Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Adventures in Re-Upholstery

My hands hurt.  An obsession with mid-century furniture and a can-do attitude led me to the purchase of two Pepto-Bismol vinyl rolling kitchen chairs from Craigslist.  This past weekend I put my heart, soul, and fingernails, into revamping one of them.

She ain't the cleanest biddy, but I saw potential in her gold rolling feet and funky shape.  I firmly defended her place in our house, and am still working on a case for her sister.

Without a clue as to reupholster something, I learned as a deconstructed - which is where most of the hand hurt came from.  Starting with unscrewing the base and later prying at least 100 staples out one by one, I took note of every detail of the chair's original construction in order to figure out how to put it back together.  The details were documented with pictures which served a purpose to me as a reference point and also as a blogging demonstration.

When I got started, I started to realize that the top of the chair was going to be way more challenging than I expected.  This was going to be a reupholstery situation where I needed to use my sewing machine.  My sewing training consists of one class taken to create a grocery tote bag...so I was intimidated.

Pulling out staples was some serious grunt work.  I cursed the manufacturer for grouping staples in twos and threes (but forgave them later when I stapled in the same method).  I used a flat head screwdriver to pry and needle nose pliers to pull each staple out.  When I got an especially tricky one to burst loose it was equivalent to the satisfaction of popping a zit, or what I imagine a dentist feels like when he pulls a tooth.  I was enveloped in staple prying madness.

Above are the top and bottom parts of the chair completely disassembled.  In the photo above that on the right is the part of the chair that wraps around the middle of chair back.  It was by far the trickiest part of the job.  I saved every piece I pulled off of the chair and used them as a stencil to trace on my new fabric from Etsy.  The arms were literally sleeves that I sewed together and pulled on like I was dressing a very stubborn child with amazing bone strength.

Here we are on Saturday afternoon with one sleeve on the chair.  I didn't take any pictures of my tracing or sewing because most of them would have been me with my butt in the air on the rug with a face of sheer determination and confusion.  My brain worked so hard that weekend.

And here she is with two sleeves!  The next step to secure these would be stapling them on the edges, but I wouldn't do this until I created the middle section, just to be sure.  This is where I left her on Saturday to move onto social activities.  But she stayed with me.  She was all I could think about.  And on Sunday morning I went to her.
Here is the completed middle section of the chair back.  It was so hard to get this part right.  The original part looked as though the vinyl was covering the piece front to back but with a section of the back cut out (pic reposted for comparison purposes).  I attempted to mimic the original but to save fabric sewed four edges onto my curvy stencil.  It was sloppy and I had to revisit it several times to get it just right - wrapping it around the chair to see if I covered all my angles, even cheating by pinning some parts directly to the foam.  This step is the one I am fearing most if I decide to go the re-upholstery route with the chair's twin sister.

Another tedious but rewarding step was figuring out the tufting on the chair.  I started to freak out when I saw through my deconstruction that there was a metal rod going through the front and back of the chair.  Any tufting experience I had (I did sew fabric buttons on some cushions last summer) was done with needle and thread.  Eventually I figured out that if I really twisted and pulled hard, one end of the tufting needle would come off.  I also double checked that this was normal by laying on the floor googling tufting techniques.  Phew, at least my chair wasn't a FREAK.

I covered the vinyl buttons with my fabric and a glue gun, tucking all edges underneath so nothing would peek out.  It was a nice change from laying on the floor being puzzled.  Glue is easy.

At last, the scariest part of upholstery, it was time to staple the beast.  This turned out to be less scary and more exhilarating than I anticipated.  I picked up a cheap staple gun at our hardware store for $13 and 3/8"  10mm staples.  That means that the staple legs (I'm making this up as a technical term) are a certain length (3/8"), and you want longer ones for upholstering.  Following the same method I witnessed during deconstruction, I pulled the sleeves taught, stapled them in, and began wrapping the middle section around the chair back.  Every time a staple went in nice and flat, I found myself starting to grunt "YEA."  I also felt that staple gun noises made me sound badass....unfortunately the Olympics was turned up so high on TV that the foo didn't hear me in all my glory.

I was able to slip my hands in through the sides to help me re-tuft the chair by finding the original holes through the wood and guiding the pins through.  When I finished I was jumping.  The hardest part was complete!  

At this point I was determined to completely finish the project.  I worked so quickly that I didn't stop to take pictures of my process.  All I needed to do was trace the base cushion and create a cover.  Similar to how I made a dog bed for Harry, I made the bottomless cushion.  However I was in for a treat when I attempted to squeeze the foam in and staple it to the base of the chair.  It seemed that as I left the foam out, uncontained by it's former vinyl barrier, it grew.  I swear it because when I look at the pictures of it on it's wooden base as I had just took it apart, they're the same size.  But when I put it back together, the foam dominated the chair base.  It took a lot more grunt work than I anticipated.

Some intensive cleaning of the metal frame and the chair was ready to reconstruct.  And there she is!  It was the proudest I've felt in a while...definitely patted myself on the back for a good ten minutes, and then visited her every hour just to see if she liked her new home.  

There's a before and after shot.  I love how the minty green is a complement to the dark teal walls in our second bedroom, and the light yellow pattern is a contrast to the damask rug.  I'm obsessed with her and now I have to decide if I should do up her sister the same way or do something different.

And of course, as this Harry's blog, he was a very good foreman while I completed the job.  Periodically he checked in, but intelligently kept his distance when I was in a staple gun fury.  He's happy to have a new friend in his bedroom.

Nice work Mom!

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