Monday, July 16, 2012

$5 + Fabric = Fabulous!

Three bucks?! SCORE!
With SuperHusband and I already seasoned Craigslist veterans, I suppose it wasn't a huge leap when a wonderful friend C. of Colorado got me interested in yard sales last year.  Then a few months ago, I found out how many cool things my friend D. and Tina (you saw her handiwork here) were getting at thrift stores.  So I have a new secret life:  trolling the thrift stores and yard sales of the Florida panhandle in search of cast-offs that I can make cool again.

I can't just buy something "because."  I do at least generally go out with an idea of what I need and try (somewhat unsuccessfully) not to get lured in by shiny objects. So two weeks ago when I went in search of a collapsible wood TV tray and comfy barstool, I didn't exactly hit the mark, but I had a couple of pretty cool finds.  First, I got an entire bolt of beautiful paisley home decorator fabric in warm rusts and golds for $3.

But the second find was the real gem...

It may not look like much, but I saw this puppy and was instantly transported to Grandmother's kitchen circa 1980.  She had a stool like this and I used to climb up the pull-out steps to help her cook or craft or write...whatever she was working on.

My short legs could march right up and perch on a relatively stable chair that didn't require her constant supervision.  (My son has taken to climbing the 6-ft tall -- exaggeration -- standard barstool and standing on one foot -- not an exaggeration -- while reaching diagonally across to a cabinet much too high for his petite 5 year old stature.  Safety in seating is on the brain right now.)

A steal of a deal, I couldn't resist this piece of my childhood.

The first order of business? ...a good dusting and wipe-down.  Next I took everything apart to see what kind of mess I'd be dealing with.

Everything needed a good wipe-down.

The inner & outer shells were held by a metal clamp. 

Yikes!  Rotten foam and a lot of rust.
This back was salvagable, though. 

When I tried to remove the vinyl from the outer shell (right), it disintegrated into rusty, foamy dust.

I've recovered a lot of really basic chairs -- dining room chairs, stools...mostly things with seats that can be easily removed from the frame.  I'm not into full-blown reupholstery.  In most cases, you can simply staple the fabric to the bottom of the seat.  

Obviously, with a metal chair, that's not an option.   

The back and seat of this chair held the vinyl in place by a system of shells.  The inner shell provided the support, while the outer shell held the cushioning/covering.  When the outer shell nestled over the inner shell, it secured (along with a little glue) and obscured the fabric edges from view.  Hence the tidy outward appearance.  In this case, the outer shell of the seat was so rusted it had to be trashed, so I faced the dilemma of how to secure the fabric on the seat...stay tuned!

Time to assemble the team:

- Clothespins - the springy kind - lots
- Spray primer
- Spray paint (I used semi-gloss)
- Foam brushes
- Mod Podge Gloss
- Instant Krazy Glue craft formula
- Mod Podge Fabric (not pictured)
- Mod Podge Clear Acrylic Sealer
- Foam to replace the padding (I used 2-in thick high density for the seat and 1-in thick for the back)
- Batting enough to cover the foam and sides of the seat and back

Add caption
After I stripped down the stool -- I enlisted SuperHusband's help here because the vinyl was glued to the metal -- I primed and spray painted every surface that I intended to reuse.  The rubber mats on the steps were covered in paint splatters, so I just went ahead and primed/painted right over those as well.

Don't worry about perfect...especially on parts that won't be seen.

At this point, SuperHusband insists that I give you the following tips for working with "rattle cans" as he calls my spraypaint.

1.  If the rattle can has been in a cold area, first warm it by submerging the can, not the sprayhead, into a sink or bucket of warm water to bring it up to temperature.  I have no idea what happens if you try to spray paint with a cold can, but he assures me it's important.  :)

2.  When you're done with the painting, turn your rattle can upside down and spray it until only paint-free air comes out.  This clears the nozzle so it doesn't dry closed with paint in it rendering the can useless.  (Yay!  I actually knew that one, although I'm shamefully negligent when it comes to actually doing it.)

Okay, back to my area of expertise.

Next, pull out your foam, lay the seat and backing pieces on top of it and trace around them.  Time to take a good pair of utility scissors (not good fabric ones!) to cut the foam to shape.  

After you get the initial cut done, you might want to go around again and trim off the edges to make them less boxy-looking.  The layer of batting will help, but if you don't round them off a bit, you'll have seat bottoms that looked perfectly squared on top.  (Ask me how I know...)  Once that part's done, it's time to glue the foam to the seat part.

By way of experimenting, I used Mod Podge on the seat and Krazy Glue on the back.  Both worked equally well in the end, but the Krazy Glue bonded much more quickly so I could go ahead and get back to work.  I had to weigh the seat foam down and leave it to dry before the Mod Podge would really grab hold of the foam and metal surface.

The Krazy Glue bonded the foam to the back instantly.

Yes, that's a handheld vacuum.  :P  I'm not afraid to use whatever's laying around.

Once the foam is bonded to the surface of the seat and backing, trim the batting and fabric to the right size to wrap around the part.  Once cut to the right size, be sure to overcast the edges of your fabric to prevent fraying and raveling while working on your project.

I prefer to overcast the edges of my fabric to prevent fraying.

Speaking of fabric, have FUN with your fabric choices.  I don't do boring, and with a houseful of smelly men, I don't do flowers and sunshine, either.  :)  We have an affinity for skulls and flames in this house, hence the receiving blankets I made for each of the kiddos when they were precious, if already stinky, babes.

 This is what happens when you send Daddy to the fabric store. 

Even when I do high-end, I want something about it to be unexpected.  In this case, I chose a fabric from Alexander Henry, my faaaaaaaaaaaaavorite fabric designer.  I originally bought this print to make SuperHusband a party shirt.

In the Air Force we have this tradition:  When wear your mess dress, the military equivalent of a tuxedo, you don't have the option to take the jacket off until the highest ranking person in the room takes his (or hers!) off first.  That usually doesn't happen until after the formal dinner and presentation. So for the entire function, you can only see the front and cuffs of the white shirt peeking out from the jacket.  But after the serious stuff ends and the libations flow freely, inevitably the boss will take his jacket off and lead the Mrs. out on the dance floor.  Surprise!  Party Shirt.

Here's SuperHusband's, courtesy of you-know-who...

But I digress...
Repeat for the back...

Next, lay your batting and fabric carefully over the seat and make sure its centered. 

Carefully turn over the entire mess and begin to pull the fabric up and over the seat, securing it carefully with clothespins. 

Although I clearly began at the side, you should actually start with the corners (which I quickly remembered).

Once the corners are secured and in place, you can do a little folding -- a la hospital corners -- and begin the sides. 

Pull everything as tight as you want it when it's done, but not so tight that the clothespins (and eventually glue) can't hold it in place. 

Once you've got everything secured to your liking, lift it gently to see that the top side is smooth.

When you're confident it's exactly the way you want it, carefully lift the fabric edge and dab your glue along the seat where the fabric will touch it as it dries.  The closer you can glue it to where the clothespins bind the fabric to the seat, the more closely the final product will resemble the way you have it secured now. 

Here's where things got kind of experimental again.  As the glue dried, I occasionally revisited my drying cushions and literally painted Mod Podge under and over the edges of the fabric.  As it hardened late in the evening, I checked it occasionally to see that it was adhering fast to the metal and that every inch of excess fabric was plastered to the seat bottom by the Mod Podge.

The process for the back was exactly the same as the seat, although I could afford to care less about the excess fabric because I knew the nested inner shell would hold it in place and cover the unsightly parts.  I allowed it to dry overnight and it worked beautifully.  Time to put it all back together...

I laid the inner shell of the back in place, covering the fabric ends on the back cushion and resecured the metal clamp that held the pieces securely together. 

How cool!  I couldn't wait to get them back on the stool...

Excited though I was, it's not time to start using it yet.  When you go to all this trouble, you need to protect your work.  If you remember with the placemats, I protected them with Scotchgard.  But placemats can be thrown in the washing machine...this can't.  So I wanted something a bit more resilient.  I put the stool back together and painted Mod Podge Fabric (a different formula than I used for the gluing and plastering on the seat bottom), all over the fabric surfaces.  I'm a relative newbie to Mod Podge, but I read up a bit and understood this to dry into something more flexible and washable than the original formula.  No pictures of that process...I did it at night and it was too dark on the sun porch for decent photos.  I put a second coat on later that night and allowed it to dry overnight. Incidentally, screwing the seat back to the frame did a bit more to secure the fabric on the bottom.

An interesting point:  I don't like to waste brushes, so I preserve them through a project's completion using a plastic Ziploc bag.  In this case, I also didn't want to use the wrong brush as I worked with different formulas of the product.  So I labeled the ends of paint brushes with a tiny G for the standard gloss formula and F for the fabric formula.

By the next day, it had dried to a very cool, leathery-looking surface, but it remained tacky.  I'd read this might happen, so I took the recommended step of giving it a light dusting with an acrylic sealer.  I used the name brand again.  Not being overly familiar with acrylic sealers, I didn't want to risk mixing the wrong products.  The sealer worked instantly:  No more peeling sounds when you touched it with your hand and peeled it away.  It didn't even require drying time. (!) 

I love the look and feel of the fabric's surface, and it feels very dirt/liquid resistant.

I'm pretty jazzed about how it all turned out.
We didn't waste any time putting it to good use!  Big Boy helped me pin the placemats... :)

...which turned out lovely when we finally finished them. 


  1. You know that old electric knife used to cut turkey on Thanksgiving? Try using it to cut out foam, it's easy, cuts neatly and you recycle that knife that's been sitting in a drawer for years.


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