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Mini Chair, Mega Problem

by - Monday, January 04, 2010

So recovering Chloe's chair is going to be a bit harder than I thought. When we found the chair at the garage sale, the lady selling it said it was a 'true reproduction chair from Williamsburg'. Not sure what that meant at the time but now I realize it means I'm going to be saying a lot of #!*&'s and %@!*'s with this project.

See how nice and tight the fabric is pulled into the wood frame? Looks like quality work, right? Usually, at least with more modern upholstered chairs, reupholstering is as easy as popping off the seat or back insert and stapling on a new fabric. Like you see here. You can cover any 'rough edges' or mistakes with gimp trim or piping. Oh, if it only were that easy! With this chair, this is what you see when you remove the fabric and foam insert:

Whoa. Yes, that is a hundred little individual nail holes driven into the chair and a spooky piece of fabric ready to eat me alive. This is how it works:
- a piece of material is cut slightly larger than the size of the area to be covered, leaving a small "seam allowance"
- the seam allowance is about 1/2" all the way around. Keeping the nice side of the material down, the allowance is folded in and individual nails are put from the inside and poke out of the material

- the piece of foam goes into the space at the back of the chair

- starting with one nail, you keep the seam allowance folded towards the chair and individually hammer each nail into the wood.

Confused enough? Scared? Yeah, so am I!

So this is just ONE part of the chair... the front, the seat, and the two tiny arms need to be recovered too. And another little treat: it looks like there is real strapping or webbing underneath the seat. We haven't taken the seat off yet but that's what it feels like and I'm not sure that will be even more problematic.

Not sure if I'm cut out to be a chair reupholster, folks! This little chair has got me more nervous than the first time I used the router! There's a whole lot o' things that can go wrong, like
I ruin or tear the fabric (it looks like it needs to be stretched pretty tight) or I manage to get the fabric on - but its crooked (what possessed me to get plaid AND stripes?!) or I damage the wood or the painted finish while trying to get the nails in.

Ok, since it would likely cost me an arm and a leg to get this professionally recovered (if I can even find a reupholster experienced in this traditional way), I'm going to have to trod on. I think I'll try it first with a scrap piece of fabric and see how that goes... unless anyone has any other suggestions?? I'm just hoping I can get this chair done before Chloe outgrows it!

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  1. Um, since I have no experience in this, I kind of have no advice. BUT I believe in you, I think you can do this! You know why? Cause you are not me =)
    It does seem like a whole lot but since you are so good with details and seem to be a perfectionist I'm almost sure you are going to reupholster this chair without paying for it. Good luck!

  2. I've got faith in you! You can do it!

  3. Well - if this is your first project, I have to tell you that you are ambitious!!!! I think that armchairs are the hardest to do and have only ever slip covered them myself. That said, I have reupholstered a sofa and think I may have a solution that can work for you (on that back piece that looks so complicated). I suggest that you attach a stiff ribbon or trim and then sew your backing material on to that. The trim needs to be attached really firmly - you can do this with glue but I would suggest staples. Remember, this will all be hidden by the end product so don't be afraid to try things out.

    All that said, you could also do the majority yourself and leave the really hard parts to a professional - you live in TO! I'm sure there are some cheap, by the hour reupholstery companies there.

    (hope that helps)

  4. 1 - you can buy a reupholstery nail strip (imagine little nails spaced along about a 1/2" wide piece of cardboard.) i don't know what it's technically called but i've gotten it before at a decor fabric/upholstry store. then you just put the fabric face down and line up the nails along the edge, pushing them through the fabric as you go and using the cardboard to help fold the fabric over for the seam allowance (sorry, that was hard to describe.)

    2 - i have reholstered several different pieces of furniture and while it can look really difficult at first, it's not that bad once you get started. the key is to use the old fabric as the template for the new fabric, don't be afraid to number the pieces, or mark which direction is up, etc. i usually take step by step photos when i take a piece apart so i can reference when i put it back together. put it together the same way you took it apart. they also sell curved upholstry needles that i really like - much easier for sewing seams.

    hope that helps, i know that you can do it! if it helps to do a practice run first on some of the more difficult fabric pieces, that might not be a bad idea. good luck!

  5. Anonymous12:12 PM

    I am a wimp and wouldn't know where to begin with a simple chair, let alone a difficut one. I salute you for being willing to try this project. Keep us posted on your progress. I'm sure you'll figure it out, stripes and plaids and all.


  6. Anonymous1:07 PM

    Eek! I'm following your reupholstering closely because I have an antique dining set I'd like to have reupholstered. I originally was going to hire it out because of the size and difficulty (we want to upholster the backs where there currently isn't anything) but my husband wants me to be budget consensus and DIY. Let me know what you decide!

  7. I took an upholstering class offered through my community college. It was really worth it to get hands on experience. And I finished my chair project during the course! Also check out books at your library. A few pro tips, and you can do this.

  8. aaah! that IS scary! i'm more of a "hot glue & a prayer" upholsterer, so i've got nothing for you. but good luck! ha!

    thanks for stopping by my blog- i'm excited to dig around yours for fun ideas! : )
    happy tuesday,

  9. OK, i am not an expert, but i'll give this a try. The piece you removed with all the nails in it, looks like the cover for the back of the chairback. If so it goes back on after you've finished doing the front of the chairback, which can only accessed through the back of the chairback. This piece is purely cosmetic and doesn't support any weight. I can think of 3 options for reattaching the new piece.

    If you want to put the new piece back on, without any nails or trim showing (i.e. the way it originally was), you can use what's called flexible tacking strip. See this url for an example of a project with pics:

    Another option would be to simply staple the new piece around the perimeter and then hide the staples by hot gluing a piece of trim over the staples

    And one other option would be to use decorative tacks to tack the new piece back on.

  10. Anonymous3:11 PM

    I'm working on reupholstering a wing back chair I purchased at a local Salvation Army myself. What a treat to see a similar project being tackled.

    As for the nails, I agree with Katie's first solution. Get the upholstery strips. The cardboard backing keeps the edge on the fabric taught and clean when you flip the fabric over.

    Other than that... good luck! Can't wait to see the finished product.

  11. I think you should try it yourself.

    Unless the fabric is so expensive or irreplaceable that if you messed it up you would want to sob into a pillow for days. In which case - I'd go with the pros. But sometimes that can be a disaster too.

  12. Anonymous4:52 PM

    I vote flexible tacking strip...don't know if this is mentioned already but I have used them in the past and they are easy to attach to the chair (I used a staple gun) and then I just folded it over till it was about 1/4" from being closed and then used a boning tool (like for fabric crafts) to push my fabric edge between the two teeth...then just push the strip closed and WAHLA!

    The hardest part will be finding a store that sells them :) You can do it...anything you do will be fine, I am sure girl!

    XO - KB

  13. Thanks for the words of encouragement everyone! Kathleen - you're right, the fabric isn't so expensive so not a big deal if I mess it up :)

    So looks like I have two options... an upholstery strip on cardboard, or a flexible tacking strip. I'll check in the stores and see what's available.

    Thanks for the advice all!!

  14. Good luck!

    I'm sure whatever you decide, it will look wonderful.

    take care,

  15. I so believe you can do it...afterall you are Wanderluster!! ;)

  16. I can't wait to see it when your done. I have always wanted to tackle a job like this but I was to afraid! Good luck you can do it!


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