I pulled a Betty Draper last night.
October 8, 2009 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Any tips for successfully reupholstering a vintage settee?

I finally, after months of beautiful mid-century modern furniture near-misses, beat the clock and snatched up this baby from Craigslist before anyone else got to it. I'm in love, but the fabric's kind of discolored (and slightly ugly) and there isn't much padding on the seat. The wood's in fine condition, so I'm not worried about that.

I've reupholstered an antique chair before, so I understand the basics, but that was more of a test run. I'm a little more invested in this piece of furniture. I definitely want to do this myself (no taking it to a professional), and I'm looking for a little guidance in the not-making-it-ugly department.

1. Are there any great reupholstery guides out there on the interweb, or do you yourself have any specific advice? I'm especially concerned with keeping a neat, tailored look.

2. Any ideas of where I could find some nice sturdy fabric, either online or in the Boston area? I'm currently obsessed with clean mid-century everything, so someplace that specializes in that sort of thing would be great.
posted by oinopaponton to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oops, links don't seem to be working. 1, 2.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:17 AM on October 8, 2009

Best answer: Your images aren't working.

Anyway, are you me? I'm a craigslist-obsessed vintage furniture junkie, too. We've gone through a few rounds of recovering at our house with various pieces.

Reupholstering and recovering are pretty different; reupholstering involves retying springs, cutting new padding, etc. That may or may not be the case here. If you just need to recover, maybe add a little cushioning, you'll basically:

- strip the old covering, keeping it in its original pieces.

- cut a new covering using the old ones as a guide, matching patterns and nap

- sew it together

- add new cushioning as necessary

- wrap the cushioning in batting

- cover and staple or handsew in place, as needed.

If you get your images working I bet we can give you more specific advice.

I'd check out any big fabric store near you. The home dec fabrics in those can range from okay to awful, but you can use heavy weight garment cottons and wools with no ill effect. I've been on a raw, slightly slubby linen spree with all my mcm chairs, but tweedy wools and blends could work really well too.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:19 AM on October 8, 2009

Best answer: Well, there's this: http://www.upholster.com/howto/ which isn't bad, except the pics are small. Looks like late 50s, early 60s you have there. Nthing peachfuzz's advice, esp about keeping the existing upholstery for a pattern. Your piece looks late 50s (legs) or 60s (shape) to me. I'd use a flat velvet or a heavy synthetic double knit (used for upholstery in the 60s/70s on modern pieces) - just something flat, not shiny, and plain to show off the lines.

For fabric, I'd look for old fabric/upholstery shops or jobbers who usually have really old fabric tucked into a corner in the back. They always get stuck with half bolts of fabric when fashion changes. I don't know if you want authentic colour, but, if memories of being dragged through furniture stores as a kid are correct: dark/medium blue gray, old gold, dark emerald green, (Canadian) airforce blue (medium grayed blue), almost chocolate brown, cream, mid-beige, charcoal. I don't remember any bright colours or red/purple/jewel tones showing up until much later.
posted by x46 at 8:20 AM on October 8, 2009

Best answer: There are tons of really good upholstery tutorials on Youtube. I too am a craigslist vintage furniture-aholic and taught myself to upholster via YT and it's easier than I thought, and enjoyable. That piece is fantastic! And will be easy to redo.
posted by iconomy at 8:21 AM on October 8, 2009

Another option is to sign up for an upholstery class with your community college or something. It's basically 6 weeks of workspace and access to the equipment. When I would get stuck, someone would come up and tell me what's next. Another plus was access to wholesale tool/fabric prices.

The piece looks easy enough to DIY, so long as your sewing machine is sturdy enough to handle the piping.
posted by politikitty at 9:54 AM on October 8, 2009

The Eliot School in Jamaica Plain offers a great upholstery class where you can bring in the piece you want to cover and get great instruction as you do it yourself. I took the class once before and would do it again if I had the time.
posted by InkaLomax at 12:53 PM on October 8, 2009

I did not see the working link before I posted, that does look like something you would not need that much help for.
posted by InkaLomax at 12:54 PM on October 8, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, guys!

InkaLomax and politikitty- I had no idea upholstery classes existed, but they sound awesome! I think I'm going to have to DIY this project entirely, but I'll keep classes in mind for when I have more spare time and money.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:47 PM on October 8, 2009

Best answer: If you can wait a little while, it looks like Re-Nest is posting a reupholstery primer in parts.

I think your piece should be pretty easy - I am guessing the seat covering is just a half-box cushion stapled underneath. The back and arms might be a little more involved, if they're fully covered, or they might be open pockets, too, drawn tight and stapled where the seat covers them up. Taking it apart will be your best clue to how to put it back together again - there's usually a really clear logic to the order of things.

Document, document! I like to take a photo at every step of dismantling and of every weird thing so there's no chance of me forgetting and fudging.

The first thing you'll probably do is screw the legs off. The arm and back may be removable at that point, too. Take off all the pieces, note how they're sewn together, and then rip the seams carefully. Label them, including which direction was up, if it seems like it could get confusing.

(You may want to do this outside or in a garage, if you can--dirt collects and old foam degrades, and you don't want tiny particles of 40-year-old dust and plastic all over the place).

Press the pieces gently flat and use them to cut a new covering, matching the pattern if there is one and you want to, but definitely cutting on straight and bias grains where you need to (again, the old fabric should clue you in on where it's important). Sew them together. Is there welting? Making welting is fun and really easy, especially if you have a welting foot.

Which reminds me - make sure to use an upholstery needle and upholstery thread. A broken needle is no fun--neither is a seam that can't take being sat on and stretched.

Cut pieces of hi-density foam if you think you need to replace that. Adhere it to the base pieces with spray adhesive. You may be able to get away with just new batting, though - I like wool batting. You can wrap the foam with dacron for tension and longer life if you want first--but definitely use batting to make it feel nicer and again extend the life of the cushion. You can fudge the shape of the cushion a bit by tensioning the wrapping pieces tighter and looser in areas, but it should generally be the right shape - you may want to have an upholstery shop cut the foam if the pieces are tricky to get right.

Cover the separate pieces. If the arm and back are fully covered before being attached, hand-sew the last seam with a tiny blind hem stitch and a curved upholstery needle. Where you need to staple, work on it like you're stretching a canvas - staple down a point on each side, first, and then fill in to get the most even coverage. Work with a ruler and your eye to stay on track.

The best advice I can give is to take your time, and don't feel bad about ripping something to re-do. You want to feel good every time you look at it and use it, not think to yourself, "Oh, if only I'd taken the time to do X". Good luck, and have fun!
posted by peachfuzz at 9:15 AM on October 9, 2009

Best answer: Hah! I am also a Boston-based mid-century-modern craigslist junkie, and I actually saw that piece and thought about trying to get it and re-do it! Good on ya for taking it on, it's a cool piece.

I'm actually kind of in the same spot as you are -- I bought a chair for $30 off CL in June that has fantastic lines and hideously ugly pink plaid fabric. I went into a frenzy and started taking all the fabric off, got halfway through, and sort of lost steam, so it's now sitting in my living room half-torn apart. I call it my "deconstructivist era" piece :). I'm partly stymied because I've never done this before and I'm not entirely sure what my next move should be. I'm thinking I should try to re-cover it in muslin first for practice, then either make a slipcover for it or possibly re-cover it again with real fabric. But maybe I should just go with the real fabric from the start. Someday I will figure this out.

As for fabric sources, Ikea has some excellent fabric at good prices. I also finally checked out another more local source this past weekend -- Fabric Corner in Arlington. They have Amy Butler upholstery-weight for about $17 a yard (or it may have been less).

I still need to figure out where to get batting and other upholstery supplies. Let me know if you have any suggestions!
posted by roscopcoletrane at 12:48 PM on October 13, 2009

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