Oops, We Did It Again!

At the end of my The Couch Re-covery Progression blog, I mentioned that I might move on to something a little simpler.  And that’s exactly what I did.

I’m not sure exactly how or why we inherited these lovely chartreuse, crushed velvet chairs, but we ended up with two of them.  There was an orange one.  I think we sold it. The other is the lovely green you see pictured here:

Before

Now, we’ve made the best of this chair for some time now.  And I’m sure in some other setting it would be lovely just the way it is.  But my mother simply couldn’t take it anymore, and rightly so.  Emboldened by my previous success, she declared that the green chair needed to be re-covered.

I love my mother, she is my best friend and most sage adviser.  However, she as a thing about not finishing projects.  Luckily for her, I have a thing about finishing projects.

Long before we actually started on the chair, she went on a pretty intense search for the ideal material that she had in mind.  As we all know, once we have something in mind, it’s almost impossible to find.  But she did! At Walmart, I believe.

She had the fabric for probably about a year. However, she didn’t have her own sewing machine. We needed to wait until she got a sewing machine.  I found a great deal on one on Amazon! Yay! So she got a sewing machine.  But she didn’t have time to sit down and learn how to use it because she was working.  So she retired.  About 3 months after retirement (it’s an emotionally exhausting thing.  I’m currently using the think system to prepare a blog on that subject) she sat down and learned to use her sewing machine. Excellent!

Yet still, no mention of re-covering the chair, even though we had pretty much everything we needed.  Enter me, the project finisher and general ramrod. 🙂  My winter break from work was approaching, so I announced to her that we would be re-covering the chair during my break.  I sent her some Amazon links for spikenards (my family’s fun and biblical terminology for tack strips though the biblical term has nothing at all to do with anything spiky) because that’s all we really needed to get the show on the road.

The weekend before I officially started break, (because who wants to wait to start finishing a project?!) I tossed down a drop cloth and got down to deconstructing the chair.

Let me tell ya folks, that chair was old and icky on the inside.  I think at one point it was probably a well-constructed piece of furniture.  But it had aged.  And its innards had aged too.  I’m also pretty sure that the covering I was removing was not its original covering.

While jumping into the deep end and re-covering a well-built couch does not me an upholstery expert make, I feel that some of the techniques used to cover this chair were… questionable. As in, “What IS this?!”  I found the small pieces of cardboard wrapped in material and nailed to the front of the arms particularly puzzling.

It was then that we decided that we might not put it back together exactly as it was.  To make the chair fit the room that it lives in, we decided a more sleek, streamlined look was best.  Translation: without buttons, cording and a skirt it would be EASIER.

I must note that one reason why I can be the ramrod on a project such as this is because I know how to do the easy stuff.  It’s pretty easy to pull staples and then staple stuff back on.  But the truth is  if you’re going to upholster, you have to sew.  Or know someone who is willing to sew.

I have a couple of seamstresses in my family, my mother and sister. My mother and sister, the seamstresses? They HATE cushions. H-A-T-E, hate them.  I, the non-seamstress, say, “Can’t you just take the front piece and sew it to the back piece, leave the bottom open, stuff it, and then sew up the bottom?” This question is met with steely-eyed glares.  So, apparently, cushions are more difficult to sew than they appear.

Also, in my two upholstery experiences, top cushions need a ruffle on the back for wrapping over the top and possibly sides.  My seamstresses aren’t a fan of ruffles either. But they find a way to do it, because the reward is just SO sweet!

Before I give you a quick rundown of our process, let me just say:

Chair-so much smaller and therefore easier and faster than a couch! I cannot believe I started with a couch! But, it does seem to make all following projects pretty simple!

Our process:

  1. Remove old, gross fabric (it’s not gross until you admit you hate it, and then it’s the worst thing ever and you can’t believe you ever had it in your house or allowed people to see it in your house!)
  2. Cut new pieces of fabric by using old, recently removed pieces as a pattern.
  3. Stitch bottom-front piece of chair fabric to muslin (left over from the couch project).
  4. Attach bottom-front to the front of the chair by wrapping under and stapling. The muslin bit goes across the seat area and is pulled tight and stapled in the back and on the sides.
  5. We made some new arm covers from scratch – because the original didn’t have arm covers. Things were wrapped around and cardboard and nails… it was weird. I was worried that creating arm covers out of thin air would be hard. But in the world of seamstresses, apparently that’s a piece of cake. No issue.  I still don’t understand what’s hard about cushions.
  6. Attach arm covers by wrapping short edges under the outside of the chair arms and long edges down inside the chair and stapled to the sides.
  7. Attach side panels: Staple top edge right under the outside of the arms, covering the arm piece wrapping.  Use cardboard (we use poster board) when stapling so that it will make an even edge to fold over. Fold over and use spikenards, er.. tack strips to attach the front edges of the side panels to the chair.  Then pull down to the bottom of the chair and wrap under bottom and staple, and around the back and staple.
  8. Attach “wing covers”: this chair has a bit of a wing back, so we made some covers for the wings that staple around back and around the inside back of the chair. Kind of like kitten ears. 🙂
  9. Attach back seat cushion:  Yes the dreaded cushion with the ruffle.  Top ruffle covers the space between the wings and is stapled to the back.  Bottom and side ruffle are tucked inside and stapled to the back-bottom and back-sides of the chair.
  10. Attach the back! Like the side covers, staple the top edge of the fabric and include a strip of cardboard or poster board and fold over. Tack strip the sides and wrap under the bottom and staple.

It looks a little somethin’ like this:

After

School’s Out! Or Is It?

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It’s the last day of school.  One more test and you’re outta there!  At the end   of the day the Principal is the last one out.  He locks the door behind him and no one darkens the door again until August, right? WRONG!  Did you know that school is actually a year-round business?  So what happens at school during the summer?

While you’re off enjoying the pool, the beach, summer camp, there are some people working hard to improve your school and to make sure it’s in the best possible condition for students to return to in the fall.  They are vital to making school happen every day and their busiest time of year is actually in the summer.  I’m talking about the support staff at your school: the maintenance men, custodians, tech guys and the transportation folks.

How do I know?  I work at a public school in Central Arkansas.  Our school serves about 3500 students grades Pre-K – 12 and employs about 500 people.  I work for the Assistant
Superintendent for Support Services at our school.  He oversees all of the Support staff and I assist him in his duties.

Here are a few things that we will be doing this summer: One of the biggest jobs done in the summer is performed by our Custodial staff.  They strip and wax all of the tile floors in every building in the district.  Considering that there is roughly
440,000 square feet (equivalent to a little less than 8 football fields) of tile to be waxed in more than 8 buildings, this is a HUGE job and they only have a couple of months to get it all done! They have to move all of the furniture out of every classroom, strip all of the existing wax off of the floors (the solution they use to do this is extremely slick… they have to be very careful not to fall), mop with vinegar to remove the stripping solution, seal and wax the tile after it’s been stripped of the old wax, wait for it to dry, and then move all of the furniture back in.

While the Custodians are waxing the floors, the Maintenance staff is doing various large projects around campus that include giving a fresh coat of paint to the buildings that need it, servicing all of the air conditioning units (about 500), grounds work to keep the campus looking nice, building furniture for our new building that is opening up in the fall, and moving entire classrooms worth of equipment for teachers who are moving to a new classroom. In addition to that there are several inspections that are required by law: gas line inspections, fire extinguisher inspections (we have over 375 on campus), fire alarm inspections, etc.

While the custodians are waxing and the Maintenance staff is painting and inspecting, the
Technology staff is hard at work as well.  In our district each summer one building gets new computers.  This sometimes involves wiring upgrades to a building and also moving out about 150 old computers and moving in about 150 new computers and keeping up with where all 300 computers new and old end up.  Technology also cleans about 1300 computers to get them ready for use for the next school year.  Did I mention that most of these folks working in buildings are working without air conditioning at least part of the time?

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Our Transportation staff is also hard at work.  We do use some school buses in the summer for various activities such as summer programs and summer athletic trips, but the bulk of the Transportation staff’s time is spent on bus maintenance.  It is state law that each of our school buses be inspected by a state inspector every year.  During the summer our Transportation staff stays busy working on all of the buses, washing them, waxing them, replacing seats and seat covers and servicing the buses so that they are in top-notch condition for running those bus routes when schools starts again.

Also, just a quick note about teachers; they don’t really get the whole summer off either. Many of them spend at least a portion of their summer attending what’s called “Professional Development” workshops. In the summer teachers go to these workshops so that they are up to date on all the latest and greatest requirements, technology and methods for teaching each student.

These things are some of the things that happen at our school in the summer.  Not every school is the same.  Still, when you go back to school in the fall look for the improvements and repairs you see in your school.  Notice how shiny the floors are, that the locker next to yours that was broken last year is now in fine working order.  Notice that the bus doesn’t rattle anymore when it comes down your road.  Maybe even take a moment to say thank you to a Custodian or Maintenance person when you see them in your building.  I guarantee it will make their day.

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Even if you go to school at home your parents are there to work hard to make sure your learning environment is top-notch.  As always, you have your part to play.  At home, take ownership of the chores you’re assigned and do them well.  At school when you see a wad of paper in the hall, rather than see how far you can kick it, pick it up and throw it away.  If you see something that is in need of repair, tell a teacher so that they can report it and get it taken care of.

Whether at home or at school take a moment to realize and appreciate the fact that there are a lot people dedicated to keeping things clean and in good working order so that you have a safe, dry and warm place to be educated.  Make the most of it!

The Couch Re-covery Progression

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Hello all who may read this! This is my very first blog post and so I thought I’d make it about another very first: My very first adventure in reupholstering.

Now, I am not a person who usually just jumps into the deep end of things.  I’m a thinker, an analyzer, and a researcher.  So, when I decided that I was going to reupholster my couch, I didn’t think that I was jumping in the deep end, because I don’t do that.  But I kind of did. I mean, who starts with a couch?! Me, apparently, because that’s what needed doing.

So, first things first, let’s get to know my couch.  I have had my couch for over 10 years… I think I bought it shortly after I graduated from college.  I found it at a going out of business parking lot sale for National Home Center.  It cost me $300.00.  The couch is a great, faithful old couch.  It is very sound, and as I discovered, very, very well built.  I have slept on this couch, watched many, many hours of TV (hence the Big Bang Theory-like blog title) and movies on this couch.  I even eat on this couch.  Eating on the couch brings us to why I decided it needed to be re-covered.

My couch, while healthy in every other way, had acquired a few stains over the years.  I’d borrowed a friend’s upholstery cleaner to try to get some of them out, but it didn’t really do the job.  I shopped around for a new couch, but they were all so much more expensive and they weren’t, well, my couch.

My next step was to look into reupholstering the couch.  One night I went online and began perusing the upholstery fabric on the Joanne’s website.  I found some charcoal gray, linen upholstery fabric that I really liked.  And it was…. ON SALE! Now, as I said, I don’t normally just haul off and do things.. but it was on sale for over half off for Veteran’s Day ONLY. So even though I had not budgeted for any such thing that month, I bought it.  I had a moment of shock that I bought it, but $200.00 (14 yards) for the fabric is still less than a new couch, so I considered it a win.

Now I needed to find someone, not me because I don’t do upholstery, to put my beautiful new fabric on my well loved and used couch.  So I contacted a local upholstery company for an estimate, minus the cost of the fabric because I had oh so wisely and cheaply already acquired that.  $700.  Not including the fabric.  Needless to say, I decided at that point that I would do the job myself and if I failed miserably, I’d either by a new couch or cave in and take my mess to the professionals and then pay them to fix it.

So now it came time to intensely research how one goes about reupholstering one’s own couch.  I first reached out to some friends that I knew had done one recently.  The most important points I got from them were: 1) Taking everything off is the hardest part and 2) Take pictures as you go so that you’ll know how to put everything back on again.  These two pieces of information were absolutely true and invaluable for the success of my project.

I then mentioned to one of the guys that I work with that I was going to redo my couch and he said, “Flip it over and start at the bottom. Everything is wrapped under”.  This also turned out to be excellent advice! He also said that if the project didn’t work out I could just end up with a nice wooden bench, which I found oddly comforting.

I also did some research online.  The MOST helpful resource that I came across in my research was http://www.doityourselfdivas.com/2013/04/reupholster-couch.html. This post was very simple and to the point and made me believe that I could DO this! I also went to the wonderful and versatile amazon.com for supplies such as a set of upholstery tools, which turned out to be more for auto upholstery than furniture, but they worked out fine.  I also found on amazon.com some cording for the edges of the cushions and some tack strips because I learned from the blog mentioned above that I might need them.

So I had gathered all of my tools and was ready to tear into old couch.  It took me about 4 full days of work to get everything stripped off of the couch.  I went into it thinking that I wanted to take off as little as possible to get the job done.  Here is Big Lesson #1: Taking off as little as possible means taking off pretty much everything.  By the time I was done the only thing left intact was the padding.  It was still in good shape, no tears or stains on it, so I left it on.

Through the tearing off process I learned how well built my couch truly is.  Just about every staple had to be levered out with the tack puller: put edge of puller at edge of staple, hammer the end until edge of puller is under staple and then lever the staple out enough to then twist it out with needle-nose pliers.  By the time I had removed all of the fabric and staples, my hands were so sore and tired, I probably could not have opened a Coke bottle.  But they felt much better after a couple of days.

In the tearing off process I was sure I’d be able to leave to wood trim around the bottom, but nope. It had to come off too.  I got my Dad to do that for me. So here is Big Lesson #2: Find excellent subcontractor help. Mine came in the form of my Dad, who procured some awesome staplers for me (we’ll get to those in a bit) and who took off the wood and bought some new for us to stain and put on.

Also in the category of subcontractor is my sister the seamstress.  I have developed lots of domestic skills, but sewing just is not one of them.  My sister helped me cut out the new fabric and sewed the front panels of the arms and all of the cushion covers for me.  My sister is a very busy lady, she has a husband and children, so considering that my project could not be her top sewing priority (apparently she has to clothe her children?! Whatever) she whipped out most of the pieces in record time.

Also on the sub list is my mom who would come hold bits of fabric in place while I stapled and in general offered moral support.

Now as I mentioned before, it was suggested to me that I take pictures as I went so I’d know how to put things back. I did do that. However, having never done this before, I didn’t really know what I would need pictures of when it came to putting things back on. So the pictures I took weren’t as helpful as they could have been. Big Lesson #3: Take pictures of how things are put together before you tear them apart. I took pictures of the taking apart process more than how things actually looked when they were put together.  The pictures I took weren’t useless, but they could have been better.

The putting back on process is pretty easy, assuming that you have everything cut out and sewn together correctly. My dad got me a pneumatic stapler (it hooks to an air compressor), which made the process incredibly easy, and fast, I really don’t know how else one would do it.  I tried a hand-held stapler and an electric one and neither was up to the job.

At present, the couch is completely finished except for the seat cushions and the wood trim:

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I will put up a new post with a picture of the finished product as soon as my sister, the one with the pesky kids, finishes the seat cushion covers and we get the wood trim put on, hopefully this weekend. I’m sure you’re dying to see it; I know I am! And maybe in the future I’ll tackle something simple, like, I don’t know, a dining room chair. 🙂

UPADATE:

Well, here it is folks! The finished product.  We re-stained the wooden bits and my SUPER SISTER made my beautiful cushion covers.  As you may have guessed, this project was completed quite some time ago.  I have neglected my blogging.  I think I’ll write a blog about why that is…

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