A hope deferred

Does anyone else share my dream to successfully upholster something? Anybody? It's actually been a dream of mine for quite awhile, and while I have semi-successfully upholstered cardboard furniture, I was hoping for something a little more permanent. (P.S. emphasis on the "semi" in semi-successfully.)

Many moons ago (like 25 moons probably), I was browsing the free section of Craigslist, as I sometimes do, and came across a goldmine. A matching set of wingback chairs, described as "a little stained, but great bones". I went all the way out to Washougal for those babies, and they were worth the drive! I probably would have driven to Seattle for them, no joke. Stained, smooshed foam padding, and a little tattered in places, but 100% sturdy and very comfortable. Perfect for reupholstering.

I checked out a couple books on upholstery from the library (another one of my favorite places), but it was all very detailed and complicated, so I decided to mostly wing it, and rely on the book if I got into trouble. I mean come on, I'm already experienced in the duct tape and cardboard methods, so I'm basically an expert. Hah.

In considering fabric, I had 2 requirements. 1) a fabric without a "direction" of pattern, so I wouldn't have to worry about matching it up or making it look straight, and 2) something that will be neutral enough to last for a long time after styles change. Like forever. It turns out that the majority of home dec patterned fabrics are "directional", so my choices were narrowed for me. Not narrowed enough, apparently, because it still took me like a year to choose and buy fabric.

My planned method was as follows: Take all the old pieces off. Trace them onto the new fabric and cut them out. Add foam padding where needed. Assemble it all back together as best you can. Just in case the timeline for project turned into one like the bathroom vanity, I thought it would be fun to look back and see the narrative version of the process.

Jan 23
Okay, we brought one of the chairs upstairs last night to see if we could rearrange the furniture in the living room. (We're thinking yes, and that it will be a much better use of space) It is staying upstairs because Ruben thinks it will motivate me to work on it. I think it's working, I already got to work ripping out staples in order to dismantle and trace the fabric shapes. Impressions on the art of reupholstery so far: whoever made this chair was staple-crazy. Staples on top of staples on top of staples. I think I'm going to pull a muscle trying to get all those babies out. I hope this is the hardest part (famous last words?). Positive upholstery project moment: today Ruben was reading the paper and saw an ad for wingback chairs similar to these except maybe a little bit uglier and they were $450 each. Now he gets it and is totally in support of my efforts.

Feb 3
I am going to town ripping that chair to pieces! The actual staple removal is torture, so I have turned to alternative methods: slicing the fabric right next to the staples and then ripping it off, or just ripping. I figure it isn't the most important to keep the fabric pieces in pristine condition, the rebuilding process will be a game of guesswork anyway. I just have to have the general shapes. Also, there is a TON of animal fur coming out of all the chair crevasses. It's gross. Last night I had my first flicker of fear when I took apart of the wing piece that has some sort of confusing piping and tricky layering. 
Despite that, my enthusiasm for this project is still a solid 8 out of 10. I'm taking lots of pictures and writing notes on the fabric pieces so that I can remember how to put it back together.

Feb 21
Chair is fully dismantled! It is covered with fabric swatches and my mind changes daily about which one I like best. :/

Mar 13
I bought 12 yards of fabric and all the supplies that I think I'll need for this beast of a project! I finally made a decision about which fabric I wanted to use, and then got to fabric depot and found that none of the fabrics were in stock! Probably because I picked up the swatches LAST WINTER. So I made an impulse decision so I wouldn't miss out on their big fabric sale, and came home with a fabric that I love! I also had a mini heart attack when I looked at the receipt and saw that I was charged $150 for the foam I needed to re-puff the arms. Sigh of relief when I realized they accidentally charged me per inch instead of per foot and I got 11/12ths of that amount refunded. :) When I got home I started tackling the part that I expected to be most difficult and what I was most nervous about messing up--the "wing" of the chair with the piping and little pleats. I am happy with how it looks, so if that really is the hardest part of the rebuilding, I'm feeling real good! I fully realize that statement could be another famous-last-words thing...

Mar 14
Feeling good, stapling like crazy, getting a workout with all the fabric-wrestling. So far it's pretty fun and haven't had any significant disasters. 

Mar 21
Today I started tackling the cushion, one of the other parts I was most nervous about. And, done! Why was I nervous about it? 

May 1
One complete chair (well, almost. It's missing the back panel. Because I'm nervous about it) has been sitting next to one gross pink chair for over a month. I learned that upholstery isn't that hard, and then suddenly I had no desire to make over the other chair. Ahhh! Brain, you're so weird! Until this week, when Ruben was engrossed in the garage rewiring, and I decided why not. So I ripped the old fabric off in a frenzy! My frenzy saved so much time, and I only have a couple blisters! (no need to try to salvage the fabric pieces since I already have the pattern pieces from the first chair) I'm in the zone and hoping for a finished product in 4 days or less!

May 2
Going to town sewing the pieces and getting ready to staple! I talked Ruben into helping me rip the last few pink pieces off because my blister is making it difficult. 

May 6
Done! Well, almost. I forgot to pick up the last 2 scary metal teeth parts, so I haven't done the last back panel. But I did the first back panel, and it was so easy! 10 minutes! Chair two was fast like lightning, once all the old fabric was off. I spent just a couple hours, over a couple days, and voila, it's like grownups live here!

Final thoughts: I like this narrative project record. It fits my style of having super drawn-out projects. Also, I was nervous at lots of moments, and then when things worked out I was worried that it was too good to be true. Oh why oh why? Ok self, stop your doubting! You can do stuff! People of the world: You can do stuff too! Let's stop being paralyzed by the nervies and just take a risk and make it happen! Fearless DIY Girl is unleashed!


  1. I love your writing style, and appreciate the narrative/tutorial quality of your posts. What a fabulous recreation of these chairs! They look so comfortable and calm and like a perfect place to relax with a book or conversation. :)

    1. Thanks Jan! It's been fun to create a history of our house progress! And you're right, this has become my new favorite place to sit when I have a chance for some tea and a book!

    2. Wow, you did a good job on that. Amazing for a beginner. I always just find someone who does it for a living and pay a lot!


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