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Hello and Happy New Year!
We are blessed a few days off each year between Christmas and New Years Eve. That’s right we have at least five whole days to spend just about any way we want. Some days we choose to rent movies, play video games, head out for after Christmas sales at the stores, or take on a small project. As I popped my feet up on an old ottoman to enjoy one of these lazy, do whatever we want days, I realized I had a great small project that I could easily fit into this year’s winter break.
Fortunately, I still have several yards of the fabric I had purchased from Toto Fabrics earlier in the year. I had intended to use the fabric for a couch and love seat, so I purchased 26 yds. Because I wasn’t able to get to that project, I figured I may as well use up the fabric on other projects while I work on improving my upholstery skills.
When selecting your fabric, there are few things I’ve learned to keep in mind. First, most (not all, but most) fabric comes in 54″ wide rolls which is good to know when deciding how much material to buy. Another factor that can affect the amount of fabric is the print. If you use solid colors or small prints, it isn’t of great consequence. If you like larger, bolder prints, look at the details to determine the size of the pattern repeat. If the print is large, you may need to purchase more fabric to try to line up the image along the seams.
The fabric I have is brown and blue and consists of ovals and lines that run horizontally. These lines made measuring, cutting, and print matching easy as they provided a guide. However, the lines are not very forgiving if my seams are off, even a little. Even pulling the base fabric for stapling the bottom became challenging because the lines had to remain straight up and down and attempting to pull the fabric tight to the bottom shifted the lines. This is also worth considering when selecting a printed fabric.
Getting the ottoman dismantled didn’t take long at all. However, it did take some care and know how. I began by removing the dust guard, the black piece of fabric on the underside. This allow me to start removing the fabric on the ottoman, from the bottom up. I had to use a screw driver to loosen the staples and pliers to pull them completely. The fabric has to be removed carefully, as not to tear it up, so it can be used to pattern out the new fabric pieces.
Once all the staples had been removed and the bottom fabric pulled away from the frame, I was ready to learn more about the original assembly of the ottoman. I enjoy pulling things apart to learn how they were made. I’ve learned that different furniture manufacturers use different mediums. For example, this ottoman is Broyhill discount furniture. They manufacturer covered the dust skirt seams with a double welt gimp, using small corner staples and glue.
After removing the cushion top completely, I was ready to take out the foam of the cushion and disassemble the fabric pieces. I used a seam ripper to pull the first few stitches. Once I had a start, or a separation between two pieces, I used a small box cutter to cut the thread of the seams while I tugged the two pieces apart.
I was happy to see that I still had good foam in the cushion, but the cotton batting needed to be replaced. The foam and it’s wrap need to be smooth. Any holes, lumps or bumps will most like show through the fabric in the finished product. I pulled off the batting of this cushion and started over with fresh batting to achieve the smooth finish.
If this were a large project, I would have ordered a large roll of dacron or batting from an upholstery material supplier. Because I need less than a yard of batting, I just picked up a roll from Walmart. The batting I selected was a large roll, large enough to cover a queen bed because I knew I’d have to layer it. Looking at the original batting, it appeard to have a 1″ loft or thickness. Walmart only carried a medium weight with a 1/2″ loft.
I measured out the batting and snipped the corners of the batting. To do this I pinched the corners and cut straight down to give the cushion smooth corners. I a spray-on fabric adhesive by 3M to adhere the batting to the foam. I sprayed the adhesive directly on the foam and waited till the adhesive dried enough to be tacky to touch. Then I covered the foam in batting and did the same for the sides of the foam.
When laying out the old pieces of fabric on the new fabric, I payed close attention to the print. I made sure that the bottom of each piece of the dust skirt layed along the same lines and that all pieces were laid in the in the correct direction so the final product would have all lines facing horizontally in the final product.
I learned from working Saturdays at a local upholstery shop to always mark the pieces, as I cut them out. A simple “T” for top and “B” for bottom will help me remember where to puzzle the pieces back together when I sew them. I also learned to always fold pieces in the middle and snip out a tiny notch (less than the 1/2″ seam allowance) so I’d know where to middle line up. When sewing, it helps to always sew from the middle first out to the sides so you don’t end up with bunching if you have any excess fabric. I also labeled the fabric in the middle “Box” for the walls of the cushions and “Skirt” for the dust skirt, so I wouldn’t accidentally mix them up.
Sewing is usually my favorite step because it allows me to see the pieces come together, both literally and figuratively. For this project, I used welt cord to sew matching gimp or piping. The piping gives the strength to the shape of the cushion and is sometimes more aesthetically pleasing to the overall look. Next, I seam together the cushion boxing, or sides and then attach the piping to the boxing.
In a normal couch or chair cushion, the zipper would be part of the box, but because this is an ottoman, the zipper for the foam cushion is on the underside and honestly isn’t necessary. It was part of the original ottoman, so I just reused the zipper and muslin. I pinned the cushion top and bottom in place before sewing to make use the lines in the print of the boxing stayed in line with the cushion top and bottom to appear to be continuous.
Once the pieces were sewn together, I inserted the foam cushion and inspected my work. Honestly, I was unhappy with it the first time. In my first attempt, I found some lines were not sewn straight, some prints didn’t line up, and the cushion itself didn’t sit straight over the base. I ripped all the seams I had sewn together and started over, spending more time and paying even closer attention. That’s how we learn from our mistakes. We can’t be afraid to take it back apart and start over.
The next step was to pop outside to the garage and use my staple gun to staple down the fabric to the underside of the frame. Then, it was back inside to sew the final pieces. I had not completed a project previously with a dust skirt, so I learned something new with this project. Using a fabric stabilizer, a firm fabric use to give strength and hold shape, I created all 8 pieces of the skirt.
The stabilizer had to be cut an inch smaller than the dust skirt. Using my smaller, home sewing machine, I selected a stitch as close as possible to what I might achieve with a Serger. I placed the stablizer against the outside of the fabric and lined it up with the left edge first to sew. Then I pulled the stabilizer to meet the right side and stitched the two. because the stabilizer is a full inch shorter than the piece of the dust skirt (which was cut 1 inch larger than the final product, I folded in the side a 1/2″ and seamed the bottom edge. Finally, I flipped the fabric and stabilizer inside out, or in this case it became the right side out.
I took the ottoman back out to the garage to pop in a few staples that would hold my dust skirt in place before it received the final bit of trim. I folded each piece of the skirt in half to make sure it was centered correctly before tacking in place. The wheels of the ottoman need to be slightly lower then the length of the skirt. This is because the wheels tend to sink in a little on carpeted floors and you want the skirt to meet the carpet, not bunch up. The frame of this ottoman had a cardboard strap that was wrapped at the correct height to mark where this skirt needed to be stapled, so I had an easy guide to work with.
For the last bit of trim, I decided to use decorative nail heads, rather than glue like the original manufacturer chose. The nail heads are much more time consuming (it takes about 15 min/foot of nailing) but they are much less messy and tend to hold up better over time. It’s usually worth considering where the nail heads are placed and the amount of wear and tear over time. This trim or gimp line is not going to be sat on or even rubbed often, so glue would have been just fine too.
I used a placing tool to keep my finish nails straight and hold them while I hammered away. I wrapped my tack hammer with a piece of the batting I had cut off to protect the finish on the nail heads from the pounding of the hammer. The screw driver and pliers came in handy when the finish nails bent and had to be removed and replaced.
As I worked my way around the ottoman, I found that the tacks went in much easier when I swung the hammer from a point of a foot and more away and more like a fulcrum than when I tried to keep the hammer tight to the nail heads with several smaller taps. I also placed one tack opposite my starting point to help hold the skirt and trim in place while I nailed. Sometimes I had to remove this place holder to get it spaced correctly, but it was just one nail that had to be moved and well worth the help as a place holder.
I hope the photos and instructions shown here are helpful to any reader out there who may be considering a similar project. I’ll be starting on the matching arm chair in a few days and plan to post it’s progress from beginning to end as well. As I work through the next project I will share additional tips to help with fabric selection, pattern creation, sewing, and whatever tricks I’ve discovered along the way that have improved my craft.
Thank you and may God bless you and prosper you in the new year!