This Old Chair

Back in the day, I remember reading a ridiculous article about “drunk shopping,” where women would come home from work, have a few glasses of wine and the next day realize they’d made some online purchases they didn’t remember. And this was, like, a serious problem. Up until recently, the only time I could recall making this mistake was when a pair of silver sparkly Toms showed up in the mail for my 2-year-old that looked more like Michael Jackson loafers. The second example was a happier accident, when Jo-Ann Fabrics was having one of its blowout sales and I was in the market for a couple yards to recover the seats of my dining chairs. Scrolling through page after page of geometric patterns, I was starting to get bored. I was working on my second high-alcohol IPA, and there it was: “Lotus Lake.” So unique in color scheme and pattern, with fish to boot. I immediately showed my mother-in-law, who has a thing for fish decor, and my sister-in-law, who has a degree in fibers. They were like, “That’s it! That’s the one!” and in the excitement of it all,  I added it to my cart.

A gigantic tube soon appeared in the mail, but the print turned out to be much too large for my little seat cushions. Nevertheless, I felt it had a purpose. I wandered around the house, Lotus Lake draped around me, until my eyes fell upon this old coffee-stained, tweed-covered chair in the basement bedroom where my mother-in-law spends weeknights. With three days until her birthday and suddenly feeling overly confident in my upholstery skills, I decided to go for it. I think the end product turned out pretty well (and so does she), but there were certainly a few lessons learned along the way. Here, for my inaugural JuneSkyeDIY blog post, I share my top five tips for recovering an old chair:


1) Get a tetanus shot. One of the amazing and equally maddening features of the tweed chair is that antique tacks lined the ENTIRE THING. So after pulling about 300 tacks until my arms were sore — and carefully prying them out with pliers so that I could reuse the nicest ones later — there were at least another 300 STAPLES TO REMOVE. And drop on the floor. And step on. Which brings me to my next tip…

2) Do not drink alcohol. This was my mantra when making Halloween costumes last fall. Every night in October I had to put in some work on the requested princess/fairy dresses and put off that glass of wine or beer. Likewise, recovering an armchair is a painstaking process and there’s little room for error. And with only two yards of fabric, I knew I’d have nothing to spare. So don’t screw up. Put on some tunes and make a pot of coffee.

3) Start with the back or whatever is clearly the last panel that was attached, then work in reverse order, removing each piece. In this case, I had five pieces of fabric to cut, including the arms. Once I pried the back piece off (and retained the original stuffing), I could see that the top piece had been pulled through to the back and stapled onto a piece of the frame (see photo below, it’s the bare piece). Then the separate seat piece was pulled through as well and stapled to the bottom (at left) bar you see here. And the back panel covered all of it, and was stapled beneath the chair, the bottom of which was covered by a dust cover (you can buy new dust covers at Jo-Ann, too).


4) Take a thousand pictures. Think of it as a machine you’re taking apart, and everything you’re doing you’ll do in reverse order later, so take pictures as you go to replicate what was done originally. And finally…

5) Remove and cut each panel using the original panel as the guide. I am lazy and did not do this, and hence the part I had to cut and stretch around the bottom of the arms is a little wonky. I have no doubt if you removed everything, replicated it and put it back as it was it would be perfect (or close to perfect, because you know, it’s DIY. Self-taught, baby!). For my final step, after stapling the back panel, I covered the seam with the original tacks — but I did not use them everywhere because they were super hard to apply in a straight line — so I carefully folded and pressed the sides and front, and only used the tacks where other staples were evident, too.