You’ll find many a lady lusting after a classic Louis chair. Alas, the ones for sale usually come with a three-figure price tag. Sure, this DIY version won’t be as refined as one made by a pro upholsterer, but I’d bet no one we know could tell the difference.
HOW HARD IS IT TO DO?
The best part of two Saturdays (to allow the paint to dry between the weekends).
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
It’s certainly not the best project to start with, but put in the hours and anyone can do it.
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Find yourself a Louis chair. Try eBay, charity shops, Gumtree or Freecycle: you can usually pick one up from ￡25. Ignore the colour or finish, it’s the shape you should focus on. Go for something with decent padding that springs back when you sit on it (although if it’s terrible but the price tag is low, you could pay an upholsterer to replace this bit for you).
First, crack out your camera and take some close up photos of your chair. You will need to refer back to these later, so take as many as is necessary. Make notes too, if that helps.
Next, strip the chair of its fabric. You will have to remove some kind of decorative edging, either metal studding or fabric-covered cord first, so pull it off gently. The main pieces of fabric, on the seat and the back, will be held in place with staples or pins. Buy a special tool that helps lifts staples out, or insert a blunt butter knife behind the staple and twist and dislodge it. (Please be careful of your fingers.) Then, use pliers to pull the staples out completely. Keep taking photos throughout the process. Don’t throw away the fabric you pull off – put it to one side to use as a template later.
At this point you’ll be left with a wooden frame, with padding on the seat and potentially on the back too. (Or this back padding might just be sandwiched between fabric, and come off completely. However it comes off is the way you must put it back on.)
It’s not necessary to remove the existing paint or varnish completely from the wood before repainting, however, it is vital that you prepare it properly. Use coarse sandpaper to rub down the wooden frame, then use warm soapy water to give it a good clean.
When the wood is dry, give it a coat of white primer. (Think of this like nail varnish – if you don’t add a decent base, the beautiful colour you’ve painted will easily chip.) Stand your chair on a couple of layers of newspaper in a well ventilated area. Pale wood will only need one coat; dark wood will probably need two or three.
Now add the main colour. I used a Plasti-kote fluorescent pink spray, so I covered the foam with scrap fabric before I started. Whether you use a spray or a brush-on paint from a tin, always check that it’s suitable for wooden furniture, and always follow the instructions on the tin.
While the primer and paint dries, take to your sewing machine to prepare the new patchwork covers. Make the squares, triangles, or random shapes as small or as large as you like; the only rule is that the final covers need to be at least 2cm (3⁄4in) larger on all edges than the fabric you pulled off your chair in step 3. I expect you’ll have four pieces of patchwork to make: one for the seat, one for the back, and two much smaller pieces to cover the padding on the arms.
Dig out those pieces of fabric you pulled off in step 3. Lay them on top of your patchwork, thinking carefully about the position. (Do you want the patchwork on the seat and back to line up, or at least be running in the same direction? Do you want it centred?) Draw around your template with tailor’s chalk and add 2cm (3⁄4in) seams. Cut it out. Use your template to mark any cuts too (usually the seat piece has a few, so the fabric can be shaped around the arms).
Take your patchwork back to the machine and, 1cm (1⁄2in) from the line of chalk and do a line of very small stitches. This will prevent your patchwork from unravelling. Stitch around any snip you made too.
Once the paint is dry, you can start to re-cover your chair (I reckon this is always a two-person job). You must staple the new covers on in exactly the same way as they were before, so always refer to your photos and notes. Start with the back piece. Fold the extra 2cm (3⁄4in) seams under, giving the cover a nice neat edge (it makes the fabric stronger too). Have someone hold the cover in place while you staple. Don’t staple around the cover clockwise: instead, think of it as a clock face. Staple at 12 first, then 6, 3 and 9, always pulling the fabric taut. Follow with 1 and 11, 5 and 7, and so on. If the staples aren’t flush to the wood, bang them in gently with a hammer. (If you put a staple in the wrong place, don’t freak out. Remove it as you did in step 3. OK, you might chip the new paint job, but that can easily be retouched with a thin paintbrush later.)
Now do the two small arm pieces, again in exactly the same way as they came off (I stapled the sides first, then did the front and back). Remember to fold 2cm (3⁄4in) over on all edges before you staple.
By now I reckon you have got this folding/pulling taut/stapling business mastered. Which is why I’ve left the trickiest part until now. Lay the seat cover in place. Start by folding/stapling the front. Then try the sides and the back. Do all the straight bits first, leaving the corners and arms until last.
If you’ve copied your template exactly, the slits you cut in the arms should fit nicely around them. Tuck the fabric under as much as is necessary. Finally, do the corners: this will involve folding the fabric as neatly as you can before tucking up the 2cm (3⁄4in) and stapling. This step is the most fiddly and might involve some trial and error, but don’t give up – your chair is almost done. It’s time for tea. And a biscuit. Go on, you definitely deserve a biscuit.
Finishing off involves covering the join (where the fabric meets the wood), all the way around the chair. You can buy a thick, readymade trim from a haberdashery and use superglue to stick that on, but I reckon metal studding gives a patchwork chair a bit of edge.
Buy metal studding in strips, and simply hammer it in place. Always hammer in pins with lots of small knocks to the centre of the head, not with one heavy blow (otherwise they bend). Stand back, and admire your very, very hard work.