cover is removed. (Figure 1) Remove top cover, batting, muslin undercover, second stuffing or batting, scrim, first stuffing, and burlap. While removing these it is important to consider wearing a mask to protect your lungs from any nasty air particles, goggles and leather gloves to protect your hands from flying upholstery tacks, which are extremely sharp and often rusty.

At this point when your chair is down to bare bones (Figure 2) you may need to reinforce the frame. Gluing and filling any holes with wood putty may be necessary. We were lucky as our chair ‘s frame physically was in good condition. We chose not to reapply the webbing but to replace the bottom with a piece of 3/8” plywood cut to fit the seat. All of this took two and one half hours.

On day two we cut a piece of 3” foam to fit into the bottom of the chair (Figure 3). The corners needed to be cut out to fit around the chair’s arms. A handy meat carving knife works great.

To secure the foam to the wood we took the chair outside to spray adhesive to the wood and applied the foam. Next we cut a large piece of batting (enough to cover all four sides and fold over and beneath the bottom of the chair). It is very important to have an excess (Figure 4). After pulling the batting tight in each direction we stapled all four sides (Figure 5).
The chair bottom is then measured side to side, reaching beneath the chair and a piece of burlap is cut (again larger than the measurement). Burlap is added for tightness (Figure 6). With the foam and batting our chair was a little puffy. The measured burlap is folded in half and the center is marked. Place the center of the burlap in the center of the seat. With burlap it is important to note that the grain must remain centered because while pulling it in different directions it is easy to stretch and it will become crooked. Begin stapling in the middle of the front beneath the chair and continue on each side of the middle staple. Next stretch the burlap towards the back and again (Figure 7) place the first staple in the middle and proceed as with the front. You want it taut but not pulling. The sides are next. This is where you may find yourself pulling too tight and this will cause bunching of the burlap. You can adjust at this point.

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We went on to the back of the chair and just reapplied the old batting (Figure 8) with spray adhesive. We needed to add a little more padding so we added more batting. Measure the back from the bottom and over the top to the bottom again, and horizontally, adding two inches again. This was simply folded over the chair and the sides saddle stitched together (Figure 9).

Time for fabric. Measure the chair bottom at the highest part from end to end (Figure 10) and add 2 inches. Divide that number in half and place a straight pin through the burlap. We used pins instead of a marker because we did not want the marker to bleed through the fabric. The measured fabric was then cut. Our fabric was striped so it was important that the middle stripe be exactly in the middle of the chair bottom. Place the first tack or staple in the middle (Figure 11) and continue to tack on each side about every inch. Pins were inserted down the middle of the chair to line up the stripe. The fabric is then pulled tight towards the back, careful to keep the stripes straight. Remove the pins before tacking. While pulling the fabric tight the first tack is placed in the middle as we did in the front and continue tacking the fabric down.

There should be an excess of fabric on the sides (Figure 12). Bringing the corners to the center cut to 3/4” of the chair arm. This should allow the material to flow evenly around the arms. Begin cutting the material on the diagonal to within 3/4” of the chair’s arm. Trim off the excess and fold in the material on each side neatly.

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Tack the sides, (Figure 13) pulling gently but taut, careful to keep the stripes straight. At this point carefully tuck in each corner by the arms. If using a pattern it is important to make sure that both sides have an equal presentation. You may want to remove any excess staples or tacks and make adjustments.

A dust cover was then cut to fit under the chair (Figure 14). The material was folded in the middle once again to achieve the middle and a staple was placed in the middle once again and we continued to staple the front. This is then folded over to hide the staples and brought to the back of the chair. This is called a “clean finish” in the business. This took three hours.

On the final day we worked with Laura Hastings. She had cut the fabric to fit the back, carefully lining up the stripes to match the bottom and then sewn together to slip over the back of the chair, much like a slipcover. Beneath the chair’s arms the fabric was then hand sewn carefully together. The excess front and back fabric was trimmed leaving enough to be hand stitched together (Figure 15).

Laura suggested we add gimp, a decorative trim to cover the tucked in areas and give the chair a nice finished look. This last day took about two hours and the materials cost $45 the chair of course was free.

We could not have possibly accomplished this project had it not been for Priscilla’s kindness, patience, and expert instruction and guidance. Not to say her willingness to stay after hours. We could not have the fine finished look without the help of Laura and her expert sewing skills. They made the experience fun and took away our fears of trying this task again, of course again on a found chair. You can’t beat the price.

I would encourage you to go to your local library to check out books on upholstering. Reader’s Digest has a great book by Judith Miller called Care and Repair of Everyday Treasures. It had great photos and is very helpful.

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