two pictures of a wingback chair one before and one afer with new covers

Joseph the Technicolour Upcycled Wingback Chair

It’s no secret I do enjoy a bit of upholstery in between my ‘hard furniture’ projects. So when a message dropped into my inbox asking if I would consider giving her wingback chair a bit of TLC I didn’t have to think twice.

Come to Mama…

Upholstery is a very complex subject. The fire safety regulations changed often between 1988 and 2010 and it can feel a bit overwhelming. I don’t plan to go into details here, there is plenty online for those wanting to understand more. I would even advise booking yourself a course.

But I was pleasantly surprised to discover this chair originated from a well know high street store and was actually only three years old. That’s a bit mad, isn’t it? But as they say, they don’t make them like they used to. 

This wingback chair was now firmly in the camp of achievable. Even if it was going to be one of the biggest pieces I have ever tackled. As well as being constructed in a very different way to the older pieces I would normally work on.

It was delivered to me before Christmas, which turned out to be a demon move when the post-Christmas lockdown came. With premonitions like that, I should pick next weeks lottery numbers. I was mighty relieved to have it to work on as we entered the new year. The toughest lockdown yet. Although work is essential, I have managed my collections and deliveries very carefully. Scheduling the diary to bring in commissions at the appropriate time to avoid local authority boundary crossings during restricted periods. And sometimes that has left me with quiet periods to ponder the situation.

Of course, if you were to call me a courier and I could go anywhere. I am just cautious, and conscious of the nervousness which exists in our rural communities.

Anyway, I digress.

The wingback chair was a grubby fella

Indeed he was. This wingback chair was covered in a light coloured fabric with a nod to tartan. But wear over its relatively short life had left it with an almost greasy cardboard feel. That says more to me about the fabrics used for mass-produced furniture than it does about the user. Furniture should be made to be used, and used well.

pale check wingback chair in a dirty condition

But in all other respects, this chair was a solid piece of furniture.

The greatest challenge with these newer, commercially manufactured chairs is not so much what they stuff them with, but how they are put together. I am very much a traditional upholsterer. I love working with much older chairs, panel by panel, strategically tying back into the main timber frame. Newer pieces are almost all entirely constructed with a combination of sewn ‘bags’ as I like to call them. It’s almost as if the chair cover is sewn together, away from the piece and then slid over the padded frame on completion. 

So I got my sewing machine out.

Let’s go crazy

My customer chose her own fabric combination. She is a ninja buyer on a popular auction site. And when you are thinking of going a bit boho with a piece of furniture, short lengths and remnants are perfect. And you will often find them at a fraction of the original price too. Buying someone else’s leftovers is another great way to help our planet I guess.

stack of colourful tweed fabrics

She presented me with her fabric choices and simply said ‘go crazy’. It was music to my ears. I like having a little free rein to choose what the end product will look like, without too many constraints. It is where I am most comfortable. Hey, I am a ‘creative’. You wouldn’t expect anything else, would you? But if you want to be a back seat driver, when you pick me to work on your furniture, then I am cool with that too. 

So there I was, looking at a wingback chair, with a pile of fabulous fabrics. Quote me happy.

My first job? I numbered all the panels. Then I took a video of the chair from all directions. Because once they come off, and are unpicked, those panels take on a whole different personality. It’s like they try to kid you they are something else. And I was going to need every one of those pieces, at least in the first instance, as my pattern pieces. And then know how they went back together again.

The finished article

Fast forward a couple of weeks into 2021 and the wingback chair was finished. It wasn’t an easy project. I still like to tack back to a frame wherever I can. But I discovered the entire chair to be covered in thick foam with polystyrene formers over key features such as the front arms. This meant there was no option but to ‘bag out’ some of the panels. That is to make them up as a loose cover and then slip them over until anchor points could be reached. I was on quite a steep learning curve.

My customers love it. We were seriously snowed in for most of January so they had to be super patient and wait until we could get out again. But it was worth the wait. We returned ‘Joseph’ the technicolour wingback chair back to his home and family. He is now looking for a footstool to match (winking emoji).

Meanwhile, I am totally in love with the ‘boho’ approach to upholstery. All I need now is a lovely old chair to create another one.

If you would like to see your piece of furniture get the Artisan Bothy treatment then let’s chat. You can get me on any of the channels on my contact page

The Artisan Bothy
Breathing new life into your tired furniture throughout Moray, Grampian, Highlands and Scotland