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.

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