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Crafts

Mending an old arm chair

We inherited a ‘three piece suite’ from Edna’s house in 2010. The sofa is a lovely comfortable huge Parker Knoll with strange knobs on the end of the tall back that hold cords with tassels. These join up with arm extensions that have never been used in the 45 years that I have known the sofa, and live dropped behind the back! There’s a whole story to the sofa, but not for now.

The two arms chairs are not Parker Knoll. They are relatively small, not quite matching, comfortable chairs. Their covers had been a pleasant soft mint green that toned well with the sofa cover, but they wore out. So Edna, with a lot of help from Patrick in the early 2000s, had the chairs re-covered by Plumbs in a brighter green colour, in my view a bit too bright! Once we had the chairs in our quite small sitting room it was clear that they should be recovered if only to avoid a ‘gosh, too green’ feeling whenever we went in there. So Patrick and I chose some fabric and I made loose covers. The spare fabric went into cushion covers, so our sitting room now looks as though the three piece suite is well co-ordinated, amazingly. That is, until we look more closely at various defects of both the sofa cover plus its ‘springing’ and the same with the chairs. The new covers on the chairs are light in colour so they show dirt and wear particularly in the chair that Patrick always sits on. I used the final spare fabric from the loose covers to make arm and back ‘antimacassars’ – pretty effective, especially as I discovered that the fabric is washable without shrinking. Less easy to solve was the collapse of the left side (as you sit on it) of the seat on the chair that Patrick regularly used.

Which is what this account is meant to be all about…….

Stages

Move the non-collapsing chair (give it time – sooner or later it will follow its friend and need repairing I’m sure) to the place where P normally sits. I washed the collapsing chair’s ‘antimacassars’ and put them on this chair.

Move the collapsing chair into the conservatory and put the ‘farmhouse/windsor’ chair in its place – which looked very nice and gave a more spacious feel to the room. It’s surprising how much space upholstered chairs take up. There’s another story attached to this ‘farmhouse/windsor’, also for another day.

Take the cover off the chair (and cast casually to one side judging by this picture!)

Dig out the upholstery ‘kit’, ie whatever happens to be in that drawer of odds and ends upstairs. Luckily there was enough that was useful, webbing and twine in particular as well as a twist of spare tacks.

Turn the chair upside down and remove tacks from three sides of the hessian that covers the base to reveal the webbing. You can see that the springs are pressing through the webbing and several of the strips have detached from the chair frame. Needless to say the whole exercise was very dusty. It might have been an idea to have a go at the underside of the chair with hoover tools before starting, but I didn’t think of that.

Sort out the webbing. I didn’t have enough webbing to replace it all and anyway it was clear that there had been a previous repair as there were 2 layers of webbing, older and slightly less old (on ‘top’ as the chair is upside down). The existing webbing that had ripped from the chair frame, or that was working loose, needed extra lengths joined to it to give a solid piece that could be re-tacked to the frame. This is what I’ve started doing in the picture below. I also decided to use the twine to run a line along each piece of repaired webbing from side to side / front to back to add a bit of strength. I tried to fix it securely at either end but the fabric of the chair (as opposed to the wooden frame) was not very substantial so we shall see how it all works.

Complete webbing repairs. The photos below, show the webbing repairs underway. The twine is clearly visible along each repaired piece and the bulging effect of the springs is seriously less than it was. The two layers of previous webbing creates a fairly solid base once the strips are all tightened up and tacked down. It was rather bulky along the edges where the new webbing was added but they neatly folded away, as in the bottom photo.

The repairs all disappeared once the old hessian was tacked back in position – see below.

Check the effect of webbing repairs. Before tacking back the hessian I turned the chair over just in case there were still problems. Superficially it looked fine (top photo below). But when I felt it the sagging left side was still as bad as ever (bottom photo). Without totally reupholstering the chair there was nothing ‘professional’ I could do to improve the springs/horsehair/padding in order to even out the seat……

Fix the problem somehow. We have a surplus of blankets – another feature of inheriting things from households that were mainly functioning in the pre-duvet days ie from the 1940s. So the ‘sagging seat cure’ is now a large blanket, folded unevenly so most of it could be shoved into the space where proper padding no longer existed.

Cover up all that lies underneath. Loose covers are multi dimensional, most noticeable when ironing them. There’s a huge volume to tuck in, but at the same time this gives plenty of scope for tweaking and twitching so in the end it looks fairly smooth and tidy. Once the cover was tucked in the seat felt approximately right.

Adding the seat cushion made a difference.

Now the chair is back in place it’s clear that the tightened webbing has made a huge difference compared with its pair, the non-collapsed chair. Sitting on the repaired chair is like sitting on a very firm bed – there’s far less give than we expected and you’re higher than on both the other chair and the sofa. But it will no doubt loosen up as the no-longer-collapsed chair is used more and more!

Now there is an urgency, that wasn’t there before, to inspect the under-side of the non-collapsed chair and also the sofa.

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