Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lucy the Chair Lady

"[Rose] had also begged from an old aunt at Beverley Farms a couple droll little armchairs in white painted wood with covers of antique needlework. One had 'Chit' embroidered on the middle of its cushion, the other 'Chat.' These stood suggestively at the corners of the hearth.

"'Now Katy, said Rose, seating herself in 'Chit', pull up 'Chat' and let us begin.'"
[Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did Next]

You really can get just about everything here at Church Ladies- recently, there's been everything from spirituality to college football to needlework to great art to recipes. What can we say? We're women of many interests.

Here follows a double endorsement- both for the Katy books and for taking a stab at upholstery. Let's start with the former.

The Katy books chronicle the life of the Carr family in 1860s America. It is a lovely series about a family living out Christian values and a beautiful testimony to the friendship between siblings. Although the fictional Katy Carr is contemporary with Laura Ingalls Wilder, she has a very life. Katy grows up in a well established small Midwestern town, goes to boarding school out East, and travels to Europe; her siblings are a part of the great expansion of the West. I think the Katy books would make for delightful family reading- they are wholesome without being moralizing, like most literature branded Christian fiction.

Now for the heavier topic. Yours truly has a big heart.... especially for lonely chairs. It started innocently enough. I needed an extra chair for living room. Enter a nice chair from the consignment store. Then came the Holy Rosary parish rummage sale. It took 3 trips with my compact car, but I hauled 5 hand-carved cherry chairs home... for the grand total of $25. Another one of my collection, found on a street corner in a college town, is the most historic. When re-covering it, I discovered a manufacturing sticker dating the chair's construction to Matoon, IL, 1912 and freighted to Boise. I can only image the stories it could tell. And over Memorial Day weekend this year, I found a solid cherry captain's chair on my way to the market.

Changing the seat cover on a chair is one of the easiest skills. My mother taught me how when I was 5. All you need is a screwdriver and a staple gun (with staples at least 1/2" long).

If you are starting with a reclaimed chair, wash the wooden portion with oil soap. Dry it, then unscrew the pad. This is also a good time to rub the wooden frame with Old English scratch cover, in light or dark wood as appropriate.

Examine the condition of the chair cushion. If it's intact and clean, you can cover right over it. However, if the cover is in poor condition or has holes with padding exposed, you'll need to re-cover it with vinyl (more later).

Now comes the fun part, the trip to the fabric store. Don't panic- upholstery fabric can be expensive, but 1/2 a yard will cover 2 chairs, if lining up a motif isn't necessary, and some of the chains often have 50% off sales on decorator fabric. Also, check out the clearance/remnant section. Apparel or quilting fabric alone really isn't strong enough for upholstery, but if you find a print that's absolutely perfect, you can fuse it to a heavy-weight fabric, although it will be more prone to stains, since it isn't scotch-guarded like upholstery fabrics. If the original chair pad is a bright color or in poor condition, you will also need some lightweight vinyl in the same quantities as the decorative material.

If you are a handy needle-woman, you might be interested in embroidering or knitting a cover. Napa Needlepoint has some helpful guidelines for material & design selection for embroidery; here is a delightful knitted seat.

Re-covering the seat is as easy as can be. You use the same technique whether you are starting with vinyl or decorative fabric. Cut your fabric into a rectangle about 6-8" bigger than the pad, with the motife located as desired. Put the chair pad on the ground face up, then use a few straight pins to put the fabric in place. Flip it over, and pull a side taught, then staple in place about 1" from the edge, and again 3" from the edge. Repeat all the way around, taking care at the corners, then trim the excess. Screw the pad back in place, remove the pins, and you're done!

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