Iron Back Chair Challenge!

Commission, Construction, Homeware, Textile work

Sometime last year I left my card at a few fabric shops around my area and promptly forgot about them but I received a call from a lovely lady called Gillian asking about upholstery services!

I know, my sewing of seeds worked! Of course I said yes and she dropped her lovely chair over a few weeks later – a beautiful bedroom chair, low and elegant, in a green velvet which had lived in her mother’s sitting room for as long as she can remember. Now it has come to her and she wants to put her own stamp on it and make it fit with her interior.

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I couldn’t wait to strip it and see what I was working with!

I’m not going to lie, there were lots and lots of layers and lots and lots of stitching – it took ages but I eventually got there and look what I revealed…

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Now, I had never heard of an iron back chair before but apparently they were very popular in the Victorian period as they could create elegant shapes with a lighted material – makes sense…

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I found this illustration in my upholstery book and quizzed Lisa Johns which helped a lot but I couldn’t visualise how it was all going to work in my head. So I started with what I did know, the seat…

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Hessian and webbing straps – it felt weird stitching the hessian rather than tacking it…this feeling would not go away further down the line!

Springs sewn into place and covered with hessian – hello lovely tacks!

Hairy monster chair and Christmas cake chair stages done but the seat needed more padding as the firm springs could still be felt through the horsehair…

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I cut up some left over upholstery foam sheet into sections and lay them on top of each other, small to big and the topped that off with a piece of wadding recovered from the original upholstery to smooth it all out. Stretch over another piece of calico and Bob’s your Uncle, seat finished and super comfy!

Now time to tackle the back. This had been keeping me up at nights because I still could not get the idea straight in my head of how to achieve this elegant, curvy chair with such a narrow rigid base. I’d done my research and ordered what I thought would do the job but, due to the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19, it did not arrive so I made it myself. Basically a draft excluder – calico stuffed with wadding, I mean really stuffed, and then stitched to the edge…

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It was good but not perfect – the delivery came in the end but was completely not what I had expected – sort of like newspaper wrapped really tightly and tied. But I thought it might help stop my wadding snake from peeling around to the back of the chair so I stitched it around the back edge of the chair…

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And covered the whole thing in horsehair and calico – this was tricky and time consuming but I think it really helped to create the silhouette I needed…

Now, I could start filling the centre back with horsehair. The original upholstery had been done in sections, presumably to make it easier to stretch and tension the filling as it is an odd shape to fill…

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So I started with the bottom and worked my way up and around with horsehair and calico, trying to pin and stretch and then sew the sections up…

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It may not be traditionally 100% accurate but I am learning as I go so I hope it will all come out ok…at least the horsehair is sturdy and held in place, and I still have a lot more layers to add!

First, the horsehair around the edges of the back and filling the gap in the middle…

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I just had enough horsehair to finish the chair!! Super lucky!

Next the lint and wadding layers…

This all then needed to be covered and stretched by calico – I tried just putting a rectangle of fabric over the top and cutting and folding it flat but in the end I decided to take it off and follow the pattern pieces from the original upholstery. This took a bit longer but hopefully this will give a smoother finish.

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This was so much easier to stretch around the rolled edge, pin and allow the calico to stretch, but I needed to add a few sections of calico where the seams join as there wasn’t quite enough to reach around the rolled edge…

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This really helped getting a smooth finish – a few more stretches and pins and the chair will be all ready for the top fabric!

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I can’t believe how similar it looks to the original, once i’d tidied up the edges and stitched the top calico to the base.

Now came the fun bit – Gillian had found her chosen fabric in the John Lewis sale and had it delivered to me, easy peasy! It’s a gorgeous linen and polyester blend of painted flowers, very sturdy and durable. She wanted me to pick out as much for the pink as possible but left much of the design to me.

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I started with the seat and got used to the smoothing and pleating technique which I would have to use for the rest of the chair due to the thickness of the fabric.

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I then moved on to the centre back panel and spent a lot of time making sure it was central and figuring out where the seams needed to be and pleating the excess at the back – which looks fab!

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I’m now thinking it would be pretty to have these pleats on show, so not having the backing fabric coming up over the sides, as it did in the original upholstery, but being flush with the base of the chair. We shall see!

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Next, came the arms – tricky due to the curve of the frame and also the seam which I needed to hand sew…

Fiddly but worth it not to have to take the whole thing off and machine the seams – I couldn’t quite stitch all the way down to the seat of the chair but since I could tension the fabric I didn’t think it would matter too much!

I tried to pattern match the fabric in terms of the colours that sat next to each other on the seams, nothing too precise as the fabric is so random it would not be noticeable, but I wanted the colours to flow as smoothly as possible.

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Once the seams were stitched I could gently pull the fabric tight to remove the slight creases in the centre front of the chair. Pleating the arms was also time consuming but oh so satisfying when finished…

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I needed to cut a lot of the excess away and work slowly to make sure that all the pleats were secured before moving onto the next one.

I then pinned the cut offs to the back of the chair and worked out where I wanted the seams to go, taking time to cut into the excess to get a smooth turn over. I love the finished effect and showing off the pleats turns this Victorian piece of furniture into a piece of modern art!

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All that was left to do was curl the back fabric under and cover the base with some black fabric and…tada!

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Gillian loves her revamped chair, and is even thinking about upgrading it from a bedroom chair to a living room chair! This is what I love most about commission work, it is so rewarding to feel like you have created a beautiful piece, be it furniture or fashion, that takes a place in someone’s life and turn something old and preloved into a cherished item.

 

 

 

 

1950’s Swivel Chairs!

Commission, Construction, Homeware

One of my old school friends got in touch last year to see if I would be interested in revamping her mum’s chairs – she sent me a photo of them and of course I said yes, look at them, so much fun to tackle a swivel chair!

So, it turns out that these two chairs belonged to Sandie’s father and were in his office for many many years, and her children remember playing on them when they moved from the office to the grandparent’s house. So they are sentimental items as well as excellent pieces of furniture!

Unfortunately, while Sandie and her husband rented their house out both seat cushions went walk-abouts and one chair was left outside! So they definitely deserved some TLC.

Sandie’s husband took the bases off so I was able to take them home to work on, they were surprisingly lightweight! First things first, stripping the old fabric off…

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It was all fairly simple, and I kept the fabric sections to make rough patterns from for the new fabric. I also decided to keep the orange foam on, it was flaking off in places but created a good base . I purchased some upholstery foam in a sheet (which was a new thing for me!) to make the chairs extra squishy…

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Because of the material chairs were made from I was able to use my staple gun which made the whole process a lot quicker!

The next step was applying the new fabric – Sandie had found the most amazing printed velvet from Just Fabrics in Cheltenham, so many different colours in it and so bright and cheerful!

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The velvet had a lovely amount of stretch which helped when trying to achieve a smooth finish – I can’t believe how good it looks already!

Then I added the backing fabric, which was from Sandie’s fabric stash (it’s always a good idea to check what you’ve got in the back of your cupboards or in the attic) which complimented the velvet nicely, bringing out the brighter colours…

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I added a navy blue trim to cover the staples and the whole chair was beginning to look amazing!

I started in on the seat cushions – ordering foam cut to the exact size from GB Foam and using the off cuts from the velvet and backing fabric to create two sided cushion covers so Sandie could decided which looked best in her house, and be able to change her mind!

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And here they are!! I think I prefer the navy side up but its great to have the option…

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Sandie also requested some scatter cushions made from whatever was left after covering the chairs, so I purchased three 20″x 20″ fillers from Ebay and got cracking…

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I’d never made cushions with the zip on the seam before so I had to do a bit of research but managed to figure it out and I am super pleased with the results…

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The scatter cushions will really help draw the whole living room together – can’t wait to see them in situ! Sandie’s husband was able to clean up the bases as well so they really do look like new chairs – so pleased they are happy with their revamped swivel chairs!

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oo arh! chairs

Construction, Homeware, Textile work

After working on an upholstery commission I decided to upcycle some dining room chairs for oo arh! (to take around to festivals and fairs but also to sell, as a good way of promoting my upholstery services).

So I found some lovely ones on Facebook Marketplace, just run the corner from me – they were a project that the lady had been meaning to do for ages and she decided to sell them to someone who might want to do instead – me!

They were also made locally so it is a nice bit of history to upcycle!

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I started by taking the seat and back panel out – bit of an undertaking but managed it eventually! The seat unscrews and then you can access the bolt for the back panel.

 

I striped the seat and back panels, and replaced the foam – I then had to decided what to cover it with and thought I’d go really upcycled and use some of the denim sleeves I had removed for other projects – I started cutting out panels to make the seats and match them with the corresponding back panel.

 

Next, came the fun part, shabby chic-ing them! I chose to do two blue and two grey – they look so different to the original!

 

I purchased some sand paper and furniture wax from Annie Sloan and got de-stressing!

 

It was so exciting to see them taking shape right before my eyes!

Now all I had to do was finish the seats – I stretched calico over the new foam, I’m not sure it really needed it but I always think it gives the seat a smoother finish than if I put the top fabric straight over the foam.

I then matched the denim panels so the back panel would match one of the strips of the seat cover and hammered them into place.

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I finished off the base of the chair with a piece of black fleece and cut around the holes so I could attach it to the chair again!

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And there you have it – four uniquely upcycled dining room chairs fit for a vintage fair, festival or a colourful home! Thinking of selling them individually and as a set and see which people prefer. Can’t wait to get my hands on some more now!

 

Small chair commission

Commission, Construction, Homeware, Textile work

I was commissioned by Samantha, who was my first Roman Blind customer, to see if I could rework an old chair which was left outside for a long period of time and had a hole in the middle of the seat!

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Of course, I said yes! Any excuse to get back to a bit of upholstery! With glee I striped the chair of all it’s old layers till I was back with the skeleton of the chair.

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I then added new, tight webbing…

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We decided on foam for the seat of the chair to make it extra squishy and I stretched calico over the top to give it a smooth finish.

On the back rest of the chair I started with hessian and built up horsehair and lint then stretch calico again before playing around with the placement of the top fabric.

Samantha had chosen some lovely Laura Ashley fabric that she had left over from another project and I had to join two pieces together to make enough to cover the seat, so it was tricky to hide the seam but by placing it at the back of the seat it was less visible.

We then needed to decide on how the pattern should go (see above images for options) and Sam preferred the fabric going in two different directions as it made the chair more interesting.

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She also decided on the trim she wanted – a lovely soft grey which matched the spotted fabric excellently!

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I finished the chair off with the same fabric and trim on the back and I absolutely love it!

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I did a quick fix with some upholstery velcro – I think I maybe have distorted the old seat section with all my calico stretches so it popped up at one corner but the velcro worked perfectly just to encourage it flat.

What a difference between the before and after images! I love that my job gives me to freedom to accept lovely upholstery commissions along side my oo arh! work!

Denim bean bags!

Construction, Homeware

I have been desperate to find a project that would use up my left over denim – it is surprising how much fabric I have saved over the years! I use a denim jacket but remove the sleeves, and I use the pockets of jeans for bumbags but have had no use for the rest of the garment!

So I did some research and thought that pouffes looked really good made out of denim because it comes in so many different shades and styles that they look very eclectic and unique!

I designing my own pattern based on what I had seen out on the market and got cutting…

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Trouser legs and sleeves could all be manipulated to get amazing pattern pieces – even by stitching two arms together, you get this amazing seam which still has all it’s original colour!

I then set about choosing the pieces to lie next to each other and stitching it all together…

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It took me a while to figure out if I should do a zip opening or not…because it would be good to have the option of washing it and topping up the beans as they get worn over time. Then came the quandary of how to fit it…but in the end I simply applied a reclaimed zip over the top of a seam…

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Now it looks like part of the bean bag and not just something added on! To finish off the top and bottom of the bean bag I made these patches of triangles of denim cut into circles and hand stitched them over the joins…

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I love their effect – they add more colours and different shapes to the bean bag!

I purchased some bag linings from eBay and some Polystyrene beans to fill them with…

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I may have bought too many…but I can always make more bean bags!

I fashioned a funnel out of a large piece of card, inserted it into the top of the lining and tucked the other tied end into the bean bag cover and started to fill it!

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I love the finished effect…

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These will be available on Etsy and I already have had some orders from family! Perfect as a gift or a little treat to your own home!

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Wedding bouquet

Commission, Homeware

I really wanted to save my wedding bouquet to make a memento out of it after the wedding was over…I had no idea how I would go about this and merrily went off on honeymoon leaving my mum (bless her!) to figure it out for me – honestly, I had forgotten that I wanted to save it at this point!

She did some research and managed to purchase some silicon which she places around sections of the bouquet in a large tupperware container – left it for a week or so and they came out beautifully dehydrated but still with their original shape, texture and colour (mostly).

I was thrilled! She had managed to press a whole load more too – so I had a lot of material to play with! Now what to do with it…?

Since Christmas was fast approaching I suddenly had the idea to frame a small bouquet for my Granny’s present – you know the kind of oldy-worldy style of framed dried flowers? So I did some research about how others have designed their flowers and lay them out and got playing…

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This was the arrangement I settled on and then went looking for a frame…which I probably should have done first! Although I managed to find an amazing one from Hobbycraft that just happened to be on sale – perfect! 40cm x 40cm, nice and big so I didn’t have to start rearranging!

I bought some clear glue to stick it all down with but found it hard to work with as many of the flowers and grasses were stiff, but good old double sided tape to the rescue!

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I included a sample of the lace fabric from my jacket, which avid readers will remember was my Granny’s wedding dress! Some confetti and the ribbon I had around my bouquet!

I love that all the different textures are still visible and am thrilled at the way it has turned out. Can’t wait to give it to her in a few weeks!

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Handmade Christmas decorations

Commission, Construction, Homeware

A returning customer commissioned me to make some more Christmas decorations for her family this festive season. Last year it was out of her Grandfather’s cardigan and this year she had found some beautiful embroidered handkerchiefs which belonged to her Grandmother.

I started by ironing them and the cutting them into 10cm squares with a 1cm seam allowance – I overlocked the raw edges first to prevent fraying.

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I then machined two squares together – including the ribbon to hang them by and leaving a 10cm gap so I could turn them the right way round…

They look so sweet! Now time to stuff them!

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It was actually a quick process because all that was left was to hand stitch the opening…

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I stitched the corner on this one because there was some beautiful stitching on the edge of the hankie which I wanted to preserve…

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And here they are! I hope her family like them as much as the cardigan ones – I love doing such personal projects!

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Holiday home upholstery!

Construction, Homeware, Textile work

I was contacted by a lady who had a little holiday home in Dorset to make some unique finishing touches for her redecorating!

She had already done a lovely job of some curtains for the top room and a matching chair but wanted some cushion covers to match.

So I made some out of the reverse of the curtain fabric to make them look a little different (since the chair is not exactly the same material we thought we’d make a feature of it!).

And they look really lovely! I added a zip at the back as a fastening and they look really professional!

I then moved on to the roman blind – she had one in place already so I did not have to make a mount board!

I simply made the blind, attaching the soft Velcro side as documented in my previous blog, took out the old blind and added in fresh cords and attached the new handmade blind! And it looks fab!

It was so lovely to be able to install it for her as I’ve never seen my work up in the flesh before! Super exciting and rewarding…right now I can make a blind for our new home!

Christmas markets and beyond!

Commission, Festivals, Homeware, Textile work

So, 2017 was my first Christmas season trading…and it’s time for some reflection.

To launch my festive trading I designed and made some alternative Christmas jumpers, which Webster is so wonderfully modelling here…

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With a winter animal theme and complimentary colours, each one unique and hand embroidered. They have been selling well, but I was not expecting to sell as many scrunchies as I have!

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We have also had very good responses to our ‘baggies’ (set of 3 or small, medium and large sold separately) which are very useful for filling with individual or personal presents, or simply on their own!

During the lead up to Christmas I also turned my hand to some cushions, which have not had much time on the shelves but we have also had some purchases and lovely feedback!

In total, oo arh! has attended 4 Christmas markets and overall I feel the ones we did best at were the ones like Bath, where we could have a larger range of all the stock on display. The marquee, although it is a lot of work to set up for one day events, worked to make the stall look inviting and different, even eye-catching!

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Nevertheless, even the smaller events were ways to get the name out there and to show a different way of reducing waste, which everyone can do themselves, through making or purchasing upcycled or reclaimed items. And without these advertising opportunities, I would not have been able to be involved in some of the personal commissions I have taken on this year!

It has been lovely to meet more like-minded people, friendly and encouraging traders and to get some wonderful feedback and suggestions of where to trade next, etc.

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…………………………

Looking towards 2018, it is going to be a busy year! I have some new exciting lines to look forward to, including some footwear and even more sari skirts! I am also exploring the idea of having some lines in small independent shops around the South so keep in touch for more news on that as it develops!

We may be attending a few Christmas markets this time next year but not too many as we have our wedding coming up – however we are super keen to go back to music festivals and possibly some new ones too – more information will surface in the New Year, so cannot wait to see where it takes me!

Also my soft furnishing services keep me busy on the side lines and I will still be offering these through my website. And am always up for taking on commissions, be it fashion, gifts or upholstery orientated!

A final thank you to everyone who has supported me this year, through buying your own unique oo arh! item, or commissioning one. To those who have hosted events and festivals, or simply popped into the stall for a chat and a browse! You make it all worth while and I cannot wait to get stuck into the next chapter!

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year, one and all xx

Memory Pillows

Construction, Homeware

I was very honoured to receive a commission from Tamsin through my Wix website (although it turns out we met at Boondocks a few years ago!) to create a cushion out of her Granddad’s cardigan and also to make some mini memory pillows out of the off cuts to give to family members to hang on their Christmas trees! Such a lovely, personal, and sentimental idea, which I was thrilled to be able to accept.

I went a head and bought a 16″ square cushion and worked around the idea of keeping as much of the front as possible, so I decided to use the original zip as the opening for the cushion cover and place a panel underneath to cover the cushion exposed by the neckline. I measured and cut a front and back panel out of the shoulder section so they were already joined and added the panel over the top and stitched the three sides together.

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I asked Tamsin about the collar, as it would have looked excellent stood up or neatly stitched down with the rest of the cushion, but as it was a main feature I wanted to make sure she would like it…

In the end she went for the stitched down approach, so it looked more like a cushion than a cardigan and the final outcome was one filled with memory and comfort.

I then started cutting out small 8cm squares from the excess cardigan, patching together the different colours and features, like the cream cuffs, the zip, the ribbed pockets and the Icelandic pattern.

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To construct the decorations, I simply placed the two squares rights sides together, and stitched around 3 sides of the shape, catching a loop of maroon ribbon in one corner, then stuffing them with some high grade hollow fibre stuffing and hand stitching the opening closed…

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All in all, I was able to make 22 little memory pillows out of the off cuts and I am very proud with how they turned out. I hope Tamsin’s family are as pleased with them as I am – what a lovely reminder of a loved one at Christmas time.

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