Saturday, April 30, 2011

Elephants in my Sewing Room

The elephant in my sewing room is finally finished!  I restyled this rocker for a friend's nursery.  It was supposed to finished before little baby M arrived.  Um... she's six weeks old now.  Better late than never is my mantra lately.

What a project.  I actually shed tears at one point, but in the end I'm glad I saw it through and completed everything.  I'm very happy with the end result and I learned a lot about minor upholstery and furniture (through a lot of trial and error...).

Before and After
I had just come off my high of recovering my living room bench and chair when M.E. asked me about redoing an old rocker.  I thought, sure! why not?  I can do that in no time flat.  No problemo.  Never mind the fact that I know absolutely nothing about upholstery.  I mean, I made a few pillows and thought I was an expert.  

Now, fast forward two and half months later, four (back and seat, so eight really) different makes of cushion covers, at least two different sets of cushions made, new webbing and batting, five pillows and one inopportunely broken zipper.....  But it looks good, right?   

Back ties hold the back cushion in place

Another before shot and the chair totally cleared off

The first thing I did was take off all the old fabric covering the bottom.  As I pulled out staples and removed I saw just how old and dirty it was, including the batting underneath.  It basically all disintegrated when it was removed.  The original cushions were awful as well (there was a battery acid spill on the bottom cushion) so I decided not to use them either.  I ended up cleaning everything off, leaving only the framework.  It was only when I looked at the blank chair that I realized I had no clue what I was going to do.  I had to start from scratch.


The first thing I did was stretch new webbing over the seat opening.  I did a little bit of research and decided the best option was to weave furniture webbing strips for additional strength.  This is the only part of the chair I'm a little concerned with.  I wonder how much the webbing will give out over time?  I did not have the proper tool to stretch the webbing.  My MacGyver husband came up with the clamp-and-two-pieces-of-trim tool thingy to help with the stretching process.  I used it to grip the end of the webbing and then levered it against the end of the chair to stretch as I stapled.  I stapled one row of staples, folded over the end of the webbing and stapled again for good measure (that was recommended on an upholstery site I visited).  Also recommended was to use 9/16" staples.  I used them on the webbing, but used 3/8" staples for the fabric. Had to use an electric staple gun for the 9/16" staples.

I used super plush fleece instead of batting to cover the bottom of the chair since the old batting seemed flimsy.  Then I stretched fabric to cover everything and stapled underneath.  I had to work around all the spindles.  I made sure to really pay attention to how it was done on the old cover as I took it off.  It was tedious.  

Can you spot my helper?

The biggest issue was making new cushions.  I used 2" furniture foam and 1.5" inches of memory foam on top.  I wanted them to be extra cushy.  If you are crazy enough to try interested in making your own cushions, please learn from my mistakes.  The cushion needs to be perfect before you ever even think of sewing a cover for it.  Most of my many failed sewn covers came from the fact that I did not cut the foam evenly or smoothly.  I assumed that the cover would smooth out any lumps, bumps or unevenness.  Not true.  The cushion needs to be smooth and perfectly formed ahead of time.  Also, you need to take account of the fact that the foam needs to compress some to fill out a cover.  I didn't factor that in the first two times.  I would not add any seam allowance when you are measuring cushions for their covers.

I cried after my third attempt.   My husband deserves many thanks for helping me finish.  I guess he doesn't like to see me cry :).  He came out to the sewing room and re-cut the foam precisely.  He also cut all the edges of the foam at an angle to get rid of sharp edges.  He's very detail oriented if you can't tell from the tipi. Then I made a separate inner cover from a stretchy fabric.  See how nice the cushion looks on its own?  Makes all the difference.  The covers zip up nicely and it will be easy to take them off to wash if needed.

The pillows were easy after all that.  I used black binding, ric-rac and my favorite- the pom pom trim on the little pillow.  I think it looks great with the yellow and white fabric that M.E. picked out.   In fact, I kind of want it in my house.....


All that time and effort was well worth it.  It was a paid job and I was paid entirely too much considering my slackness on time of completion (thank you so much!).  I've earmarked the money for more fabric.  I learned so much and I'm much more confident in my furniture fashioning abilities.  It's something I see more of in my future ;).  

The best part, though?   One day, when baby M is grown, I get to tell her I made this for her.

Happy sewing, everyone.


  1. Wow, how ambitious! But it looks fantastic-the black ric rac is perfect-I may have to do this too in the next year.

  2. This looks fantastic! Well done!

  3. wow. that's a serious job. and a seriously well done one! I thought it sounded complicated to bring elephants in your room but my god, it really was!:))

  4. Wow, that is gorgeous and amazing and so far beyond anything I can imagine contemplating. I can't believe you persevered.

    Re. the foam and evenness, one tip I have used on the cushion I'm making for a friend right now (and have been since February, mind you) was wrapping the foam in a couple layers of batting before covering. This smooths lumps and softens that sharp corner edge. Of course my cushion is a simple rectangle... Even though I cut the under-cover without extra for seam allowances, AND had the batting, I still had to pull it off and take it in a bunch as the fabric stretched. Grr.

    Did I mention that's a gorgeous set and you are obviously the best friend ever?

  5. Well done! It looks lovely. I admire your perseverance.

  6. what a project! it looks lovely! you did such a great job.

  7. Brilliant tip, Tanitisis-- why didn't I think of that?! (or perhaps done a little more research before I began?)

    A smooth edge is key.

    Thanks, friends, for all the nice comments!

  8. What a labor of love! The result is absolutely spectacular.

  9. Well done. It looks fabulous. Good on you for persevering. The colour combo is lovely.

  10. It looks fantastic! Those intensive projects are so satisfying once their complete, huh? ;)

  11. Very Groovilicious! Upholstery is not my favourite sort of sewing and I can understand the tears. Everything gois mouldy here all too quickly so I have sewn more cushion covers than I would have liked to. None of them are as cute as yours though.

  12. oh my goodness, I love this! What an awesome project!!!!