$800 For Reupholstery, Who Are They Kidding?

I have a few habits in my life that are all about feeling good.

I do my best to cheer people up when it is within my power. I think my go-to method of cheering someone up is to do something for them, since I can afford to do things for them more than I can afford expensive presents.

That being said, to make myself feel better about something, I usually bury myself in a hobby. I combined these two in the last few weeks.

My mother went to the hospital with breathing problems three Mondays ago. When it was apparent she would be there at least a week, I decided to have a present waiting for her when she got back.

I went into the basement and I found my great great grandmother’s favorite rocker/recliner. There is no doubt my great grandmother rocked my sister, me, my brothers, my uncles and my mother to sleep in this same chair.

I took this with a phone just to show friends. But you can see it is in slight disrepair.
I took this with a phone just to show friends. But you can see it is in slight disrepair.

She was always in this chair and she slept in it oftentimes. It’s amazing to think that it came with the purchase of a case of Larkin Soap. I found a flyer online years ago.

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The ad says that the chair came with checked velour, my mom says it was red at one time. My aunt had once repaired and reupholstered it with the ever fashionable avocado green brocade fabric. Her repairs included lots of wire, a mesh onion bag, plumbing straps and a piece of particle board under the seat so the broken seat springs wouldn’t poke you all the time, only some of the time.

Even if the springs in the seat were in good condition, the fabric was not.
Even if the springs in the seat were in good condition, the fabric was not.
Notice the tearing and the once popular avocado green color.
Notice the tearing and the once popular avocado green color.
Here you can see particle board to keep the springs from piercing your cheeks.
Here you can see particle board to keep the springs from piercing your cheeks.
You can see this mess much clearer without all the padding. Notice the broken spring on the front and right. Most of the wires weren't even screwed into the frame anymore.
You can see this mess much clearer without all the padding. Notice the broken spring on the front and right. Most of the wires weren’t even screwed into the frame anymore.
Instead of burlap, an onion sack was used between the padding and springs.
Instead of burlap, an onion sack was used between the padding and springs.

It worked for a while, but the brocade was ripped at all of the extreme edges, in the front of the seat and just above the head rest.

The chair had been downstairs as long as my mother has been in this house, waiting to be reupholstered. Every now and again we would look at it and mom would ask, “Should we just get rid of it?” I would look at it and say, “No, I think we could get it reupholstered.” We talked about what we would need to fix it, and then after our supply list got bigger than our wallets, we’d forget it again.

I got a second job about a half year ago, and while I’m not rich by any means. I could spare some money on a special project, so I carried it up the stairs and took some photos. I sent them to a local upholstery shop for an estimate which came back at over $800.

I could work three more jobs and not be able to afford that professional reupholstery. I decided to wing it. I wing a lot of things and it is amazing how many things I don’t know how to do, but succeed at. Before I figured out if this was really within my power to fix the chair, I disassembled it. No turning back then.

I found the old green velour and padding made from compressed straw. Dust was everywhere when I pulled the cushions open. To make patterns of the old material, I forgot what material I was working with and threw it in the washer, where it pilled and shredded. I tried smoothing it out afterwards, but there would be no patterns from the old materials.

I then started acquiring parts. There were only six springs in the seat (one of them broken), I think there were once nine. I purchased three metal bar pieces with coil springs attached along with a roll of upholstery twine.

I then went to a craft shop and bought two pieces of high density 2 inch thick closed cell foam padding and one length of one inch thick padding and two bags of batting.

Figuring a week into this ordeal that mom wouldn’t want to come home and find her grandmother’s chair reupholstered in an ugly fabric, I asked what colors she would like. She said dark green or dark blue. I found two yards of a fairly nice dark blue brocade on ebay, but I needed three.

Back at the fabric shop I checked for fabric and found only four fabrics that might count. Two very ugly greens, one plain dark blue and a stylized dark blue…half off. You can guess which one I went for.

I started with the pull-out foot rest since my springs still hadn’t arrived and the foot rest was just a solid piece of wood with padding. I cut a 2 inch pad to about one inch bigger than the foot rest, then wrapped it with batting. To hold it in place a little, I put a staple in the edge of the batting and pad on one side.

I then started by stapling a small fabric sample to one of the broad sides of the foot rest, starting in the middle. I stretched the fabric to the opposite side, rounding out the cushion, then stapled it there then. I worked my way around the outside until it was all stapled back together.

I added a little more flare by cutting a piece of cardboard to fit the bottom of the foot rest. I stapled it in the center so it would stay on the foot rest.

I wrapped a piece of fabric around the cardboard and tucked the edges under with a metal ruler, and then stapled to keep the fabric tucked. This helped me to hide the cut edges of the fabric. It was also practice for the back of the chair.

The leg rest was the simplest part. Small, no springs and overall simple.
The leg rest was the simplest part. Small, no springs and overall simple.

When the springs arrived, I was surprised how nice they were and they fit perfectly. I screwed them in place and followed a video to learn to tie the strings with the new twine.

The new springs are very nice, and with nine of them, support should be more even. Notice I left one spring out on each support on each side so I could tie the upholstery twine to that screw before tightening it down.
The new springs are very nice, and with nine of them, support should be more even. Notice I left one spring out on each support on each side so I could tie the upholstery twine to that screw before tightening it down.
I didn't mention that I started by covering the tied springs with burlap, which you can see here, even before the padding.
I didn’t mention that I started by covering the tied springs with burlap, which you can see here, even before the padding.

I did the same thing with the back seat of the chair, but the springs there were still all in tact, so I didn’t need new ones.

You can see the springs are complete, but the twine is broken in some places and the springs are unevenly spaced. The old burlap was even ripped. These things made it necessary to redo the back also.
You can see the springs are complete, but the twine is broken in some places and the springs are unevenly spaced. The old burlap was even ripped. These things made it necessary to redo the back also.
You can see the back rest is actually in decent shape. The top of the head rest is ripping, and mom said she didn't like the bump it made behind her neck, so I still had to remove that at least, but I still considered using the old padding for the lower section. Lumbar support even without retying the strings was surprisingly comfortable.
You can see the back rest is actually in decent shape. The top of the head rest is ripping, and mom said she didn’t like the bump it made behind her neck, so I still had to remove that at least, but I still considered using the old padding for the lower section. Lumbar support even without retying the strings was surprisingly comfortable.

I then stretched the remainder of my 2 inch thick foam for the seat, and used the 1 inch foam for the back rest, followed by batting material (though I forgot batting for the back rest).

I changed up the method of reupholstering this time. Rather than using trim to hide the cut and stapled edge on the front of the seat, I put the material upside down with the edge on the front of the wooden seat, I stapled it at the very far edge and then folded the fabric back over the rest of the seat. The staples are not visible and no trim is needed to hide the cut edge. The old upholstery had a similar treatment to the back of the seat, but nobody sees the back, so that didn’t make sense to me.

I then pulled the sides of the fabric down to the bottom of the seat to staple it there, and stapled it to the top of the seat where the back rest and the seat meet. The back rest will hide the staples and cut ends that way.

For the back rest I stretched all of the fabric to the back side of the chair and stapled it there, alternating staples on the opposite sides so the tension I pulled into the fabric was about equal and lumps were kept to a minimum.

When I was done with that I stapled a piece of cardboard to the back (being careful to staple as far toward the center of the seat as I could). I then used a ruler to tuck the material behind the cardboard and staple it sparingly in place. This time the staples are somewhat visible, but I kept them to a minimum and used decorative upholstery tacks in the corners where things will be most visible.

I reassembled the chair. Then I sat in the chair and put my arms behind my head. The chair nearly flipped over. It seems the rocker springs are a little wore out. It leans backwards even without someone sitting in it. They are available online, but I am going to wait at least one more paycheck before replacing them. Mom is a fairly short, much lighter person than I am, so she shouldn’t have any problems, plus she sits very close to the wall, so that should keep the chair from overbalancing.

This is the finished chair. I really like the fabric and how it turned out. There are some folds and bumps where there shouldn't be, but it is comfortable and it looks nice at a distance at least.
This is the finished chair. I really like the fabric and how it turned out. There are some folds and bumps where there shouldn’t be, but it is comfortable and it looks nice at a distance at least.

This little project took me basically one night after work and roughly $100 in materials. It would have taken a professional less time and less materials. Doing it myself was a good distraction. I finished at the beginning of week 3, and now I have to figure out something else to distract me, because mom isn’t home to sit in her grandma’s chair.

Mom has been in the hospital three Mondays. The first week they discovered that the space around her right lung was filled with fluid, which compressed her lung and made it collapse somewhat. In the meantime, something caused pneumonia in her left lung. They put a drain in to remove the fluid around her right lung and put her on antibiotics for the pneumonia.

They found cancer cells in the fluid around her lung, but they didn’t originate there, meaning she has stage 4 cancer. They determined they couldn’t even scan her to find out the cause until she was able to breathe while laying flat for an hour. For that reason, they needed to get rid of the fluid around her lung and get rid of the pneumonia.

Week 2 they did a procedure to stop her lung from filling up with fluid. They inserted talc into the space around her lung, which caused part of it to fuse to her lung. For some reason, the talc didn’t work all the way around her lung, so she continued to retain fluid after they removed her chest tube.

They scheduled another surgery to put in a new chest tube, intubate her, and fill the remainder of the space around her lung with talc.

Week 3, they brought her in for her surgery. The anesthesiologist cancelled the surgery because her oxygen stats were too low to put her under, intubate her, or do basically any part of the surgery.

Before we know anything, mom needs to beat the pneumonia.

We’ve been getting support and prayers from many people. I cannot express how grateful I am. We need them now more than ever. Help me get my mom’s butt back in this chair.

upholstery

 

UPDATE: Mom’s fight with cancer ended February 23. Sadly, she was too sick to return from the hospital to spend her final hours at home, and except for photos, she didn’t even see her chair. She will be deeply missed as my family settles into a new “normal”, because life will never be the same.

3 Responses

  1. Chris L

    Travis,
    Beautiful job on the chair – your mom will love it, I’m sure. I’m sorry she’s ill and will keep her in my prayers.

    1. outsidethenewsroom

      I think it was something called Van Dyke’s Restorers or Discount Upholstery Supply, maybe Upholstery Supply Direct. I don’t recall. I got parts from a few different online shops.

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