Re-Upholstery 101: An Antique Rocker

This was my first real attempt at an upholstery project.  You may remember recently I made a slipcover for an ottoman.  I’m trying to broaden my upholstery horizons in baby steps.  Since I knew this project would not require any stitching or massive math skills I thought I’d give it a try.

This is what the chair looked like in its’ before state.  Even though it had been well loved over the years it was still a very comfy, sturdy, little chair.  I believe it’s called an Eastlake Rocker.  I originally purchased it at a fundraiser, about 14 years ago, for the Marietta Historical Society.  It was only about $75 at the time.

Initially it didn’t have that big water stain on the silk cover.  That memory came from baby girl.  She used to swim all year round.  One day after practice, with hair still wet, she plopped down in the chair to read a story…and our little stain was born.  There it remained for 12 years until I decided to give this treasure a new life.  I thought it only fitting that the rocker go to Halie since she had marked it as hers long ago.  :)

In the pictures below you can also see the chair had a lot of wear on it.  Even in it’s tired state I was really hesitant to give it an update.  If only it could talk…the stories it could tell.  Can you imagine in a chair of this age, from the 1800′s, how many mama’s have snuggled their babies in this very rocker?

Threadbare arms

Even the fabric on the front of the seat was worn through.

Halie chose the fabric at our favorite discount fabric store.  This fabric, though, was the most expensive of all of her fabric selections at around $16/ yard.  I purchased 1.5 yards.  When I was mentally adding up how much we needed I totally forgot about the back  side of the chair!  Yikes!!!!  Good gravy, do you ever do things like that?  For me, little hiccups like this are a daily occurrence.  Would there be enough?  The plot thickens….Dun dun dunnn.

I knew I had NO fabric to spare so I had to be extra careful with my cutting; and since this was my first attempt at a re-upholstery job I was annoyingly precise.

I started by removing the old trim.  It took forever.  Really.  I think I worked on removing those tacks for about 3 and half hours!  They were so old.  Some of the tacks were rusted in place, and on others the heads would pop off and I’d have to fish out the shafts.

I was so reluctant to change this chair for such a long time.  When I saw that little peek of blue underneath I took it as a good sign.  In all of the years we had this rocker I just assumed it was green.  In fact it was once blue and faded to green over time.  I was taking it back to blue, a totally different and updated blue, but blue none-the less.  :)   I felt like the chair was giving me its’ blessing.  It was saying “Come on girl, go for it”.  Yes, I know…I’m entirely insane.

My first thought was that I would remove the trim & tacks, then when I put the new fabric on I would be able to staple it into place.  Well, as you can see from all of those many old and un-evenly spaced nails that wasn’t going to happen.  I never planned on removing the green/ blue fabric because underneath the fabric the stuffing in this chair is horse hair.  I know!  To remove it and replace it with something else was too much of a messy challenge for this novice upholstery project.  So, I just decided to put the new fabric on top of the old fabric.

I started by making a paper pattern.  I pinned sheets of packing paper all over the chair where there was fabric.

I did some tucking and folding of the paper where it needed it.  Then I took a soft pencil and traced around where the fabric met the wood under the paper.  Kind of like you rub the image of a penny under a piece of paper.  From there I removed all of the paper and cut it on the pencil lines.

There is probably a MUCH simpler way to do this.  I was just flying by the seat of my pants on this one, and this is what worked for me.

Next it was time to introduce my pattern to the fabric.  “Hello fabric nice to meet cha”.  Bahahaha!  Sorry I couldn’t resist.

You can see there is a distinct pattern and a repeat on the fabric.  I made sure to center my (very rudimentary) paper pattern so that the fabric pattern and repeat would be centered also.

Once the paper pattern was placed appropriately I secured it in placed and traced a chalk line about 1/2″ outside of the paper.

Then it was time to cut.  Please don’t mess up, please don’t mess up, please don’t mess up – was my mantra.  Remember, because I miscalculated my purchase amount I had NO fabric to spare.  None.

Next it was time to put all of the pieces onto the chair.  I started by pinning each individual piece into place to make sure they fit and that the fabric pattern and repeat lined up as they should.  Then I used some spray adhesive to hold the fabric in place until I could get it attached permanently.

Along with the spray adhesive.  I used these 11/16 steel cut tacks to secure the fabric to the chair.  Again, I don’t know if that was the right thing to use, but it worked for me.

From there I cut off the excess fabric around the edges with a sharp blade and applied the trim.  For the trim I used a flat braid in blue.  I attached it over the helter skelter rows of tacks (old & new) with a super strong fabric glue.  Of course, being the ever so photographically inclined, I have no pictures of this part.

But… here are a few pictures of the chair all finished, trim in place, in it’s happy new home.

This project was a labor of love, and I have the scarred up fingers to prove it! :)   But, I especially enjoyed it because it was something I had never tried before.  The re-upholstery brings new life to this old beauty.  Hopefully it will be enjoyed by baby girl for MANY years to come.  Maybe one day I’ll get to hear the stories it has to tell.

The total cost for this project was about $34.  The fabric was $24, the trim was $8, and the tacks around $3.  We already had the glue in our stash.

You may be wondering how much we spent on furnishing the little apartment?  I think you’ll be amazed!  I know I am.  For everything including: all of the used furniture, drop-cloths, curtain rods, new shelf in the kitchen, new lamps, fabrics, paints & other supplies we only spent around $600.  We had an old mattress set at home but decided to invest in a new one for her.  So we did buy her a brand new mattress and box spring and a used TV off of Craigslist for her birthday.  With those two things the total expenditure for this little home was just under $1200.  I had set myself a goal of $1,000 as our limit.  I think we did a bang up job for essentially $600!  That’s for EVERYTHING in the entire apartment, excluding the mattress set and TV.

If you want to go back and look at all of the projects just click on the links below:

The Silver Lining – an overview of the entire apartment

Painted Drop Cloth Curtains

The Dining Table

Bedroom Furniture

Coffee Table Make-over

The Little Red Cart That Could

I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing this adventure with us.

**I have received no compensation for specific products or retailers mentioned in this post.