Vickie Rayls got an early American maple rocker along with her husband.
“It’s a family heirloom that’s been in my husband’s family for generations,” said Rayls as she worked on the bones of the old rocker. “It’s been re-covered a number of times; it had been Naugahyde. I figured with some beautiful fabric, I can make it mine.”
Rayls took an upholstery class at Triad Plus Home Fashions in Roseville, Calif., and got rolling on her rocker.
“This is so much fun,” she said. “Now I know a lot of other things I want to get done.”
DIYers are discovering the joy of upholstery, the process of covering furniture with fabric. Many of them stumble onto it out of necessity.
“When I got married, I had all the family hand-me-downs for furniture,” said Jennifer Mason, who now teaches upholstery at Triad. “I took an upholstery class and got hooked. I started picking up chairs at garage sales.”
A new covering can add decades of usefulness as well as update a tired or worn look, Mason said. Getting started often is the hardest part.
“Our busiest time of year for (upholstery) classes is January – everybody makes it a resolution,” said Bonnie Treadway, who teaches several classes at Triad. But upholstery also makes a good summer project, she added, “when it’s too hot outside to do anything else.”
These projects can intimidate beginners, said upholsterer Amanda Brown, author of “Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design.”
Brown opened her furniture redesign studio, Spruce Upholstery, in Austin, Texas, in 2007. “I remembered the struggles I had. I needed help – and a dictionary.”
Upholstery has its own lexicon of specialized terms such as gimp (woven decorative trim) and bridle ties (hand-sewn stitches that attach padding to furniture).
“Until you know the little tricks ... it looks impossible,” Brown said. “But step by step, inch by inch, you can break it down and get it done.”
Fear of needle and thread stops many would-be upholsterers, Brown said. “But upholstery doesn’t have that much sewing; it’s more hammering and stapling.”
Brown sees upholstery as a natural progression for DIYers and people with an interest in interior design.
“People are going back and doing things with their own hands,” she said. “You see the process, and upholstery fits right into that. Also, we’re saturated with so much design information these days, people are rolling up their sleeves and getting into interior design.”
Costs to reupholster furniture prompt many people to give it a try, Brown noted. Having a professional cover a simple chair can cost $100 to $200; a sofa, more than $1,000.
“There’s a lot less guilt when you do it yourself instead of shelling out the big bucks,” she said. “The best approach: Start small and simple. If you can get through a simple project, see the before and after, that gives you the confidence – and the bug – to do it again.”
Since starting the upholstery class eight years ago, the staff at Triad Plus has seen all sorts of projects. One woman brought in a sectional sofa, piece by piece.
Another made a project out of an antique fainting couch “in silver and turquoise,” Treadway said. “It was real bling.”
At first, Marlene Meagher took her chair to a professional upholsterer. “They actually took it all apart, then decided they couldn’t do it,” she said. “So I took it over.”
Most furniture – at least those pieces meant to last – will need to be reupholstered at some point. Rayls kept that in mind when doing her first class project, a simple bedroom chair.
“On a slat inside the chair back, I wrote my name and the date and that I did this chair in my first upholstery class,” Rayls said.
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