Hey, it’s Jackie here to kick things off. Let’s cobble something together.

Of all of the billions of topics I could take on for this initial blog post, I’m choosing reupholstery for no other reason than it’s a real life project I completed recently. And since this blog is based on two key notions—that decorating fabulously can occur one step at a time, and that we can do our fabulous decorating with whatever we can get our hands on—I can’t think of anything more fitting than this sewing chair project, because that’s exactly how it went down.

I first picked up this sewing chair (shown here in its fabulous AFTER version, so as to compel you to read on) at one of my favorite resale locales in Indianapolis, Domistyle. Domistyle is fantastic because it’s chock full of high-quality secondhand furniture AND it’s all arranged within the store as if we’re shopping in a fancy showroom. I get to Domistyle whenever I can because there’s always new stuff to see (and because of this, I am somewhat known—notorious, even—for never entering Domistyle without leaving with something. Oops.)

I was initially drawn to this sewing chair because, at the time, my husband and I were considering turning the closet in our dining room into a mini-office (totally cool project idea, but the nature of the House of the Slow Build is that by the time you actually GET to something, you want something entirely different—in other words, the closet-office is now out of the picture at my house), and I thought that the sewing chair was the right size for tucking into the closet under a table top. Beyond that, though, I was drawn to the shape of the piece: I thought the back was shapely and distinctive, and choosing distinctive pieces—pieces that are in and of themselves special—is a key way to decorate with impact.

But the only impact the vinyl cover on this sewing chair was making was to the blee, I’m grody club. And then the vinyl started to crack. And then there was duct tape. And duct tape is never distinctively-wonderful. Just gray and gross and reminiscent of the sort of Red-Green-ian cobbling together neither Rachel or I could ever approve of (right, Rach??)

To help me rescue the lovely sewing chair from itself, I dragged out a stash of outdoor fabric I had purchased thinking I’d make cushion covers for a vintage metal couch and chair the husband and I picked up at White River Salvage. That, like the closet-office, never happened, so suddenly I had a huge allocation of sturdy and relatively attractive fabric at my disposal.

What you need to know about reupholstering is this: if I can do it, you can do it. My tactic was to let the furniture—and its current upholstery—be my guide. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Here’s a quick summary of supplies I used:

  • fabric (for this project, I probably used about a yard’s worth of fabric because I needed a long strip to go ’round the chair, as you’ll see a bit later). If not for that, fabric usage would have been less than 1/2 yard.
  • a light duty staple gun purchased from Ace Hardware (don’t forget to purchase light duty staples, too!)
  • scissors
  • iron
  • my husband’s Leatherman multi-tool (or you can equip yourself with both flat-head and Phillips-head screwdrivers and a pair of (preferably) needle nose pliers)
  • a socket set or adjustable wrench

I started by removing the top seat from the base using the Phillips-head screwdriver on the Leatherman. Grab all of the screws you take out and stash them in a baggie far, far away from any interested dogs, cats, or, in my case, three-year-olds.

From here, you could commence complete disassembly of the seat, but I REALLY wanted to rip off some vinyl at this point, so I turned my attention to the top cushion I’d just removed from the rest of the chair. (Shown here is eventual complete disassembly, undertaken by my husband and in part used to satisfy his own vinyl-ripping urges.) Using the smallest flat-head screwdriver attachment and the pliers on the Leatherman, I pried up and pulled out all the staples securing the vinyl to the top. As you go, take note of how the upholsterer put the staples into the vinyl—it’ll give you a clue as to how you can proceed with your upholstery. Go carefully as you take staples out, especially if you’ve got rusty old staples as I did, or just make sure you’ve got a tetanus shot booked.

Once the vinyl was off, my next step was to figure out how large a piece of fabric to cut to cover the cushion. Since the top was highly portable, I laid it right on my fabric and cut a generous square around the top (doing so allows you to adjust for placement on the fabric, and it also ensures you’ve got ample fabric to pull around the sides and staple). As you can see in the pic to the right, I had my hunk of fabric tucked under and around so I could see what it looked like.

After I was satisfied with the placement of fabric against the cushion, I turned the whole thing over so I was looking at the bottom of the cushion—the wood—the part I was going to staple into. I pulled the fabric up over the edges to see if I had too much/too little/etc. on each side. Doing this lets you check to see if your fabric encroaches on any important screw holes (as you can see from the above pic of the still-vinyl covered seat top, the previous upholsterer didn’t much care if s/he overlapped with the screw holes). But I cared, so I trimmed my fabric. And it made life easier, when I reattached the sucker to the rest of the chair.

The next step was to actually commit to this whole nonsense and staple on the sucker (the fabric). To do this effectively, I stapled in a jumping-around fashion, like I was stretching a canvas. By this I mean that, after you’ve pulled up the fabric on one side and stapled it, head to the opposite side and attach that next. Then head to one of the sides, then the opposite side to that. Continue working in this jumping-around fashion to ensure that the fabric is affixed in a neat, taut manner, as in my ‘after’ pic here.

With the top done and lookin’ good, I turned my attention to the bottom, which presented a bit more of a challenge. I needed to cut/secure one long strip of fabric to the bottom half, and I needed to find a way to create a clean edge along the top without attaching the fabric in the traditional fashion (as I did one the top, by simply folding and stapling knowing that my staple job/the edge would be covered when reattached). What I devised was a strip of fabric that was wide enough for me to attach it wrong-side up all the way around the base and then flip it down over itself. I cut a generously girthy piece of fabric (better to have it be too wide and have to trim it later) and then I used my iron to press a half-inch fold on each side of the back so I’d have a nice, clean edge later. Th-en, I stapled the fabric on, starting in the back on one side of the ‘hemmed’ overlap and working around to the other. I lucked out in that the sewing chair has a natural groove I was able to follow with a staple placed vertically (instead of horizontally), and so doing, I was able to create a straight stapled edge with minimal thinking. Had this not been the case, I would have had to mark/follow a straight line. Doable, but more work to be sure.

With a satisfyingly taut flip downward, I pulled the fabric into place. Then the final step was to secure the bottom edge to the underside of the chair. Since this piece of fabric was already secured at the top, it was fine for me to staple the opposite side in a circular fashion, instead of employing the canvas-stretch technique from above. But first I needed to trim excess fabric, as shown, so I wouldn’t have needless cloth to monkey around with. I left just enough so that I could fold about 1/4″ under when I was stapling, so that I’d have a clean edge. Then, I commenced stapling.

Once that work was done, I started to put the chair back together. I flipped over the chair and screwed the top cushion back on the base. Then the only thing left to do was attach the aforementioned shapely back piece (the part that gives this sewing chair so much verve and distinction). To do so, I used scissors to snip small (no more than 1/8″ to start) holes in the fabric where the bolts needed to come through. I slowly enlarged the holes with the scissors by making more tiny snips until I had enough of a hole for me to thread the bolts back through. Then I used a socket wrench to reattach the back piece, and voila! A fabulously refreshed sewing chair, uniquely snazzy and ready to go.