Upcycling a Reading Chair

Patinaed wooden chair with gold patterned turquoise cushions.

Allow me to set the scene: Your belly is pleasantly full of diner eggs and toast. You’ve consumed just the right level of your morning drink of choice (I’m on team tea!) and have made a productive home depot run. While driving home, you remark to your partner/fiancé/friend/husband/wife/sibling/parent/child that you should take the long way so that you can enjoy a short hike before the weather warms up. Stopping at the thrift store just before the trailhead wasn’t really part of that plan, but the parking lot’s almost never so empty and you can’t help it. After wandering around for about five minutes, you find a solid wood chair with gross cushions on it. The price is right. There’s room in the boot (trunk). It would be perfect in the family room and you’re semi confident that you can make new cushions. Would you go for it? We did, went for our hike and then threw the cushions out as soon as we got home.

The chair in question has caused a lot of inspiration and discussion in our household. Do we sand and re-stain it? What about throwing on some chalk paint? How on earth does one sew a cushion? What kind of fabric should I use and how much do I need? Joann’s down the hill sells large amounts of foam… right?

We ended up purchasing 4 yards of denim fabric from Spoonflower and 2 yards of 5 inch foam from Joann’s. Then came the google searching, has anyone done this before? In case you’re curious, the answer is yes! There are a lot of tutorials out there, but when it comes to drafting a pattern for your custom cushion Online Fabric Store had the most straightforward tutorial. Another pro tip we discovered is that a bread knife will work just as good as one of those expensive electric cutters!

Both cushions were sewn up in an evening, the hardest part was the little bit of Frankensteining that I did in order to create the bottom cushion’s t-shape (both sides have a hand sewing piece in order to make the curve). Honestly, it would have looked smoother if I had used matching thread, but you can’t really see it anyway. This is one of the few projects I’ve sewn where the “fit” of the final object would make or break it. Sure, I’ve made dresses before, but you can sort of fix those after the fact.

I’m super proud of the way the two cushions came out, even if the only piece of the original chair that remains is the frame. To the original cushion’s credit, the plan had started out as keeping them and putting new covers on. Even with fabric and foam cost taken into account, we could not have gotten a better chair for our space within that price range. My partner has already fallen asleep in it twice, I think it’s safe to say that this one is not style of substance.

Geranium Dress(s?)

I still remember the first time that I sat down at a sew machine (7th grade home economics if anyone is curious) and have made a couple of things over the last couple of years (a dice dress, a dog bed, some catnip toys, a pillow, a gnome bag and a chili peppers dress to name a few), but the last couple of months I’ve been revisiting sewing as a way to learn new things and hone existing skills. Some of this may be because I finally caved and bought my own sewing machine after working on a vintage one and a hand-me-down for so long. It’s fun to sew on a machine with settings and features that you’ve purposely selected for yourself.

During our winter break, I found myself taking a break from knitting to make an everyday bag out of some purposefully selected gnome fabric. Working with leather and rivets for the first time, I realized that sewing has the ability to provide me with something that knitting doesn’t anymore: feeling like a beginner.

It’s fun to be a beginner at something because you get the thrill of completing something while also needing to patiently work through mistakes and mishaps. You get to smile at your imperfection as opposed to thinking: I’ve been doing this so long it should be better. I’m more patient with myself as a beginner, something that feels good as we reach the final stretch of this pandemic.

When my coworker mentioned a local fabric store was offering virtual classes, the timing felt right. It was time to learn the whys around things and maybe be pushed into trying a few skills I didn’t think I was ready for. So I signed up for “Sewing for Baby” and ordered fabric to make a bib, burp cloth and a little dress.

Let me just start by saying, I think baby clothes are the perfect way to learn new skills if I haven’t said that on this blog before. The projects are small enough that you’re finished quickly, while being complex enough that you can learn some new skills. The burp cloth and bib force me to practice smooth (and tight!) round edges, while also diving into the land of hammer in snaps (which I’m still not 100% sure I’ve secured properly). I’m currently waiting on 3 fat quarters to make 3 more of each because practice practice practice. These simple projects have helped me get to know my machine and have shown me that slow is all well and good, but some speed can actually give you more control.

The baby dress, however, has been so fun to make that I want to make like eight more. Geranium, by Made By Rae, is considered an intermediate sewing pattern and is the cutest little dress. This pattern is so beginner friendly, while also having different options so that you’re not making the same thing over and over. Between the detailed instructions and Mary Margaret from Notion’s videos, I learned so many things while making my niece a little dress for her birthday. Sleeve ruffles, finishing seams, making button holes with my machine, sewing on buttons with my machine, correctly gathering a skirt — so many new skills leading to so many new what about this questions.

Isn’t that the best part about learning a new skill though? Discovering what you can do and learning all the things you didn’t know you didn’t know? I’ve signed up for a dress making class via notion that starts later this month and am looking forward to learning more about what I don’t know. I’m also already plotting my next Geranium dress, it’s safe to say that this “sewing thing” is going to start competing with my “knitting thing”!

//www.instagram.com/embed.js