Even the less observant visitor will have noticed that there’s not much new furniture in the café – even many of our Billy bookcases are secondhand. It’s a combination of not having much cash and preference, so when I was offered four oak dining chairs dating from around the 1930s for £25 last summer, I jumped at the chance. It was timely as one of our existing chairs had just broken.
Looking at them yesterday, I decided that they and the tall grey stools by the counter were due for a refresh, so I brought the chair seat pads home and have re-covered them today. Drop in chair seats are quite easy to do so if you haven’t tried before, here’s how to do it.
You will need a staple gun, Stanley knife, fabric, scissors and pins – and perhaps a hammer! Curtain fabric, upholstery fabric, even dress fabric, just not too thick but with enough firmness and strength to wear well.
Start by getting the seat pad out of the chair: sometimes this needs a tap with a hammer. Then with the Stanley knife cut round the existing fabric on the underside of the seat, close to the edge, trying to avoid any nails or staples that might be there. I make it an absolute rule never to put my Stanley knife down without retracting the blade. I also stand to the side so that I’m not in line with the blade when cutting the fabric off.
If you are lucky, the padding in the seat will be intact enough to go straight ahead but if it has a dent in the middle, you’ll need to add more stuffing (I’ve been known to cut up old cushions or pillows for stuffing!).
Lay your fabric on top and think carefully about pattern placement.If you have a large motif you may want to centre it. With the big check of my material (an old pair of curtains), I ensured that one line ran down the middle of the seat. If you are doing a set for a dining room you will want to make sure that each is the same which means being extra careful about how you cut out your fabric. Time spent thinking at this stage before cutting is time well spent. Leave a big margin – your fabric has to go down the sides and lap 4–5cm underneath and it’s better to cut too big than too small. Press your material if it’s creased before starting to apply it.
I arrange the upper side and put pins into the seat padding at around 10cm intervals to secure the material in the right position. I used the grid lines on my cutting mat to get the material square: your eye will be drawn to it afterwards if it is not straight. Then turn it over and put a staple in to the middle of each side, gently pulling the material taut but not pulling too hard: if I’d pulled too hard, the lines on my check would have gone askew. Staple at 5cm intervals towards the corners. If your staples don’t go all the way in, knock them in with the hammer.
Mitre the fabric at the corners, trying not to get too much bulk on the edges as it will stress the chair frame when you drop the seat back in. At least 3 staples to secure the corners.Trim excess fabric away, not going close to the staples, turn the seat over and admire your handiwork. Given I had the fabric already, this refurbishment cost me nothing, took something out of my stash and hopefully has given a new lease of life to the chairs (the moment of truth is when you push the seat pad back into the chair frame).
Cobweb supervised the process, but seated herself on an unsteady pile of chair pads. Shortly after this picture was taken, Sadie launched a ninja attack on Cobweb’s tail which was hanging over the edge, catching her completely by surprise and scattering cat, chair pads and scissors all over the place.