DIY gone maybe a bit overboard?
January 24, 2012 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I have two wing chairs, unfortunately expensive taste in upholstery, and a desire for a long-term project. Can this work?

The two wing chairs are probably actually antiques, but they are, uh, much-loved. My grandparents' cats shredded the upholstery long before they got given to my mother, and she had them for about eight years before they came to me. But I love them.

So, I have those. And I have an ongoing love affair with window shopping at Maine Cottage, mostly their stripes, although they've got a couple florals that are the only florals I have ever liked in my life. The furniture is mind-bendingly expensive, IMO. They sell the upholstery fabric! Well, it's merely obscenely expensive. The first part of the two-parter: Does anybody else sell upholstery fabric that is similarly awesome in terms of bright colors, contemporary patterns, etc, that is also relatively affordable? I.e., not $70 a yard.

Second part: Just how impractical is the notion of learning how to upholster these myself? My great-grandfather recovered these eons ago and because of that, I sort of like the idea of doing it myself. I don't really sew at the moment; I've seen some things online about just doing stuff with staples and glue, but nothing with very detailed instructions. And I'm okay with it being a big project, but there's a difference between big project and "this will devour your life", and I don't know anybody who's done this personally. So... any thoughts?
posted by gracedissolved to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Yes! Recover them yourself now in something less costly. Something from JoAnn fabric bought with a coupon or on clearance. Something you will not cry over if you do the worst job ever. Live with it for a year or six months, and recover again. For round two, use a similarly inexpensive material. I'm not saying cheap, just inexpensive. All the while, be collecting your pennies in a jar for that Maine Cottage fabric you adore. Forgo coffees, or pedicures, or whatever it is you do that could be cut out of your budget.

Then, when the time comes for round three, your skill will have grown. Or, you'll be painfully aware that there is a reason you do not upholster furniture for a living. (My mom person yes, my family is strange. sorry is in the middle of the big project of recovering some much loved antique chairs. She does a little bit at a time as she finds or makes the moments in her weeks. My grandmother took a slightly different tack, traveling to, I think it was Turkey?, to buy insanely expensive fabrics. Then she took the fabrics and the chairs to a technical school where the work was much less costly than having an upholstery shop do it.)
posted by bilabial at 6:27 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, my mom taught me to sew a bit when I was younger, but the first thing I sewed by myself as a grown-up was reupholstering a sofa. I did it with a lot of staples and a few easy seams. It wasn't removable. After doing a few chairs in the same manner, I got really sick of the fabric looking old and dingy rather quickly (children+cats), so I started making slip covers instead so they could be removed. And this was all before youtube tutorials and askme for when you get stuck. I wouldn't try stripes, though. Also, you have to buy extra fabric for stripes. So, I think you could figure it out if you didn't want it to be perfect. If you want it to be perfect, make cheap cheap muslin covers first to figure out your mistakes ahead of time and see if it's possible before you spend a lot of money on fabric. I am not great at describing how to sew in words, but memail me if you want try my staple-gun-easy-but-totally-made-up-as-I-go method. My main technique is to stare at the chair for months while it sits around the house being annoyingly the wrong color while I plan out in my head how to do the hard corners and curves. Once I actually start, it only takes a couple of days to do.
posted by artychoke at 6:34 PM on January 24, 2012

I can't answer anything about fabric, but I do occasionally look longingly at these articles and think about what I could do if I had more time, energy and (gulp) courage.
posted by lilnublet at 6:41 PM on January 24, 2012

I've upholstered several pieces of furniture. This chair and hassock were the first pieces I ever did, and this buttoned tub chair was the third. My mother told me it was just a matter of "taking off the old fabric, using it as a pattern to cut out the new pieces, and putting it back together the same way". And it almost was as simple as that. However, I did know how to sew. I'm not sure I'd recommend that you try to upholster anything without knowing how to sew. Do you at least know someone who can sew and has a good machine who can give you a hand?

Also, I felt it was worth it to pay for decent quality fabric. The brown velvet I used for my first two pieces was only $10 a metre, and I'm still kicking myself for using it. It's holding up fairly well so far with very careful, light use, but at some point I'll have to do all that work again. The buttoned tub chair fabric cost $20 a metre, and it's damn near indestructible. So I'd recommend spending what you have to for quality fabric, but not perhaps spending $70, especially if you think you might botch the job. Surely you can find something you like at a fabric store in your area?
posted by orange swan at 6:45 PM on January 24, 2012

Yes, do it! What's to lose? If you mess up, then you can take it to a qualified upholsterer. I love a DIY project and have been dreaming about reupholstering chairs. My new favorite fabric source is Why not check out the florals here to start? The Richloom prints seem close to the Maine Cottage florals, but they are $15 a yard. And there are some good tutorials online: here and here to start.
posted by k96sc01 at 6:50 PM on January 24, 2012

I'd say give it ago. What's the worst that can happen, it looks bad so you pull all the material off and start again. You say you don't sew at the moment, if you ask around a lot of independently owned craft or quilting shops do beginners sewing classes for good prices, if you don't own a machine I am willing to bet one of your friends has one sitting around gathering dust you could borrow.

I'd avoid stripes as they'd be hard to get straight and find a nice forgiving pattern that doesn't need as much lining up.
posted by wwax at 7:07 PM on January 24, 2012

This blog series made me actually think I could do it if I ever had to/wanted to. Maybe it will inspire you too. There are 5 parts to the series of posts detailing every step.
posted by cecic at 7:23 PM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: I don't really know anybody who sews, but I have a working machine and don't mind learning on smaller stuff for the purposes of doing this. I keep meaning to learn in general, but have never had anything I particularly wanted to do it for.

This starts to sound pretty plausible! These chairs don't actually get sat in very often--I don't have people over much and I'm more for the sofa--but I sort of like the idea of starting with something cheap and then I can redo it in something better the second time. More fabric suggestions are always welcome, but I've at least found some places to scan through now, and at least the inexpensive stuff is way cheaper than I thought it might be.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:23 PM on January 24, 2012

One small suggestion, before you start taking all tho old upholstery off, is to test yourself with a small simple project. It will get you a little practice without doing something complicated and sentimental. Chairs with a removable upholstered seat are usually a pretty easy project.
posted by annsunny at 12:10 PM on January 25, 2012

I can weigh in a bit on the first question from some recent experience.

- I have been looking through thousands and thousands of fabrics recently in search of bright, contemporary geometric florals, and like k96sc01, the best manufacturer I've found is Richloom. Here's a page with everything has from Richloom. Second in line for me was Premier Prints.

- I was told by an upholsterer that there are only four or five mills that do the bulk of the upholstery fabric manufacturing, and sometimes a fabric is sold by different brands under different names.

- Knowing that, after I fell in love with a fabric the upholsterer had, I went online, looked up the name and found it for $35 instead of >$50. And then it occurred to me that I could try to find it being sold other places under other names by using Google Images to find like images. Well, that worked, and I ended up being able to get it for less than $15/yard. So you might try taking the swatch or yardage images from Maine Cottage and seeing if they turn anything up via Google Images.

- Besides, the best source I found for looking at what's in the marketplace is The site is a pain to use - I found the easiest way was to use their advanced search to bring up a color, to start. Once you do that, and you find something you like, you'll be able to see on its page what collections they have it in, and oftentimes those collections will have similar things that'll appeal to you.

- About the second question: Upholstery classes are a pretty common subject for adult education classes. If you don't want to jump in with both feet, there might be a class in your vicinity.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:21 PM on January 25, 2012

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