No-nails chair recovering

11:24 AM

This has been another very productive week for me on the blog (and offline) and a few projects that were in progress have been completed. The biggest one being the revamping of our spare room aka "The office".
While I won't go into all the details here, a contest win at Urban Ladder has finally turned that room into a cosy space rather than a dump for all things that aren't welcome elsewhere.

With it came the absolute necessity to do something about one of our spare dinning chairs :
This picture above shows you the finished product (and my new bookshelf in the background...squee!)
Not all of you might know it, but in Switzerland "Decorator" is a term often used to describe an "upholsterer decorator" and this is what I did. Yes I did re-pad and recover chairs, sofa and armchairs (among other things).

This chair, is part of set of 6 that came with our dinning table, and in this flat, we only really can accommodate 5 of them around said table. The spare one has been sitting in the spare room for about forever. And it wasn't much of a problem before, as it was hidden under a small wooden desk (a desk we plan on selling).

And, it was a good thing it was hidden, because this is how the chair looked before my handywork:
The hazard of family life and kids immortalised on dinning chair. I did try to clean that fabric countless time but non avail. It is permanently stained with grease and food stains, result of a growing child who treated it as a napkin.

To be fair, none of the 6 chairs are looking good, this one is just probably the worst, and utterly embarrassing for guests to sit on. The first problem of these chairs, which I sadly can't fix without a proper arsenal of upholsterer tools and supplies is the padding. The padding on these chairs is GONE. I solved the problem by getting removable chair pads for the ones in the dinning area. That one, we never bothered.

But now, this nasty looking chair is in full sight, in a corner of my study, and it really had to get a makeover, for both its sake and mine.
It turned out that I have two old curtains I no longer use sitting in my wardorbe, yards of fabric that apart from a few fading spots are still in great condition, and typically thick enough to be used as a chair cover.
Don't mind the cat, she fell in love with the fabric, and was a happy little helper during the whole process.

My initial plan was to make a removable cover, but as I went about it I realised it would just be quicker and more practical to cover the chair in a more permanent way.
The problem: a professional recovering requires nails, and a staple gun. Two things I didn't have. But since this chair is really not going to be put through any kind of heavy duty use, I decided my hot glue gun could come to the rescue.
Hot glue guns excel at holding fabric to any kind of surface. Back in my decorator days we used them to glue fancy trims and fringes to refurbished pieces that required such treatment.
Hot glue is really just a type of plastic that melts at high temperature and dries in seconds once removed from the heat source. On decorative pieces they can be a good substitute for nails.
The first thing you need to do is measure your chair and cut the appropriate length and width of fabric to cover it. Make sure you include one extra centimetre to fold the fabric under the chair as you measure and cut.
Once you have your square of fabric, you will need to position it on your chair using sewing pins. Ideally, you should use longer and thicker upholstery pins, which for some odd twist of luck I had in my craft supplies (don't ask...). In this picture above, they are the one with the orange head. If you have only the regular sewing pins, no problem, just use a lot more to hold the fabric into place.
These pins help you secure the fabric while you stretch it to really fit your padding.

You will need to split the fabric at the back of the chair where the wooden leg gets in the way. To do so, first ensure that the fabric is position correctly all around your padding and tightly secured with pins. Then, fold the flap of fabric in the back (just as in the picture). You need that fold to be parallel to the thread of the fabric, with the horizontal part following the horizontal threat of the stretched fabric, and the vertical length following the vertical length.
Make sure the fold touches the wooden corner as well. Once that flap is positioned correctly, take your scissors and cut toward the wooden angle at a right angle. Repeat on the other side.
Start hot gluing at the back of the chair first, from the center toward the edges. as you near the edges of that back portion, fold the cut fabric to give it a clean edge. Put the hot glue on the underneath of the chair frame (as shown in picture). You want the fabric to stay put all the way under so that the fabric looks like it is wrapping the whole padded area perfectly.

Once you have done the back, do the front section of the chair, stretching the fabric as you go. But CAREFUL! Do NOT glue all the way to the front leg, leave about 2-3 centimetres loose for now (you'll see why later).
Once the front has been glued, proceed to glue each sides, again stretching as you go, always starting in the middle of the section rather than the back. Again, leave 2-3 centimetres unglued toward the front leg of the chair (as shown in the picture above).

The reason why you should not glue this section now, is because you will want to shape your corner folds and trim the extra fabric in said fold first.
There are two different type of fold you can do on a chair like this one: one fairly simple, and one a bit harder.

The simple way is this one:
This is a single fold on the corner. This is a method more suited if you are a beginner and only requires you to first pull the side pannel to the front and fold the front portion over it (a bit like a gift wrap). Then it is only a matter of trimming and folding the excess before gluing into place.

This is of course not the fold I went for, I only took a picture of a single fold for the sake of this tutorial.
What I went for is a "double fold":
In the picture above I already glued, trimmed and folded the excess fabric, and the needles were in place just to hold the fold tightly before I stitched them.

This fold is a bit more complex, and if you aren't confident enough, don't attempt it (at least don't cut the fabric).
To pull this fold you need to pull the fabric down vertically below the sharp angle of the padding and secure and stretch it horizontally on both side, the fold the excess fabric into one fold on each side.
I can't explain it better than that without a live demo. The bulge of fabric is then cut and folded on each side before the to flap is glued to the bottom flap.

Once your folds are prepped, flip the chair over again, and hot glue the 2-3 centimetres you left unglued.
In both the single fold and the double fold technique, it is a good idea to make a quick invisible stitch with some needle and thread. This will prevent the folds from getting loose overtime as the fabric is put through the stress of people sitting down on it.
Ideally a small curved mattress needle would work best, but on such a short length you can totally do it with a regular straight needle.

From experience, I will say that the hot glue technique isn't even faster than using a staple gun, but comes handy when you lack the proper tools. It is a bit faster than the traditional magnetic hammer and nails in the mouth technique I learned in my days and should be used on antique pieces if you want to preserve their market value.

At this point, I am toying about covering my remaining 5 chairs, but since they are put to far more intensive use, I might want to invest into the right kind of tools before attempting it.
One thing is sure, my work is officially cat approved!

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  1. Glad to see Mittens is helpful in redecorating & not just a pretty face.
    Love that fabric you chose to recover that dining chair.
    I keep seeing big ads on the Delhi TV channels for Urban Ladder, are they still owned by the same folks & making the same great quality furniture? (I'm guessing by the look of that bookcase they are!)

  2. Yes they are still owned by the same people and have expended their range of furniture considerably. I keep looking at their website wishing for a huge home to accommodate all the stuff I love on their site. Their services are as usual stellar, and they not only deliver way way with the timeframe they gave, they also ask you if the day they plan to deliver the furniture to you is working for you in the first place, and once they are out for delivery, they give you a call again to let you know they are 10-15 minutes away from your place.

    This time I ordered that bookshelf, which looks very similar to the IKEA's Expedit but is made of much sturdier and nice looking material. I also ordered a floor lamp and a console table, all of the great quality that seems to be Urban's Ladder trademark.

    The fabric on that chair is really an old curtain I bought ages ago when we still lived in that rooftop terrace apartment in Bangalore. I am really considering covering all the dinning chairs with it. Hopefully I have enough fabric for all of them.


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