The BIG 30 Project: #2 Reupholster a Chair

Since this week’s blog post was pretty short, I thought it would be a good time to do another BIG 30 Project post. If you don’t know what that is, click here.

Last summer I took my first week’s paid vacation ever. Up until then, I’d never worked a big kid job that actually paid you to take a week off and I was excited for it. There was only one little problem: Somewhere, somehow along the way, I had turned into my father.

Not literally, obviously. Well, maybe not obviously, I don’t know your life.

My Dad is a Ron Swanson-esque man who doesn’t vacation well. He doesn’t enjoy playing cards, doesn’t really like swimming, and gets bored lying around all day. The time when Dad enjoys ‘vacation’ time most, is when he was something to work on.  At some unknown moment of my life a genetic switch flipped in my brain and I became like that too.

By the second full day of our vacation, I was dying for something to do beyond swimming, cards, or reading. I suggested to Mum that we go into a town near our cottage and do a little shopping, if only to get some new books for reading, and being a wise woman who knows that a bored member of our family is a dangerous member of our family, she agreed.

We were at Value Village when I saw it. It was beautiful. Well, it wasn’t beautiful yet, right then it was ugly and stained and neglected, but I could see the beauty underneath. It was this chair:


The picture can not do justice to the myriad of stains that covered the truly heinous mustard velour that covered the suspiciously crunchy foam of this chair. It was god-awful, but it had good bones and it was $6.

I knew immediately when I saw the chair that I wanted to recover it in fabric that would be in keeping with a 60’s-70’s vibe, so off Mum and I went to the local Fabricland to pick up some fabric. I chose some fabric I felt walked the fine line between cute and kitsch and we were off!

The legs of the chair were dead simple to remove as they were one piece screwed into the bottom and back of the chair. Once that was done, I spent most of that evening gleefully tearing about a million rusty staples out of the edges of the chair.

Removing the staples from that chair taught me two very important lessons:

1) Smoking is bad but ashtrays are great for collecting rusty staples.

2) Always put down a tarp or something before pulling apart a strange chair because you don’t know what’s in there.

What was inside my chair was a lot of chair sand. Chair sand isn’t like regular sand, it’s what I call it when the foam in a chair is so dried out that it disintegrates into a fine sand like substance that, like sand, gets everywhere and vacuuming it up kills a little part of your very soul.

Also, there were a few pennies. So, I guess that means the chair was really like $5.97.

After I finished vacuuming the aftermath of my chair discovery, I had two covering pieces. As you can see in the photo, this chair’s back and arms are separate from the seat. Once I took a look at the fabric, I realized I would be need to break these coverings into smaller pieces. If you look at the photo, you’ll see that there is a seam where the arms meet the back, what you might not see is that there is also a seam around the top of the arms.

To make sure I didn’t get confused about which bits were what, I took a permanent marker and wrote on the disgusting mustard fabric to say what each piece was (left arm, left arm top, front of back, back of front, etc.). I then used the old fabric as the template for cutting out my new fabric, adding about a quarter of an inch or so around in case I screwed up the sewing.

If I hadn’t been able to keep the original foam of the back piece (its foam was in surprisingly excellent condition), I would have waited to do the pattern because the unique shape of the chair dictated a lot of my approach to the sewing and the pattern itself.

The foam of the seat was beyond saving. The top half of it had clearly been wet and dried and destroyed over time, so there was no way I was letting it be part of my creation. I went outside with the seat and ripped all of the foam off the old seat (it was glued there through some kind of 60’s witchcraft glue) and what I couldn’t rip off was attacked with a putty knife until it was gone.

In hindsight, I maybe should have waited to see if I could find replacement foam before I did that. The foam of the seat was pretty thick and it was the top half of it that was badly damaged, so I could have maybe used an electric knife to cut away the bad parts and salvage the good. Oh well, live and learn, die and forget it all.

The next part was the sewing and that created a problem because I didn’t have a working sewing machine. That’s ok, though. I’ve got connections. Grandma connections.

My Grampa and Granny Reta live about 10 minutes away from my parent’s place, so after asking for help and explaining what we were doing, Mum and I went over to borrow the sewing machine and also to visit because grandparents are awesome and come with hugs.

NOTE: I want to be clear here: Mum was present with me and was allowed to help via consultation, but she did none of the chair work herself. I wouldn’t let her. Seriously. She tried. I refused to let her. I may have bit her at one point.

Anyway, I’ve rarely used a sewing machine and I’ve never sewn tapestry fabric before. So, Granny Reta and Mum showed me how to pin the pieces together and then Granny Reta showed me how to use the machine to sew it together. I sewed all of it right then and there. We had brought the back of the chair and tried it on to see how things looked and it worked out surprisingly well!

The last step was to staple it.

Mum borrowed her friend’s automatic staple gun but it proved to technologically advanced for us (by which I mean we couldn’t get it to work the way we wanted) so we got out Mum’s manual staple gun and after showing me what to do, she helped me hold the fabric taught as I stapled down.

We did the back of the chair first and then, after some rooting through cupboards, we found some foam from an old project of Mum’s and cut it to the rough shape of the seat. Once that was stapled, it was just a matter of putting the legs back on the chair and voila!

Cue Heavenly Choir

         Cue Heavenly Choir

Isn’t it pretty!? Here’s a side by side comparison:Before and After

In case you can’t tell, I’m really proud of it.

I’ve been curious about recovering a chair since my Mum re-did her Mother’s favourite chair. Not only did she get to salvage a sentimental family heirloom, she learned a valuable skill! As time has gone by, I’ve wanted to learn that myself and I’m really happy to have tried it because now I’ll be more confident about doing something like this again.

When I started this project, I hadn’t expected to find it challenging beyond finding the work itself challenging, but I did. I worried about my fabric choice and whether or not I’d be able to make the pattern I’d chosen match up or if I’d taken too big a risk for my first time, I worried about making mistakes, I worried about asking to use Granny Reta’s sewing machine (because I don’t get to see my grandparents too often and I’m paranoid that if I ask for something they’ll think I only come to see them when I want something but really all I want is their time because I love them and anxiety is stupid), and I worried that I would somehow staple my hand.

It all turned out really well. I’m glad I didn’t let my worries dictate my actions, because this is one of those DIY projects that pays you well for the time you invest. Here’s a breakdown of what doing this cost vs the benefits:

Fabric- $17

Chair- $6 $5.97

Time- WORTHLESS! (I’m kidding but honestly, I don’t mind, so I don’t think that’s a high cost)


Learned a valuable life skill

Collaborated on a project with my Mum

Got to spend time/collaborate on a project with my Granny Reta

Had fun!

Got a bitchin’ one-of-a-kind chair for less than $25

Had enough fabric left over to do this storage filled footstool:

(This footstool was $2 at an auction)

Forgive the filter, this is from my Instagram

Forgive the filter, this is from my Instagram

This project will always have a special place in my heart because it was just so much fun to plan and to do and to get the ladies in my family involved in.

I’m really proud of the end result.

I’m even prouder of the journey.

Completed BIG 30 Items

#1. Postmark Tattoo

#2. Reupholster a Chair


Posted on April 5, 2015, in The BIG 30 Project and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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