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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
I just finished a home décor project for my aunt that involved more hand tools than sewing. In her kitchen, she has 4 dining chairs with upholstered seats that were becoming a little threadbare after years of use. I helped her pick out some upholstery fabric and I was delighted that she chose to make them each a different color. The finished chair cushions look great around her glass tabletop:
Upholstery work is always hard on your hands and the deconstructing the old upholstery takes almost as long as the putting the new stuff on. (Note to self: If you ever recover more than 2 chairs at a time again, buy a pneumatic staple gun or recruit the husband!)
The foam of the seats was still in good condition (only the fabric covering it was wearing out) so luckily I didn’t have to rebuild anything.
After removing the seats from the chair frames (they were attached with four screws on the bottom of each cushion), I inspected the original construction and reverse-engineered them.
I was relieved to discover that the foam had been wrapped in fabric and the matching fabric piping had been stapled to the cushion base separately. This meant that I only needed to remove the existing backing & piping before recovering them and I wouldn’t have to sew the new piping to the new cover.
There were a few staples ends that broke off during removal and were too short to grab with the pliers. I pounded those flat with a hammer to prevent the sharp edges from being a hazard. Then the prep work was finished and the cushions were ready to be recovered.
I first cut two-inch wide bias from each of the four fabrics. One yard of each had been ordered, and all but the reddish-orange came with an extra generous cut of nearly a yard-and-a-half! This meant that I only needed to cut one strip of bias from the long three (there was actually enough left over for a second seat of each) and I just pieced two strips of the orange.
I had some utility cotton cording in my stash, but it was just a little too wide to make the piping out of the thick upholstery fabric in the size I needed. So I went to the hardware store and picked up some one-eighth inch nylon cord for about $4.
To make the piping, I wrapped the bias strip of fabric around the cording and sewed through the fabric next to the cord with a zipper/cording foot. I followed the guidelines that came with the upholstery fabric and used a ballpoint needle with nylon thread.
For the one strip of bias I needed to piece, I simply stitched two pieces together with a tiny tiny stitch (no need to backstitch). Then I opened the seam flat as I stitched the cording inside. It was almost impossible to detect the piecing on the finished piping – upholstery fabric usually has a nice texture for hiding seams. =)
To cover seat cushions, first determine which direction the fabric’s nap (the fuzzy texture) is going. You should be able to feel the direction by running your hand over the right side of the fabric in a straight line with the grain. You want the fabric to feel smoothest (the least drag) when you “pet” the chair from back to front.
Working on the floor (aka “dog territory”), I wrapped the fabric around the cushion and stapled the center back and then pulled it tight and stapled the center front. Next, I pulled the sides tight and stapled the center of those. (I used a hammer to drive the staples all the way down into the wooden base of the cushion.)
Once the first few staples were in place on all four edges of the cushion, I followed the previous cover’s folds and eased the fabric around the corners and curves making sure that the top and side were as smooth as possible. (It’s okay if the bottom is a little lumpy and folded because it won’t show.) And I trimmed off excess fabric as I went.
After I was satisfied with the fabric wrapped around the cushion (I needed to remove and redo a few staples as I went), I moved on to piping attachment.
It is amazing how much more finished the piping makes the seat cushions look! A professional look is all about the details. =)
Following the piping came the backing, just to finish out the bottom neatly. I used a sturdy cotton weave so the cushion could “breathe”. (The original cover was a black fabric like the reusable grocery bags, but I couldn’t find any of that in a solid color at the fabric store. I just used some neutral fabric I already had.)
I think they turned out really well and should last for years since they are covered in thicker fabric than they were before. Reupholstering is not really difficult from a technical standpoint, but your hands take a lot of abuse with a project like this, so plan for a couple days of minimum hand use afterwards should you attempt to recover your own.