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…
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.
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.
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.
Step 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.
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.
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?