Learning Upholstery with a beginner
January 21, 2011
I have upholstered before but since I have officially finished one chair- though I did upholster it 3 times (the first time I feel out of love with the fabric, the second was velvet that was violently attack by cat pee and the third was finished) I consider myself a beginner. I think I know what I am doing but I know that I am still learning and probably will be for years to come as each pieces is different in its own way. But I do have a lot of experience under my belt. I loved my first project and it has given me confidence and a new outlook on Upholstery.
It is not as hard as you think. It is a lot like a puzzle or piecing a quilt or adjusting your pattern pieces on fabric. It is mostly figuring out which pieces of fabric fit where and how to make them fit. There is strategy and less sewing than you think. My chair was mostly tacks, which I loved. It made me feel very powerful to bang them into place. There was some hand sewing but that was also relaxing because it came in small bouts. Here are some helpful tips to get you started on your first or next project
1) Get some tools- I found mine on eBay, thrift stores and hardware stores. Also- use your MP3 player. To me that was as important as my tack puller. I would get a good book in there and set to work. It was so relaxing. You don't need that many tools to get started but expect your first project to go slower than you plan because you will probably discover which tools you need/want as you go.
2) Take pictures: before, after and as you go. Take close ups of joins and edges. My first chair, I was so excited, I just pulled pieces off so I could get started putting them back on. I regretted it as soon as I got started putting back on. I spent many hours figuring out that best place to put these tucks on the armrest or how to seamlessly join the top to the back. My current project I took pictures of all the places I had trouble with the first go round and then as I pull back and took off each piece (see above for samples).
3) For the love of fabric- PLEASE don't use staples. My first chair was upholstered with tacks which were easy to take out as I stripped the old fabric. This new chair is stapled like no-one's business and it is taking twice as long to strip. Staples are much harder to take out and unlike tacks if you misplace one you can't take it out and move it. Often as I was placing a new piece of fabric, I would drive my tacks in half way. This would keep the fabric in place but also allowed me to practice with any tucks or alignment before I drove the tack all the way. Or I could pop them out and move them.
4) Practice with Muslin. A lot of you might be scared because you are talking about 7-8 yds of Home Dec. fabric at ~$15/yd (if you will note that Fabric.com's designer upholstery fabric is awesome and inexpensive). But if you purchase that same yardage in muslin to upholster your piece in first, you can get a feel for your chair without committing your finished fabric (Note: Try to match the weight of muslin to the weight of fabric- medium weight or heavy weight is good). This is just like making a muslin in apparel. You can practice all your tucks, stitch lines and piecing. Plus recovering in Muslin under your finished fabric will leave you with a more professional look. The muslin will smooth out bumps and leave an even surface for a final layer of batting which will give your piece an extra soft and firm look and feel.
I will continue with more tips on upholstery next time but please feel free to comment with questions or areas you want me to address. You can follow my Wingback's progress on twitter @tdangermiller- you can also ask questions or make suggestions there, as well. I hope you can learn from me and I also hope to learn from you! This will be so fun.
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