Three little birds – Pitch by my doorstep – Singin’ sweet songs – Of melodies pure and true, Saying’, “This is my message to you”

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Way back when I was making my tree picture for our living room, I had this idea up my sleeve that I wanted to use the primary colours that I used for the felt leaves in some cushions for the same room, but make cushions with my favourite little characters from my card making experiments – these long legged birdies.

At the time my sewing skills were so-so, and so I cheated and bought some pre-made cushion covers when I was in IKEA as I couldn’t be bothered to find out how to actually make up a cushion when you could buy them in IKEA for £2 a pop! I also bought some fabric paint and pens and was planning to make the birds out of paint and draw on the legs and beak etc…

Having parked this idea for several months now I come back to it, my confidence has grown hugely in sewing and I thought it seemed a shame to do this in pen and paint when I could use applique and free machine embroidery. Of course now I have done my cushion course too, I wish I had just made up my own covers as trying to sew a patter onto a pre-made up cushion without unpicking it and opening it out is pretty tricky! Luckily I didn’t have one of those horrible – oh god I’ve sewn the layers all together moments.

I was super paranoid. I stopped to check many many times!

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So I started off with cutting out my applique pieces and  bondawebbing them to the cushion covers and positioning my buttons for the baby birds.

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I then drew around the buttons in tailors chalk and then free motioned around the applique pieces and drew in the legs and beaks and eyes and baby bird legs and beaks. Then I sewed on the buttons by hand.

I used to hate sewing things by hand, especially once I got to grips with my lovely sewing machine, but I don’t mind it now, as it is way more portable, and if it is a nice sunny day I can take it outside. Or it can come with me when I am visiting family or waiting in the car for the children to emerge from clubs, or in front of the tv, or even sitting on the train, [although you have to be careful not to poke the eye out of the person next to you with your needle as you pull through! That would not be popular.]

It was fun positioning the birds and deciding where they were going to stand and what babies (or toddlers) they might have.

IMG_3724I then decided it might be nice to edge the cushions with some bias binding tape that matched some of the applique pieces. So I set about making my own bias binding with my shiny new bias tape making tool. And stitched it to the edge of the cushions, being careful to only do one side of the zip edge so that I can still open and close the zip to insert the padding.

However, I quickly learnt that I had no idea how to do this, having not added bias binding tape to a cushion before and quickly became stumped having no idea how to handle the corners.

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I tried initially just cutting the tape and folding over and doing a sort of zig zag over the raw edge. Not very neat. So then I did some googling, and learnt all about mitred edges. Doh… of course, seems obvious when you know how. So I completed my next cushion with much more success.

However, I then stood back and looked at them and wondered if the bias edging didn’t distract a bit from the birds, and actually when you look at the ones I had not added binding to, did they actually look better?

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So I stopped – quite happily actually as the binding made the whole job take twice as long, and I am not sure the cushions are the better for it.

However I now have two bias binded ones and two plain and cannot decide if I ought to bind up the other two so they match. I’m certainly not going to unpick all the binding I have put on the edged two.

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I suspect instead that they will stay just as they are until the wear out. Or I get bored of them entirely and decide to do something else.

Let me know what you think – we could take a poll on edged ones vs non-edged ones. It could be like the Sneetches!

Until next time my friends…

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Typical Me – I Started Something… And Now I’m Not Too Sure…part 2

finished chair

one down, five to go…

You may remember back in June this year I started some restoration work on 6 dining chairs that I bought on ebay for £22, with a view to learning how to re-upholster them. You can remind yourself of my plight here.

Well… I am proud to say that I have now completed one out of six with the wood all nicely restored and sanded and waxed and the seat fully striped back and re-upholstered.

Here’s a quick before and after…

before

before

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after

I must confess though, that I did not quite find the experience to be the blissful working with my hands rather than computers, rewarding, fulfilling experience that it looked like through my rose tinted spectacles. And the fact that I still have 5 more chairs in the garage in various states of repair, some sanded, some not 5 months later, makes me realise that perhaps my heart is not in this whole upholstery thing as much as I hoped it would be.

It is hard work, and repetitive and requires meticulous attention to detail, and lots and lots of patience.

I don’t think I have lots and lots of patience.

I signed up to a local traditional upholstery class near my village, and each Tuesday morning I trundled down to the village hall with my chair and for 3 hours began to learn the art of re-upholstering with a class full of lovely friendly people.

It was fun, it was rewarding, I had lots of cups of tea and lovely conversations with my fellow upholsterers, but it was also quite a steep learning curve and very very repetitive. How anyone makes a living from upholstering things I will never understand. If I have learned one thing, it is that it is very very tough to make a living doing this and it takes a very very long time to do well and next time you are haggling with someone who has reupholstered something they are trying to sell or if you are employing someone to reupholster something for you – please don’t drive them down too much on price. They will be charging you largely for materials and very very little for their time if you break it down into hourly costs! It is something you do for the love of it, not to make a quick buck, so please go easy on them and be generous!

Here is the process I went through for my chair as I remember it – am writing it down before I forget so I can repeat x5!!!

Step One: you fill in the holes from the previous tacks with a mixture of wood glue and sawdust.

webbing added

webbing added in criss-cross pattern

hessian added

sheet of hessian added on top of the webbing

Step Two: you attach some webbing in a criss cross pattern using a webbing stretcher (that funny looking wooden tool that you can see on the right-hand side of my header image on this blog.) And heartbreakingly – after spending so many days removing hundreds of tacks, I was now bashing in many more, about 10 per length of webbing alone!

Step Three: you attach some hessian to the surface of your webbing with yet more tacks.

Step Four: you add some bridle ties to the hessian to hold on the hair stuffing. For this you will need a special curvy needle and some surprisingly expensive upholstery twine and a good grasp of what backstitch means, which I have no problem with when I am sewing but for some reason I found this mind bendingly tricky! 

Step Five: you then stuff lots and lots of wirey animal hair under the bridal ties, and keep teasing at the hair to get it to lie flat and fluffy and not lumpy.

add calico

add calico

add calico

stretch the fabric taught

Step Six: you then add a layer of calico over the top of the hair, and pull it taught, and here is where I really started to lose the will to live, I spent an entire 3 hour class, doing this, as you have to put in the tacks loosely and not drive them home, so that you can keep removing them and stretching the fabric and then putting them back in again. Bare in mind here folks that this is difficult for 3 reasons. One: you have already put in lots of tacks to hold down the webbing and the hessian so good luck finding a place to add a tack that is not on top of an existing tack underneath all that hair! (I bent and lost many tacks!) Two: if you are not driving the tack home and are also pulling the fabric more and more taught then the tacks have a habit of starting to ping out and fire across the room! Three: it’s quite fiddly trying to hold the tack, pull the fabric taught and hammer in the tack at the same time, ideally you need 3 arms and hands! It also gave me a bit of a rash on the heel of my hand from keep dragging it across the calico to pull the material taught. I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel after this lesson. Every time I thought I was done and could drive the tacks home, the teacher would come around and say, it could still be a lot taughter and to carry on round. Deep breaths, deep breaths.

Step Seven: Once you have the calico in place and you are happy with your taughtness, [hooray] (I was happy with my taughtness a little before my teacher was…) and you have driven the tacks home, then you can add the next layer. I like this layer as it was really soft and nice feeling and also really helped to stop the prickly feeling of the hair poking through the calico at your bottom! This layer is called skin wadding, as it is a layer of wadding between two soft layers of interlining, like a wadding sandwich. It’s all fluffy and nice to handle, I forgot to photograph this stuff but here are some pics if you are interested. This is cut to size and held in place with metal skewers while you tack your final upholstery fabric to the chair.

IMG_3833Step Eight: now you feel like you are getting somewhere, you tack on your final fabric. And it took me a long while to decide what fabric to use, but I like this soft velvet stripy one as it lends a slightly modern edge to the traditional chair. And joy of joys, you don’t have to spend half as long stretching and taking tacks in and out as you do with the calico layer. You do still need to do some of this and you have to be extra careful not to get any tack ties where the tack pulls the fabric into a pucker and you have to be even more careful when using a striped or checked fabric to get all the stripes in line. But once you are done, you get to see what your chair will look like and it starts to get quite rewarding!

Step Nine: Now you are ready to add your braiding to finish off the rough edges. This is added with one tack to start you off which is hidden in the middle of the braiding and then you stick it down with hot glue. I didn’t need to worry too much about mitring my corners as my braid was quite wide and sort of just bent around the corners. I had a great tip from one of my fellow upholsterers about buying braiding online, ebay has lots and you can just order a metre of several different ones for pennies and then see which colour matches the best. I ordered about 5 different ones and only one was a match but it was perfect so I ordered 8 metres more and now have enough to do all my chairs. I’m really happy with the colour.

braiding added

complete with braiding

I also managed to re-upholster an old foot stool that used to belong to my husband’s grandparents. It was covered in an old and very tired tapestry fabric originally, but I restuffed and recovered it with some old curtain offcuts we have, so it matches the deco in our house much better and is softer to pop your tootsies on too.

foot stool

foot stool

So now I just have to do the other 5 chairs. Gulp. I must say my enthusiasm is dwindling slightly! Maybe when the weather improves a bit in the springtime I will get out there with my sander again… if I can remember what to do!?

How hard can it be?

Very!