This will be the first of my catch up posts from the past couple of months and I thought it best to begin the unloading gently with an easier-than-easy tutorial on upholstery. Now, upholstery is a bit like cooking: you can make it as easy or as complicated as you want and I chose to go at with as little effort as possible. It is not a skill I would say I have mastered, not yet anyway, but pulling off a little project like this was surprisingly straightforward. No sewing and no specialist equipment needed: simply a piece of cloth you like and a staple gun, although a hammer and some tacks/small nails would do the same trick.
Yes, and a humble old chair.
I found mine discarded by municipal bins whilst walking the pupper. In France, like in many places where I’d lived before, especially in bigger cities like Edinburgh, it is commonplace to leave unwanted furniture by the communal wheelie bins or in the street to be collected by those in need or want. A rogue way of recycling perhaps, but in my view, better than taking your old things to the recycling centres that sort things to be burned or destroyed rather than working towards re-using them. When I was a student trying to get furnishings on a budget, things left out to be re-used were a true godsend. This chair that I picked out in Mazamet was certainly not the first one I have adopted from the rubbish and I have collected other ones since.
This particular chair looks to me to have been made in the late 1930’s or 1940’s with an art deco-esque steel frame and a wood veneer seat, upholstered in cream coloured vinyl. The metal was covered with a bit of rust, but otherwise the chair was in pretty good nick – the perfect upcycling project really! Better yet, I had just the fabric. Ideally you’d have something quite hefty and tightly woven so that it won’t fray too badly with use – thinking canvas rather than sheet with a bit of elasticity but nothing too bouncy like jersey. The one I chose is a Finlayson fabric meant for table cloths, cushions, aprons and things that need to stand a bit of wear, made of pure cotton.
Before I could start with the seat, I wanted to make sure the frame was looking its best. First I removed the seat and began getting rid of most of the surface rust using an orbital sander. Regular old sand paper with a fine grit would work, too, and one designed to be used with water on metal specifically would have been a stellar choice. To finish it off, I added a bit of multipurpose furniture polish to protect the frame and moved on to the next and final step of this little project: upholstering the seat.
I could have removed and replaced the original vinyl, but as it was not damaged in any great way I simply stapled my new fabric on top of it. By using the seat as a template I cut out a piece of cloth, about 10 cm bigger than the base and made little indents alongside the edge of it, every 3 cm or so as you can see on the photos below. This was to insure the best possible “fit” without wrinkles. Having done this, I used my staple gun to tack the fabric tightly in place, one flap after another until the cloth was completely stapled in. Having checked everything looked smooth on the top, I fastened the seat back onto the frame using new, stainless steel screws and… voilà!
I just upholstered a seat in less than 15 minutes.
And so could you.
Here comes the best part… ok, the preachy part: By re-using an old piece of furniture rather than buying new is one step away from the single-usage-discard culture of today. If the eco-aspect does not float your boat, how about saving cold hard cash? That usually gets people listening. When I get new things, I try to favour local producers and things that are made to last. Unfortunately, quality seldom comes cheap. By skimping on cheaply made goods such as chairs for my balcony (which is where this newly upholstered one is going) means that next time when I really need something, I can afford to pay that little bit more for it.
Working towards a more sustainable consumer culture is not just a nice thing to aim for, it should be a given thing. I am not trying to lecture you about how to buy – maybe you want new stuff and that is fine. However, when you buy things to replace your old items, think of ways to put them back into the circulation. There are clothes banks, charity shops, apps to buy and sell surplus food (too good to go-app being a recent favourite of mine), facebook groups to donate stuff… or the curb. Chances are there is someone willing to take on your pre-loved goods, even if they need a bit of TLC.
See you in a bit with a new blog!