I’ve always wanted to learn how to upholster furniture. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could take your old couch which your dog thought was a large chew toy and recover it in some fabulous fabric?! People would ask, “Where did you get that awesomely funky chair?” and I would say “Oh that old thing, I recovered it myself.” Sounds so cool.
Well, over the years I have recovered a few small pieces here and there (without great luck) and I really wanted to learn more about it. Luckily, I am not alone in my dream of learning upholstery. I have a good friend who also has the bug. We began to look for upholstery classes in the North Texas area and we were unable to find anything.
But, we couldn’t be deterred. After months of searching my friend found a class at an upholstery store in Austin named Spruce. Spruce is an awesome upholstery shop/fabric store. Their fabrics are really cool and modern, especially compared to the old lady fabrics found in Dallas stores. If you are on the market for some new, fresh fabric that is the place to shop.
They also do some really neat upholstery work; if you visit their site you can see some. They also teach a few classes through each month. They do a bench class, lamp class, headboard class, and a chair class. For the chair class you simply bring an approved chair and fabric and they walk you through each step.
They are very particular about what type of chair you can bring. It cannot have springs in the bottom or arms that need to be upholstered. Since you are operating on such a short amount of time (two days) it is important that you select a chair that you can finish in that amount of time.
Now seeing as how my friend and I had upholstered a few small pieces we thought, surely, we were intermediate students. We tried to get a few more complicated chairs approved without luck. My friend’s mom enjoyed teasing us about our believed intermediate status saying “You guys are such professionals at upholstery you should be able to upholster an entire couch in two days!” Her kind teasing helped us to realize that we might be a bit in over our heads!
So, we began searching for chairs we could use for class. We searched garage sales, estate sales, Craig’s List, and Goodwill in search of the perfect chair. Finally, a week before class I stumbled upon a couple of hideously gold chairs at a Goodwill in Arlington, TX. I bought them for only $10 a piece.
Once we got them home we had to do a little bit of work to them. Mine was snapped in half so I glued it back together with Guerilla Glue. Before I could paint I had to strip all the old fabric off. We both decided to paint our chairs with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. I did mine in Duck Egg Blue and Rana did hers in Arles, mustard/yellow color.
With chalk paint there is no need for priming or sanding so I painted in a couple of coats of paint and when it dried and gave it a light sandpapering to make it look worn. I loved the way the gold paint shinned through the areas that had been sanded. I tried to sand it in areas where it would naturally be worn. I also gave it a light dark glaze similar to the way I did my little shelf.
So the day finally came and we packed our car with lots of luggage, two chairs, and two sets of golf clubs (our husbands came with us to Austin to do a bit of golfing). I think we probably looked a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies. We arrived at our class with many questions regarding upholstery like, how do you put the backs in? How do you attach the welt cord? How do you pad the seat? We would soon learn all these answers and more.
The first thing we did was remove all the staples, old fabric, nails, or anything from the frame of our chair. It is important to get it all off so that the chair looks smooth and doesn’t snag the new fabric. This step takes a surprisingly long time. There were nearly a thousand staples in that chair! Lucky they had a few tricks and tools to help make the job a little easier.
Once clean and smooth we began the job of reupholstering. First step was to staple on webbing for support to the seat. That was topped with burlap and then we circled the seat with edgeroll to help keep the shape of the cushion after lots of wear and tear. We then placed cotton batting onto the seat. We even made a small stack of batting in the middle so that when finished the seat would have a nice round and fluffy shape.
Foam was cut into the shape of our seat and attached to the chair with burlap and staples. I never realized until now how hard it is to shape the foam of a seat to look even and smooth. The cushion was then topped with a Dacron batting to give it a smooth and fluffy look. We then attached our fabric using a staple gun. We again had to be very careful to keep a level amount of fluffiness in the cushion.
We did all this in day one and boy was it a work out! I was pretty sore the next day and still had lots of work to do. The second day we worked on the backs which were surprisingly difficult! Since we had picture back chairs we had to be very careful not to staple through to the outside of the chair. It was difficult!
I first fitted the fabric I wanted into the back of the chair and used webbing the attach batting under the back fabric. We then cut a very thick piece of foam to go over this and covered it with more Dacron batting. Then the hard part came. I had to keep the pattern of my fabric centered while keeping an equal amount of fluffiness in my foam. If you pull one side of the fabric too tight then the cushion will be shorter on one side and crooked. So you have to move slow and take a lot of breaks to stand back and take a look.
Once everything is stapled on we applied the welt cord. This has always been a big mystery to me. Do you stitch it on? Is there a magical way to staple it on where you don’t see seams? To our surprise you hot glue it on! We mast have had shock written all over our face when told this because they quickly reassured us that this is how all professional upholsteries do it. Wow! This turned out to be the easiest part of the project! And sure enough, the cord stays on very well and neatly.
In the end we learned so much information. Upholstering even the simplest of chairs has many, many steps (there are many that are not listed here). We were very surprised to see how much supplies, time, and effort goes into each piece. The staff at Spruce are true believers in craftsmanship and pay very close attention to detail.
In fact, even in our own chairs that we were making ourselves with their supervision were subject to their kind scrutiny. They insured that each step was followed properly and, if ever gutted, our chairs would be pretty on the inside too.
And while we’re on the subject of the staff can I just say, Wow! The staff was very kind, and patient, well educated, and answered every stupid question I could come up with. They were especially a lot of fun! Rana and I had so much fun visiting with the staff and teasing one another. They were good fun and great educators. I haven’t spent that much time laughing in one weekend in years!
I am so glad that I took this class. I learned so much and I have a few projects down the line I can’t wait to tackle (I first need to get my hands on a pneumatic staple gun). In the end I am definitely not the professional I thought I was. I have a new respect for upholstery and the incredible skill and craftsmanship required to do it properly. I can’t wait to take this class again with another chair to see what new skills I can pick up.
If you are interested in taking a class with Spruce simply stop by their website to see what’s available, pictures from other classes, and some of Spruce’s own projects.
Just hours after this post was shared I got an email from my friend, Rana. She had just received the newest Ballard Designs catalog and on page 64 was my chair! When I heard I immediately grabbed my copy, flipped through the glossy pages, and there it was. Different paint but same fabric positioned just the same! I was shocked. Just goes to show that: 1: I have great taste 2: I can make it for less money than I can buy it, and 3: I can make it look better than Ballard Designs. See their version in the picture below or visit their site.