Monday, 12 May 2014

the ugly duckling chair make-over # 1

Upholstery requires artisan skills & knowledge including understanding of materials and even special tools. 

So if you are like me and have sewing skills and know how to make dresses, it's not necessarily enough to achieve the effortless looking result that makes a curved backrest on a chair look good and proper.

I know, I know, what's wrong with ties or velcro or a loose cover? In theory, nothing, but that's not the look I wanted to go for with my chair above. Ties look messy, velcro fastenings don't make for neat curved seams and a loose hang-down cover just conceals everything be it nice or not so... 

Well, with no true upholstery skills or tools I didn't think I should start taking apart my chair. I also thought it wasteful to permanently rid a good vintage object of its original looks and perfect original condition. 

So I set out to come up with a dressmaker's solution for a 'mock-upholstery' makeover that fitted my skill-set, knowledge and sewing machine. It also happens to conserve the object as is, as well as it satisfied my idea of good looks for a chair. Here is the first installment of the how-to:

#1. Finding the right fabric

Just like when you design and make a dress, the fabric is everything. It practically decides how an idea will work. So the first task of the make-over is to find the right fabric. Right in looks, colour and pattern, but more importantly right for the function, and for the sewing machine and sewing skills you have. 

The search took me a while. My perfectionist me wanted to seek out a real piece of matching era upholstery fabric but my common sense told me I wouldn't be able to sew it. Upholstery fabrics tend to have a lot of texture, and tend to be thick or even tough. Not wanting to end up crying over a broken machine and bleeding fingers, I looked instead in my craft cupboard and in the thrifts for a mid-weight canvas type fabric, that ideally was made of natural fibres, had some sturdiness and also some texture to imitate upholstery textiles.

For me it's important to see how a solution might work before sewing: to handle the fabrics, to drape them on, just like when making a dress. These were the fabrics I looked at.

Vintage Jonelle curtain type fabric with a floral spray all-over design. The fabric had a good sturdy weave, and it was 100% cotton (ie. easy to manipulate under the machine and with the steam iron). The girly look wasn't right though for our living room where my sewing corner is.

A gorgeous original 1950s atomic era fabric. I adore the pattern! It's a soft, mid-weight bark cloth with a slight texture in the weave. I would have loved to go for this, but it wasn't right for the function. The fabric is a little too delicate for sitting on every day, and the cover would end up fraying with holes very soon.

Another original vintage fabric, this time a table cloth from the 1940's. This is a heavy weave of rayon type fabric, the acid yellow brocade details are great, and it's much more sturdy a fabric than it looks but alas it's white. Not a good colour for a messy crafter in blue jeans.

Then I happened upon this vintage woven cotton bedthrow that had sturdiness as well as looks. I checked for thin or worn-out patches - luckily it didn't have an issue. It had a reversible design, so after deciding that this fabric is it, I now needed to look at whether I wanted a mainly green or a mainly orange chair.

The orange version looked perky and rather tempting, but I leaned towards the more understated side of it - the green just fits in with our room decor better.

So there, the first major hurdle about finding the right fabric was tackled - next Monday I'll let you in on how the sewing pattern was drafted for this project. Any questions so far, just shoot away in comments :)

Thanks for reading and see you with the next part next Monday!

Sharing on Dawn's History and Home Party.


  1. You had some great fabrics to pick from, it must have been hard! I still like the one you chose, though.Thank you for sharing this at my History & Home link party, so glad you did! Dawn @ We Call It

  2. What a gorgeous collection of fabrics you have ... lovely ... Bee xx


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