how-to: recover a vintage sewing chair
I have many, many weaknesses when it comes to unloved furniture and pretty, old things. But one piece of furniture I’d always wanted was a sewing chair with storage in the seat.
I was lucky enough to find such a chair on Craigslist a few years ago (and have since banned myself from Craigslist because it is just too easy to find unloved things that i “need”), and it was perfect. A short little chair, with a good secret storage seat, and a terrible beige vinyl-covered cushion. Seat cushions are already easy to replace, and this seat isn’t even attached! It doesn’t get easier than that. This project took me less than 2 hours from start to finish.
The chair was even filled with old sewing notions! Perfect.
It just needed a quick wipe-down with some Murphy’s Oil Soap, and then a hefty dose of bright-and-cheery: bright yellow and white stripes.
My sewing table is now even more cheerful than before, which is always helpful now that the winter sun doesn’t stick around long. The answer to dark nights is always More Yellow. I also made sure my new cushion had plenty of squish. Ironically, recovering this sewing chair was a no-sew project! Gotta love the staple gun.
If you have a sewing chair of your own that could use a new look – or you just love scrolling through DIYs in progress like I do – see what I did after the jump! And remember, you can always click on a photo for a larger view.
- fabric, should have decent weight (mine is yellow striped IKEA canvas)
- foam (i used 1″ thick)
- thin batting/fleece
- screwdrivers: philips head (for screws) and flat head (for staple removal)
- pliers – to help with staple removal
- staple gun
Remove seat top from chair. This is hardly a step!
If your chair has hinges, you should be able to remove the screws holding the hinges on. Just keep track of where those screw holes are so that you can find them again once your new fabric is in place.
Remove hardware. For me, that was just these wooden pieces that keep the seat top from sliding around when it’s on the chair. As we learned in the hassock reupholstery DIY, it’s good practice to label your parts as they are removed so they can be put back in the exact same spot. These pieces of wood look interchangeable, but you never know if the screw holes might be slightly different from one piece to the next. I numbered mine in a clockwise fashion as I removed them and set them aside.
I ripped off the staples holding the black cover in place using my trusty flat-head screwdriver and a pair of pliers. This revealed – surprise – more staples! Those come off too. Removing staples is surprisingly satisfying.
I flipped the wooden base over to find some cotton fluff similar to that inside my original hassock. Just like the hassock fluff, this fluff was tossed immediately into the trash.
I gave the piece of wood a quick sanding to remove the burrs left from the screw holes, then vacuumed it to remove sanding dust and any remaining bits of fluff.
Keep all of your parts together! Of course, I tossed the used staples, as well as the old labels. But the picture looked cool.
Next, it’s time to make a pattern for your new cushion. I folded the old cover in half, traced it, then cut it out with a bit of extra to accomodate my extra foam. I was careful to fold my striped fabric so that the stripes would be straight and evenly distributed.
Then I cut a piece of foam – I think mine was 1″ thick – to the size of the wooden board. I wanted this chair to be nice and comfy so I used a thicker cushion layer than was in the original chair.
Usually I use a serrated knife to cut foam – like a bread knife – but with this thin foam I just used scissors.
Here, I used a thin layer of batting/fleece as my initial cushion cover. This is useful for a few reasons – it gives the seat a little bit of extra cushion, it helps keep the final upholstery nice and tight, and it helps smooth out any sharp corners from the foam.
The batting layer makes the final fabric layer much easier to deal with. The batting layer can be pulled super tight without worrying about its appearance – no finnicky corners yet.
I stapled one side, then pulled the batting tight and stapled the opposite side. Repeat with the other two sides, and trim.
I did not glue the foam in place, but instead relied on the batting to hold it all together. Now it’s one cohesive mass, which is super easy to work with.
Stapling on the outer fabric is a little more difficult since the corners have to look nice. For the front corners of the chair, I just made up a little folding method.
First, I folded the fabric at a 45-degree angle, as shown above.
Then I made a second fold, incorporating the remaining fabric. This one took some fidgeting before it looked acceptable. I also made sure both sides matched decently, and that the stripes were not causing any problems.
It’s not perfect, but this is as good as it gets. The folds looked a little bit lumpy to me, but they matched each other. And once the cushion was on the chair, it looked completely natural.
This was also an especially stiff canvas – many materials would be much more forgiving on the corners.
I stapled all the way around the cushion, pulling the fabric tight as I went. I used my favorite method of placing the cushion on the floor and kneeling on it so that I could properly pull the fabric.
When starting out, it helps to do one edge, then its opposite edge, before going all the way around.
And yes, I tend to use a lot of staples. Hopefully I don’t have to re-cover this cushion for a long time.
Since this cushion will be removed on a regular basis to access the secret compartment, I wanted to make sure the bottom was presentable. So I cut a piece of yellow fabric to the size of the cushion, turned the edges under, and stitched to make a finished edge. The sewing’s not necessary – you could just iron the edges under and then staple them on.
Then I stapled the yellow cover on, using fewer staples since this shouldn’t be under any stress. Make sure to staple wisely – don’t staple on top of other staples!
All done! All that’s left is the hardware. After finding the old screw holes, I re-attached the wood pieces. I didn’t cut holes in the fabric, but rather just allowed the screws to work their way through the fabric. I think that leaves less chance of future raveling, and the screws went in without a problem.
Ta da! My new chair is the perfect fit for my recently re-organized sewing corner. Bright colors + squishy cushion = a happy seamstress.
Just remember: never leave a chair behind just because of a bad cushion!