Thursday, January 7, 2010

Copying Quality

Back in our pre-child, two income, exploding stock and real estate market days, we bought several pieces of fancy furniture. Those still with us have survived three moves, said child and the changes of fashion, mood and use that twelve years will bring. This Wittman chair has been a great favorite. To me the lines are subtly something special, yet undemanding. You don't have to take notice of the chair as an object to appreciate how comfortable it is for sitting, but you are free to appreciate its cozy curves if you choose.

When we bought this chair from Adesso in Boston, its "removable" cover was a great selling point for me. The salesperson claimed that the cover could simply be unzipped and replaced at whim. Well, you could buy a nice new armchair for the cost of the cover, so it would have to be more than a whim, but still it appealed to me.

A decade and then-some on, the cover was in bad shape. The depradations of a now-rehomed cat made replacement a necessity. I signed up for an upholstery class at our local technical college, sure that with my sewing skills I would zip through this project in less than the nine-week session.

First of all, making this cover turned out not to be an upholstery project at all, but rather a slipcovering project. Second, the cover was removable, but only in the sense that it could be removed after extracting about 300 staples and ripping the cover and all of its clever supporting flanges off of the foam structure of the chair. This cover was so extensively adhered to the foam that I would never have had the courage to remove it without the upholstery course instructor's assurances that I was not destroying the chair in the process.

Working on furniture is hard physical labor. I guess I should have known that, but I was surprised at the contrast with other types of sewing.

After removing the cover, the instructor had me separate the pieces gradually. He said that if I just ripped all the seams at once and laid them down flat, I'd never figure out how to get the thing back together. What good advice that was!

Slowly I ripped and picked the thing apart, and slowly I cut and sewed its replacement together. It was a joy to see the wonderful construction and craftsmanship of this cover. On every piece, the centers were notched, as were key match points. By copying these, I found that I could sew the pieces together with relative ease. Every seam was topstitched to hold the seam allowances flat. The cover was put together like a detailed and beautifully thought-out garment.

At the end of the course (attending eight sessions and working at home on the project several hours as well), the chair cover was finished and the chair was dressed, with the much-needed assistance of the instructor. The only thing left was the cushion cover. I brought my mostly-refurbished item home, threw a piece of fabric over the cushion, and so it stayed for many months.

I've read on many sewing blogs that having one's basement sewing space become uninhabitable during particularly cold periods is common. My sewing operation has moved temporarily up to the living room, where a Singer Copenhagen cabinet holds one of my vintage machines. My husband finished installing our Craigslist woodstove three days ago, and now the living room is the place to be.

Seeing as how the sewing machine and the chair were within ten feet of one another, the time to make the cushion cover had clearly arrived.

Disassembling, marking and pressing the original cushion cover took a couple of warm hours. Cutting, marking and sewing the new one took another couple. But how satisfying is the result: a truly finished project that fills me with pride. This cover really stretched my skills. It confirmed, once again, that home decoration projects are not my favorites. In copying the cover, I was inspired by the workmanship and design of the original.

This is a commercial fabric by Knoll. Commercial fabric is rated for the number of "double rubs" it can withstand before showing wear. This one had a very durable rating of something like 100,000 double rubs. Special-ordered, it costs something like $40 a yard. My upholstery instructor runs the refurbishing operation at our local Office Environments, a high-end contract furniture company. He sold me a five-yard remnant for this cover for $15. Total. If you have home dec projects (particularly those requiring smaller yardage), an office furniture supplier might be a good source for fabric.


  1. Wow! Quality job done... I assumed I was looking at the professional "before" cover it sat so well on the frame and cushion.
    And that is indeed a beautiful chair... worth the recovering!

  2. Great work on the chair! That is fantastic! And I have that same sewing desk, my Singer 401 is in it. I love the large workspace!

  3. I've just completed re-finishing my Singer Copenhagen Cabinet. I need to replace some of the hardware so I can install my Singer 403. Any ideas where I can buy replacement hardware?