Jenny: Mental Health Through Upholstery

Since Krissie mentioned The Chair, and I need a post for today before we go to Staples and JoAnn’s (bliss), I will show you the The Unfinished Chair.  What happened was that the day after I realized I probably had AMD and found the letter from my doctor confirming that I had diabetes, I started doing laundry obsessively (which was good because I had mountains of it).  And in between loads, I decided to reupholster the entire house.  Well, a lot of the dark furniture in the house.  It was too damn depressing.  Since then I’ve painted a lot of it white–more to come–and Alastair painted all the woodwork in the living room white because I was coming unglued and it helped (it’s fabulous)–but that night, I wanted to do something right away, something that was hands on, something that I wouldn’t have to think about but could just do by instinct, aka “That looks right, that doesn’t look right.”  Kind of like collaging a chair.

There’s a chair I bought for fifteen dollars at Goodwill maybe ten years ago, and it was ancient then.  I recovered it in bright red fabric because it was going in the kitchen/TV room, and when we moved the TV out to the living room, the red just didn’t work.  So I ripped all my reupholstering off so I was working with the original chair again.  It looked like this (the seat cushion is missing in the picture, but we have it):



Yes, I know, it’s butt-ugly, but it’s a nice shape and it’s small which means it will fit in the cottage.

Then I went through my fabric stash and started pulling out patterns so I could do my version of a Mackenzie-Childs.  They tend to use four to six different patterns and then add buttons, gimp, and tassels and really fancy feet.












Tassels weren’t going to work for a cottage, plus the dogs and the cats would have them off before I got them sewed on, but buttons and gimp I can do.

Now the right way to upholster is to pin the fabric to the chair inside out until you have a good fit, then take it to the machine to sew the seams, then bring it back and stitch it together on the chair.  But I was stressed about imminent death and blindness, and I really wanted to do it intuitively, plus I wanted to watch TV because we were sending the DVR back and a lot of those shows I can’t get on Netflix or Amazon (Persons of Interest), so I went the patchwork route.  I like doing it that way because I can try things, and if it doesn’t work, I’m not ripping out machine stitching.  It’s very much of a hands-on art project and that appeals to me.

By 7AM on that Tuesday, I’d worked all night, a lot of my laundry was done and the chair looked like this:






Okay, that yellow panel along the bottom was not right for several reasons, and it was a little more hectic than I like furniture to be (I know, I took Mackenzie-Childs as my model, what did I expect) but it was basically not terrible.  So the next night, I ripped off the yellow skirt and side panel, and tried again.  And I’ve worked on it on and off for the past two weeks in between painting everything white, and now it looks like this:




So I still have to do a lot including buttons, but we need to go out so there’s only one on there now which is why Krissie calls The Chair “Popeye” now.  I have a feeling it’s always going to be Popeye.  Also, Krissie thinks the extra height I put on the seat looks wrong, so she said to ask you all what you thought (I’m changing that dark band to light by using the other side; a little frogging never hurt anybody):



I was going to wait to post about it until it was done, but since Krissie teased it, I figured I’d give you a Work in Progress.  And yes, I will post the finished chair.  Eventually.



55 thoughts on “Jenny: Mental Health Through Upholstery

  1. Robin S. says:

    There’s a blank space where the second picture should be. I hit refresh, so I don’t think it’s me…

  2. Here I am again!

    I thought of you yesterday when I ran across an article in the March ’12 edition of Real Simple – an upholsterer cautioned against multi-colored upholstery because you’d get bored with it too fast and suggested playing with color / pattern in throw pillows instead.

    I like your way better 🙂

  3. Somebody (naming no names) hit “publish” while I was still uploading photos. Fortunately I love her like a sister. Pix are there now.

  4. Tanya (Wandering Betty) says:

    You all are having entirely too much fun. Good for you. Yes, the cushion is too high, unless you’re going for Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann vibe. Sorry.

  5. Ummmm, how to be polite, you are one of my idols … well, I’ve never been known for polite but will use restraint … If you really like it that way, you make it that way, you are the one who is going to be looking at it every day … That chair looks similar to 2 chairs I spend a small fortune on a couple of years ago. I loved the shape and size my cats loved the scratch potential. They need to be redone and I am thinking a olivey green recency stripe. I’m letting you know this because I am somewhat conversative in my tastes and therefore everything I think is tainted.

  6. Jane says:

    Love what you’ve done so far. I have two chairs that could use this treatment. And my sisters are coming next month – so thanks for the inspiration! Much as I like the fresh cottage look, this is not my life so I’ll have to ponder what direction to go with it for my house. I agree with Krissie – the cushion is too high it throws the proportions out of whack.

    Can’t wait to hear what you find at JoAnns. I’ve got a roll of vinyl upholstry fabric not 3 feet away from me for my dining chairs. Yes, vinyl. I have dogs and a messy family so I’m not proud. Plus it is a red tooled leather pattern so it’s fun and kitschy, not sad.

  7. Barbara samuel says:

    I am in awe of how crafty all three of you are. Sewing, needlework, upholstery! Wow. Just wow.

  8. Shit, shit, Shit! I pushed submit without filling in the required fields above. The pain of always working on a different computer – they aren’t pre-filled!

    Anyhow, I think the cushion is a little too thick – unless your (one’s) butt sinks way, way down when you sit in it. Then you’d have to pop said sitter out of the chair each time. The cushion looks a little like a blue and floral toad squating there.

    What is frogging? I feel like I should know that, but can’t remember.

    And is gimping that plastic stuff you braid kids’s (Kidz/kidses) bracelets out of?

  9. Also, when you say patchwork, does that mean you are hand sewing the fabric on the chair? Will you then go back and machine sew the seams? I’ve been wanting to try this forever and never got up the courage.

  10. Wow! You and my baby sister would be BF’s. Me, I can’t even thread a needle. I’m in awe. Oh, and yeah, cushion is a bit too thick, but you knew that already. ; )

  11. Catherine says:

    The color and pattern look great. That cushion looks like it could swallow the rest of the chair if left to it’s own devices.

    I can see why thicker probably equalled comfort at the design stage, but yeah the thickness throws proportions are out.

    I do like your attitude of fuck death, let’s go floral.

    Your project has me eying a slip cover project that could do with some action.

    I look forward to seeing the finished project.

  12. Catherine says:

    Sheez it’s bugger to comment via phone… Apologies re: mangled language of previous comment … The gist is there though … Sort of.

  13. Catherine says:

    Sheez it’s a bugger to comment via phone… Apologies re: mangled language of previous comment … The gist is there though … Sort of.

  14. Love what you are doing with the chair. I do agree about the seat cushion being too high and throwing the proportions out of whack, losing the arms, etc. You are right about the dark blue band — it does need to be lighter. Or a whole lot darker. It’s just not right. But the chair is looking awesome!

    Alastair painted the woodwork in your living room? That man does so many things! Is he allowed to actually be employed in this country yet? They’ve been married almost a year, right? Wow … time passes so quickly! It’s good to have someone around to paint the woodwork. In my home, that would be me, if I were allowed to (apartment living sucks in many ways, but it is a home). I need someone else around who likes to cook ….

    Can’t wait to see the final chair, with all its eyes and everything. And, for us non-sewing types, what is ‘frogging’?

  15. lol the pic with the button is very funny looking. Overall I like it. I see why she thinks the cushion is too high – but for me the real test would be – is it comfortable that way?

  16. McB says:

    Fabulous! I kinda like the darker blue edging, more contrast to the blue flowered print. Closer to the look of the, what is it? Mackenzie-Childs? As for the cushion, you’re the one who will be sitting in the chair. Which height is most comfortable for you?

    So do you just tack it into place?

    Skye – “frogging” is the act of tearing out your sewing/knitting/crocheting. Because you rip it, rip it, rip it.

  17. Hi,

    My first thought was, “Mental Health Through Upholstery” would be a great title for a book, say about saving yourself through creativity. And you could just keep redoing chairs to have pictures for the book. 🙂

    Also, white trim is glorious on walls. Very common in the South. If you paint the trim white, it’s astonishing how much it brightens up a room.
    And you can paint almost any color on the walls, no matter how dark, and the white trim will make it look not so dark.

  18. Marcia in OK says:

    Maybe a splash of green?

    Or is it that the seat cushion part is the same as the arms and it is too “solid” a section of the floral? But, pillows would fix that part.

  19. Thanks, McB! I do that a lot with crochet, but didn’t know there was a word for it. Nice.

    And looking at the chair again, I think you are right: the darker blue would be better than using the lighter blue. So remove the lighter blue panel and replace with the darker blue and you have a good balance!

  20. Carol says:

    Cushion is indeed too thick – throws off the very nice proportions of the chair (as is the black-and-white Mackenzie-Childs, imho, just so you know where I’m coming from). But I adore your color choices! And upholstery is such fun, isn’t it?

  21. stephanie says:

    can ‘somebody’ put the ‘pin it’ button on the site so we can pop this onto pinterest? just saying ’cause this is fun and cute and I Lurve It.

  22. Chair size and shape–adorable. Along with the new fabric, perfect cottage feel.

    Agree with Krissie about cushion height–bit too big for the feel & style of the chair.

    So with you on the painting things nice & light. Think I read somewhere that you already have a paint brand you like, but have to say I love Farrow and Ball paint and never use anything else. Partly I use it because it’s great for people with allergies and breathing issues–it’s clay based and the flat paint in particular is very low odour–smells more like a wet clay pot and doesn’t leave behind fumes once dry. But also the colours are amazing. Don’t know how to do links but you can find them at ( if you want to check them out–very cottage friendly:)

  23. Pam says:

    Well, you’re tall, aren’t you? (Mind you, I’m 5’1 [and a half!] so my definition of tall in broad. That does not sound right.) So if you’re designing the chair for you, I say go for the extra height if it’s comfortable. I inherited a chair that was specially designed for someone short, and it love it. It looks a little squat, but when I sit in it, it’s perfect.

  24. Yeah…the cushion takes up too much space, the chair’s arms have almost disappeared. It needs something though. A flatter pillow cut to match the rounded corners, perhaps.

    I love the floral fabric mixed with stripes, it’ll look perfect in the cottage.

  25. Ripping something out. As in “Rip-it, rip-it . . .” You know the sound a frog makes? Frogging.

    Gimlet is upholstery braid, usually not plastic, kind of satiny, not right for this.

  26. Lynda says:

    I’ve never had the nerve–or knowhow–to upholster anything, so I really admire your industry. If the object of the too-thick cushion was to make the chair sit higher so that it’s easier to get out of, a need I certainly understand, then it would be better to replace the legs with something a little longer. That would also give you the opportunity to make them fancier, if you like.

  27. Love the fabrics though I agree the cushion is too deep. But then I’m short — if I sat on it my feet would be a foot off the floor.

  28. oneoftheotherjennifers says:

    If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, when you post the pictures of the finished project (because we know you will) could you include a close-up of the seams?

    I LOVE this, and it would make me so happy to try it myself, but I definitely want to do it the “patchwork” way. And yet, I don’t really understand what that means. Is the fabric actually sewn to the old chair fabric, or just to itself like a slipcover? I know I have some of those big gold upholstery tacks somewhere, and I assume that’s how you finish off the bottom.

    Just one short sentence of explanation would be tremendously appreciated, but only if it doesn’t take any time from your fun with friends- or your book.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

  29. This is a serious question … wouldn’t a glue gun work just as well as sewing? I need answers before I buy the olive green regency stripe. I’ve upolstored before and my hands just cannot hold the stapler anymore… so, I am thinking glue gun.

  30. I am seriously in awe of how crafty you three are. I don’t have the attention span. I decide I want to learn how to sew and then I want to make jewelry and then I want to knit and then I want… Blah. So I never wind up doing anything, but you guys have inspired me to maybe give something a shot. And I love the chair. It looks bright and happy, something I’m sure you need right now. 🙂 Good work.

  31. What awes me out is an asthma person uses curtains, works with fabric probably from a stockpile — and I betcha has carpets too.

    My furniture is leather, floors wooden, and blinds encased between glass. Haven’t used my inhaler since the Great Cleanout. Although, my woodwork is painted white, maybe that’s the majick.

  32. Anne V says:

    What is the weight of fabric you use for upholstery? Is it the stuff sold as home decorating weight or something heavier yet?

  33. Theoretically, I think it would get into the fibres and hold everything secure. But what happenes when I change my mind and have to pull it off …. I’m still in the pondering stage. That cat is in serious danger of wearing booties for the rest of her life.

  34. It depends on what I’m reupholstering, but generally, upholstery fabric. Some of the fabrics I’m going to use on Popeye are calicos, but they’re going places where they’re not going to get much wear. The back and seat and arms are all upholstery material.

  35. NO carpets, ever. Those things can kill you. And my couch is basically a wood bench with cushions I can replace as need be. But yep to the rest of it. Also five dogs and two cats. Thank god for Advair and Lani, whose hand with a nebulizer is swift. I’m pretty sure Alastair’s least favorite memory of the US so far is opening his bedroom door at 5AM to find me hanging on the door frame, gasping for air. Good morning, get your wife, I’m dying. He’s a trouper, that Scot.

  36. See, but that’s for people who don’t do their own furniture. If I get tired of it, I just rip it off and start over.
    Also, throw pillows are for the little people. Or at least for the people who can keep throw pillows on a couch.

  37. Nope. A glue gun will work for anything where there is no pull on the fabric–on the rear of the chair, for instance–but anywhere the fabric will move–the seat cushion, the seat back, the arms–you need the fabric anchored securely with thread. And if you make a mistake, frogging a glue gun is a pain in the ass. Not that I would know.

  38. Ylva Hedin says:

    Amazing! Will you come to Sweden to do mine, its lovely to sit in but soo ugly. I just throw a blue pice of fabric over it…

  39. Totally agree on the carpets. The Prince whinges that his feet hurt on hardwood floors, yet refuses any and all slippers offered. Grr. I’ma point him to this.

  40. cleo says:

    I love this. Your patchwork approach may be the answer to one of my persistent home dec problems – I have a upholstered chair that my cat mistook for a scratching post. It’s still in excellent condition, I love the shape of the chair, there’s no reason to replace it, except for the one shredded front leg (which I no longer really see, except when we have guests). I’ve been planning to slip cover it or re-upholster it for years. But I haven’t. And your post made me realize that part of the problem is that I don’t like machine sewing. I much, much prefer hand sewing.

    So I have a technical question – how are you doing it? Are you sewing each patch directly to the chair fabric underneath, kind of like applique? What type of thread? Button thread? And do you like a straight needle or curved needle for this?

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