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Month: February 2018

Giving an Old Chair a New Personality

Giving an Old Chair a New Personality

After I made the fabric collage sample (last week’s blog), I was ready to get started on recovering the chair, but I didn’t have a clear idea of how I wanted it to look. This chair is a swivel rocker from the 1980’s with discolored orange velvet upholstery, which has been slip-covered for at least fifteen years. I wanted to keep this chair because it fits my body better than the chairs in the stores these days.

I’m not a big fan of floral upholstery or tiny overall patterns, but I didn’t want a plain color either –     I wanted to do something different and unusual.

Then I saw a photo of Cinque Terra, Italy, in the AAA Magazine. What a great scene to depict on this chair, I thought. I can have the tiny buildings going up the chair back on the front side, the water in the harbor on the seat cushion, with a marina, boats, and stonework. A flower garden can be made on each side. The outside back can be a green meadow area with a few giraffes. One can never have too many giraffes, if they are your favorite animal.

The next day, when I walk in the door of the fabric store, looking for a way to create the scene in my mind, the first display table I see has a sheer fabric that will be perfect for the buildings. By making very careful measurements, I create pattern pieces for each section of the chair. I cut each piece I need from a heavy cotton upholstery cloth that I picked up at an estate sale. This serves as a backing for the fabrics I have collected. I decide to sew each section of the scene separately. I plan to assemble the scene onto the chair, using hand stitching to attach each section to the old upholstery which will remain on the chair under this new fabric.

Cinque Terra

The front of the chair with the houses going up the cliff is assembled first. I create the scene as I go along. The sheer fabric is printed with inch by half-inch rectangles in brown, tan, and burgundy colors. I scrunch it up in various places to give the appearance of small houses built wall-to-wall, into the cliff. I use fabric from a mottled green velour shirt to simulate trees and foliage above the houses. A pale blue printed fabric, for the sky with clouds, is attached to the top. I continue to create scenes for each section of the chair in a similar manner. I measure carefully many times.

When I have the outside back sewn together, I realize I can attach the side flower garden scenes to

Side view of chair

the back, using the sewing machine. It is amazing how one idea follows the next, and how perfectly it all works. I see that the arms can be attached to the sides. Somehow, each next step comes into my mind just before I need it. The lower front part below the cushion can be sewn to the two sides.

The way the chair is made, I can tuck most of the edges down into the chair or under the sides of the back cushion. The whole cover, except for the inside front with the houses on the cliff, fits on the chair like putting on a T-shirt. I only need to stitch across the top of the chair, connecting the back to the front, with a minimum of hand sewing.

YES! This is how the creative process is supposed to work. This is flow. This is so much fun. This creates energy inside me. Once I got started on this project, it was easy to keep going.

How did this happen? I don’t know. But, I did have a clear image I was trying to produce. The sewing skills I’ve used for years allowed me to see the next logical step.

A week or so after the chair was completed, I sat down in it to read the mail. A few minutes later, I realized I was sitting in the marina! What a laugh I had.

Parts of this blog are excerpts from my memoir, “Looking for Connection,” available on Amazon here.

Fantasy Reef

Fantasy Reef

Four years ago, about this time of year, I decided I wanted to recover a favorite old chair. I was planning to do a fabric collage-type cover attached to the original upholstery. Fabric collage can be as simple or complex as the designer wants to make it.

Making a sample before I tackled the chair seemed like a good idea. Under my big worktable is a huge basket filled with fabric scraps of all description. Digging through the accumulation, I fondly remembered the garments I had made from each fabric. I selected half a dozen large scraps of printed blouse-weight cotton in blues, purples, and turquoise, a piece with leaves, and another with bubble-blowing fish.

Several days later at a back-yard sale, I purchased a beat up 18”x28” picture frame for a dollar. I measured out a piece of muslin that exact size and arranged the scraps on the muslin.

Fantasy Reef

I created an imaginary coral reef with a vibrant sea plant and fanciful fish darting in and out of the coral. I pinned all the scraps in place and machine stitched them just enough to keep them from shifting about.

I had a book about fabric collage where the author used a free-form, or embroidery, sewing technique for all her projects. I ordered the attachment I needed for my sewing machine. When it arrived, I practiced doing the stitching on a small piece of cloth. The sewing is supposed to follow the edges of the collage pieces. I discovered this is not as easy as it looks. I cannot keep up with the machine. My sewing strays off the edges quite often.

My mother-in-law, Grace, used to do this all the time with beautiful results, but I didn’t have the patience to learn and develop these skills. Instead, I used zigzag stitches, which my sewing machine makes easily. I sewed with a stitch length of about twenty per inch around all the edges of the different fabrics.

After all the pieces were sewn to the backing, I stitched navy blue blanket edging around the sides, carefully measured to fit over the frame. I was pleased to see that it fitted perfectly. The highly colorful leaves in the center of the picture got a bit of silver acrylic paint to make some of them stand out from the background.

I added pieces of dried grapevine, a crab claw, and a shell with hand stitching. Rough edges and threads left dangling looked good on the underwater scene, but I didn’t want to use that technique on the chair.

The lesson here is that before starting a big project with a new technique, it’s good to make a sample.

Valentines Remembered

Valentines Remembered

The first Valentine’s Day I remember was probably in 1963. It was certainly the most spectacular. I was living in Parma, Ohio with my parents and brother. I had just gotten home from work when the door bell rang, and Mother asked me to answer it because she was cooking dinner.

I was surprised to see a man holding a large floral arrangement which he said was for Marilyn Thayer. I took the heavy, Florist Telegraph Delivery (FDT)  bouquet in a small, white pedestal vase from the man and carried it to the kitchen where there was no room to set it down. My mother made a space for it in the dining room. It consisted of white carnations and feathery greens in a triangle shape, with a large red bow.

It came from Ray Erickson who was studying engineering in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. We had become acquainted two years before during football season in our senior year of high school. Over the weekend, I painted a detailed watercolor of the bouquet, so Ray could see what he had sent me.

Now, fast forward about forty-five years. My boyfriend comes by my house on Valentine’s and presents me with a gift bag. Whatever is nestled inside the pink tissue is heavy. I’m thinking chocolate. I reach in and pull out a pink something.

Pink Ceramic Valentine

What was it?  It was clearly a valentine with two red hearts pierced by an arrow.

It was ceramic. It looked like a purse with a red ribbon handle on each side. Maybe it was a vase, although to me it looked like a ceramic gift bag. I was in shock!  What would I do with it?  It was PINK!

I don’t do pink. I don’t wear pink. I don’t have pink things in my house. Pink flowers in the garden are the exception.

For a number of months the pink “object de art” sat on top of a file cabinet, and I tried to ignore it because didn’t fit anywhere in my home. It was a concrete reminder of the differences between me and my guy. He likes classy things, I’m home-spun. He likes hot and spicy, I’m butter and salt. He’s out-going, I’m shy. He likes to shake things up, I like to know what to expect.

But we both like to talk to each other, we love books and read them, we worked together as a team at the VA, and we have an interest in art—he collects it, I make it.

In 2009, when I moved my studio into my house from the apartment behind my garage, I needed something to hold a handful of markers. I had run out of old coffee cups for holding pens and pencils. That pink thing was sitting on a shelf and it was just the right size.

Last year, my love said, “I never know what to get you—your taste is so different from mine.”

Today, the pink valentine is holding some big brushes in my newly reorganized studio. It is the only valentine gift of my seventy some years that I still see every day. It reminds me of all the exciting, crazy, and caring moments I have had with this man.

Studio Report — Why You Should Work on Unfinished Projects

Studio Report — Why You Should Work on Unfinished Projects

Two months ago I wrote about my sudden decision to dismantle my large counter-balance loom, which was taking up about a quarter of the floor space in my studio room, and put it in my backyard storage. If you missed it, that blog was titled: “Catching an Idea by its Tail.”

Into that space I moved my drawing board, rearranged several small tables, and cleaned off my large work table. I now have three good-size work tables where I can make a series of small to medium size pieces of art, or larger items which use the whole table.

Drawing board in center with computer cart on left.

Under my large work table I have a huge basket of fabric scraps, a lidded basket of yarn, as well as smaller containers of natural materials, a box for stencils and other odd things for mark making or stamping.

I weeded my book cases in this room. I organized paper by color and size. I cleaned out several file drawers and shifted things around so I have more space for images I’m clipping out of old magazines.

Twinning project on big table, looking across the room at drawing board



Tall table with wheels next to big table, in front of filing cabinets







In January, once the sycamore leaves were out in the street and picked up, the rest of the yard was calling me. Grape vines needed cutting, three butterfly bushes got pruned, and I took a trip to the dump. This week the sage is getting cleaned out carefully—I encountered two black widows on Sunday.

If I’m spending three hours a day in the yard, I don’t have the energy to start new creative work.

I expected to make art on the days it rained. Guess what? It’s not raining, the sun is out, wild flowers and weeds are on the grow.

By the middle of January, I settled into a pattern of doing yard work after noon, a late lunch, some time on an art project until dinner, then, cutting up old magazines for an hour or so. I want to get images and words for collage harvested out of the magazines so I can use that shelf space to organize the ephemera (junk) I pick up wherever I find it.

I set up an easy tracking system to record what I do in my studio, hoping I’ll feel guilty if there is nothing to write down all week.

I decided to look at three unfinished basketry items I had been ignoring for months. I finished a small knotted item first. Then I took out the much larger twined thing I had started maybe four years ago. I had abandoned the original idea sometime after the bottom was done. About two years ago, I made a new plan and added the spokes all around, worked up about an inch, but put it away because I needed more time to work on my book.

So I’ve been cutting and cleaning in the yard, twinning in the studio, and ripping up magazines before bedtime. The chatter in my head is “the tables are empty, you aren’t making art.” There is this feeling like something is missing. The push to meet a deadline, the drive to complete something (for the writer’s group once a week) isn’t there, and I miss it because I’d gotten used to that feeling. This year the feeling is different, more low-key. Instead of having a calendar of dates to be met to get the book published, I have a relatively open agenda of “let’s see what happens.”

Friday night, I decided to empty out and put away the large carrying basket the twinning project had been waiting in for the last three years. When I got to the bottom, under the extra yarn, I was surprised and delighted to see my scissors with the blue handles that I have been looking for these last two years. Last summer I had declared them lost.

Blue Handled Scissors


So, what treasures might you uncover if you work on your unfinished projects?