A chair, renewed. Part one

I often worry about showing half-finished projects on the blog, as though it will somehow jinx them, or you will be disappointed if I don’t have the whole process in one post. But I’m excited about this one, so I’m showing it in stages.

chair back

It started with a tatty old, green-painted dining chair, given to me by Craft Central staff who had it hanging around in their postroom. I guess it was thrown out by one of the artists / makers who have a studio there. It would be nice to find out who it belonged to…

I was keeping this refurb project secret as its going in my next book (Sew Eco) but in fact its going to be a multi-purpose stunt chair for various projects as well, so there’s no great secret.

Phase one:
The chair frame:
Two chilly but satisfying afternoons have been spent in the garden sanding it down. I’d would have liked to have stripped it completely and even gone to the bare wood, but time isn’t allowing that, so its just been a matter of sanding off the lumpiest, drippiest paint to provide a smooth-ish paintable surface. Shy cat came to help and got a fine coating of green dust in the process.

chair with ebony.JPG.jpg

It looks like quite a pretty verdigris colour, but this is after sanding. It was BRIGHT green gloss, much the same colour I had my bedroom furniture painted in when I was about 8. There was a coat of turquoise underneath which is why it looks like verdigris, but believe me, it wasn’t nice really.

Then today I painted the first coat. Like all my refurbished furniture, its the same battleship grey as I still have plenty in the tin. Its ECOS satinwood. I would have liked to use a different colour, but as this is supposed to be an economy project, I’m being economical. Also it will match all my other bits and pieces and be a suitably neutral colour so I can cover the seat in lots of different colours.

chair leg

Meanwhile in the studio, I stripped back the drop-in seat, which was somewhat dusty and pretty manky.

Are you interested in the old upholstery? Well, you’re getting it anyway.

The seat, on my oh so attractive studio floor.

The underside. I don’t think this seat has ever been reupholstered so this is probably at least 70 years old. I’m no expert on chairs, it could be even older.

And no I don’t know what it says. I didn’t really notice this writing til I downloaded the pic.

Top layer. Leathercloth, which is a woven fabric coated with something like linseed oil. Its a funny thing, after years of working in museums, I know old leathercloth when I see it, but I realised I didn’t know how it was made. Anyway, its a leather-y looking fabric which was common for cheap, hardwearing upholstery. Like fabric linoleum, I suppose.

Under that was this icky grey fibrous stuff, which may be upholsterers felt, but I think might be shoddy, which was made from waste wool and fibres from spinning and weaving.

Then there was hessian and finally the webbing, again coated in something pre-plasticy, so probably linseed-oil based again.


Lots of dust, lots of rusty nails. I had cunningly lost my nail-removing device when tidying up, but managed to get most of the nails out by levering with a screwdriver. An old screwdriver which I used to open paint tins – before any tool liberationists start at me.

It was really quite fun.


Then I got a book from the library about upholstery. And then I panicked!


I know I don’t want to go down the modern, chemical-infused route of using foam, so was determined to do it the more traditional way with animal fibres, in this case, wool. But the book is for serious, proper, full-on traditional upholstery. I need something in the middle. Luckily, having consulted my eco-upholstery oracle, I know that I can make do with something in the middle ground, seeing as its just for me and just for show.

So, next step – webbing. I managed to get a couple of metres of bog-standard hessian webbing at my local yarn shop, which used to have an upholsterers on the premises, so she had a bit hanging around. Next I need to find upholstery tacks, so for now, the seat part is on hold.

To be continued, hopefully before too long.

3 thoughts on “A chair, renewed. Part one

  1. eBay! you’ll get tacks, webbing, horsehair, the lot. Saves trawling around. I didn’t use any glues or chemicals with our wooden swivel chairs – did you see them? – or the settee. But I never remember to take step-by-step pics… !

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