When I posted this back in October of last year, I threw in a picture of the folding chairs I’d refinished. That came up in conversation Monday night, and I decided to push the next installment of the end tables project to next week and share more pictures of the folding chairs.
Here’s the original post:
When I was 11, I took woodshop in summer school at Horace Mann Elementary school in Beverly Hills. It was the first of three woodshop summers. Two decades later it seems crazy to let someone of that age deal with all kinds of tools that can lead to permanent damage, but at the time, I just made sure to be careful.
I made a chessboard and a side table/stool. They’re still going strong, but they do need some attention. I tried to turn chess pieces at 13 when my summer woodshop class was at Beverly Hills High School, but those came out poorly. The Horace Mann shop didn’t have a lathe. Beverly’s did.
I’ve made things over the years, and the lessons from woodshop class and Mr. Bartkoski have stuck with me.
(Sidenote: I just now found out that Mr. Bartkoski passed away in January 2007. My day is now a little sadder.)
In the past decade, my woodworking activities have mainly been focused on refinishing things other people have made and people afterward have made worse, either because they actively didn’t care or because they didn’t know what to do.
For example, I was given my coffee table by a friend who was moving. After years of parties and little attention to cleanup by the people who lived in that house, the table looked pretty gross. But I saw potential.
When I sanded it down, I found a stain that wended its way around part of the table. I don’t know what had spilled, but it’s many, many layers deep.
I forewent finishing it with teak oil in favor of staining it and applying a polyurethane topcoat.
Ultimately, I am happy with the end result.
Recently I refinished some folding chairs found in the alley, but there wasn’t nearly the same level of filth.
As you can see, I like to take things people have given up on and make them look like they’re not garbage. Some projects are easier than others, and there’s no guarantee that a project won’t amount to a total waste of time.
So I picked up a step-up end table that was on craigslist’s free stuff. I wiped it off, brought it back with me, and then let it sit outside. This one is going to be the biggest challenge yet. Stay tuned.
HELLO! This is the last installment of my cushion adventure.
Step 4: This week I’m going to show you how I secured these two beautiful cushions to two beautiful chairs that Matt beautifully refinished. You can see that journey here.
I had successfully made two fitted cushions for two chairs at this point. This is how I wanted them to sit on the chairs:
I wanted to use the secondary fabric to secure the cushions because 1) the seconday fabric is super strong and does not stretch, 2) it made sense to use the same fabric that covers the back of the cushions for continuity purposes, and 3) it was a benign color that I felt would blend in and be less visible. You’ll notice that the cushion is a bit wrinkled as I placed it up against the chair? Yeah, that’s expected. The back of the chair is a bit curved, and my cushion is very much not curved, so it’ll wrinkle a bit. I didn’t mind.
So now comes the part where I attach the darned thing. I wanted the method of attachment to be functional, reliable, and look decent. Sounds reasonable, right?
I mocked up how that should look with scratch paper:
The zig zag design was my first idea… but that turned out to be much harder to make each “v” precise, and I got frustrated.
I still went ahead and made the straps out of the secondary fabric because I knew that they were going to be incorporated no matter what. Turns out that I measured them too small and so when it came time to turning these little tubes inside out, I darned near lost my mind (I also lost a chopstick in the process). It was not a pretty scene.
Ok, so now what? My tubes are TINY and impossible to turn inside out to hide the seam. I set out to make the same length tubes (11″) and a new width. I think I just added 0.5″ to the original measurements?
Here are those new and improved tubes!
I had given up on the zig-zag design for the straps to the cushion so I tried a cross-cross pattern:
Pretty intriguing, right? I kept my annotations on a scratch piece of paper that I slipped between the straps and the chair. Once I was happy with how each strap was placed, I needed to pin them on the cushion.
I put pins on the top edge of the cushion where the straps would line up with the criss-cross pattern. Then, by some miracle, I was able to preserve the spacing and criss-cross pattern after I had pinned the straps to the secondary fabric on the cushion. This step took a while and some creativity (and MANY reattempts).
I almost forgot the strip of secondary fabric where these straps would attach to! In my head I would add a long strip of fabric at the bottom edge of the cushion to house the velcro that would grab onto the tips of the straps when securing to the chair.
These pictures are of me adding those two strips:
Now, maybe you’re already ahead of me on this… did you wonder how the heck I was going to sew all of these things onto the cushion? Well once everything was neatly in place, pinned to the cushion itself, it was only THEN that I realized I still needed to SEW things down!
Great. *slow clap*
Ok don’t panic…
… this is me thinking…
With a flash of brilliance I decided to sew my straps all onto a second-secondary fabric panel and then just hand stitch that panel onto the cushion. Smooth finish, sufficiently secured straps with the sewing machine, and that’s that. Here’s what that looked like:
I prefer this finished clean look.
Let’s check to see that I haven’t messed this up too badly:
Wait. Where’s the criss-cross? What am I missing here? Why is there that icky situation where the straps are not flat against the top of the chair??
My guess is that somewhere between the point at which I meticulously measured out the spacing and placement of my straps against the scratch paper and the moment when I moved the straps onto the second-secondary fabric panel, things went awry.
Here’s what it looks like from the front.
I decided that I was ok with the parallel design instead of the criss-cross. *sigh* Honestly, I didn’t want to do the whole thing all over again, especially after I hand stitched that secondary panel down.
Seeing how things went to heck on the first cushion, I intentionally spaced the straps on the second cushion so that they WERE lined up to be parallel. That looked like this:
Yeah… that’s pretty… different…
BUT no puckering! Just nice and flat. I didn’t want to go back and fix the first one. Maybe one day, when I’m REALLY bored I will. For now, it works.
LAST STEP: VELCROOOO
Pro tip: Don’t sew with the velcro that has adhesive on the back. It’s impossible to get any needle through (even on a powerful sewing machine). Plus, things get all gunky-sticky and messy. Get yourself some non-adesive velcro and be done with it.
And now, for the final reveal…
And it’s comfortable too!
Thank you for adventuring with me through this experience! Stay tuned for Matt’s weekly woodworking blog every Tuesday at 10 am. You can also check out his entertaining daily Spelling Bee blog here.
Step 3: Somehow put the foam into the cover I just made. Sounds pretty simple… right?… anyone?… hello out there?
My plan was to use the sewing machine as much as possible to secure those seams before I had to hand-stitch anything because I knew that whatever the machine did, it would be 10,000,000 times stronger than whatever my two hands could do… and especially since the cushions will face a future life of constant sitting, leaning, shearing, and other inevitable forces, I wanted them to have the best chance of surviving at LEAST 10 individual buttocks interactions before I had to fix them/replace them. So that’s what you will see in the first picture below. I kept the two ends open for hand stitching, thinking that those areas would experience the least amount of stress (Is that factual? I haven’t the slightest clue. But it sounds good, right? If you do actually know the answer, comment below and set me straight.). As we speak, they are still intact and holding their own! Time will tell, but I have a good feeling about their longevity.
Once I adjusted the foam to be exaclty lined up with the corners and edges, I folded the two open edges and began to hand stitch them closed. It was here where I learned the value of thimbles. I had never used them before, though, I was aware of their existence. I had to hand stitching the thick bulk of secondary and fancy fabrics all rolled up on the ends of the cushion. This can get to be pretty tough to push through with just your bare fingers. And even though there was a decent amount of swelling at my J&J injection site (I’m like the Hulk now, but just in one arm because J&J is a one shot deal so I list), my rippling bicep didn’t stand a chance. Trust me, get yourself a thimble… your fingers will thank you.
The wrinkling you saw in the previous photo bothered me a lot. All of my other corners were smooth and lovely, but that one darned corner would just not do. Honestly, I am not 100% certain where I went wrong, but I suspect that I didn’t fold and close the ends as nicely as I could have when I was hand stitching.
Just to be sure, I performed a cesarian on the cushion, freed the foam from the wrinkled case, and made a brand new cover that fit JUST RIGHT.
Pretty darned cool, right? I thought so too.
And here are both cushions!
And then to see if I actually made something worthwhile…
I placed the cushion against the back of the chair to see how it looked, and man… it looked pretty sweet. At that point, I was pretty darned pleased that what I had envisoned in my head ACTUALLY looked like what I had made in reality. That doesn’t happen often for me. So after my victory lap around our one bedroom apartment, I started to brainstorm ideas on how to make my beautiful (and comfy) cushions stay put on the chair.
Join me next week for part 4!
Lessons learned: Thimbles are very helpful, and needles are still pretty sharp.
Last week I talked about HOW the idea came about to make cushions for the top panel of the chairs that Matt brought back to life.
Now I need to show you exactly how I tried to do that.
Step 2: Making the actual cushion.
Matt cut the actual foam with a Turkey-carving-knife-tool according to my measurements with the added 0.50″. You’ll see one of two cut foams in the picture above.
Now I’m thinking, great! I have the foam…now I just need to cover them and… BAM! Cushion made! It’s that easy, right? So, I went about cutting, sewing, and stitching a cover to wrap them: in the front with the fancy fabric, and around the back with the secondary fabric. See below:
This is my machine. I have had it since I was a little girl. My mom and I used to go to the art and craft expos and bask in the DIY glow. One year, while walking around the vendor tents, mom and I decided that we wanted to learn how to sew. So, mom bought this machine and we signed up for sewing classes at Michaels (or Jo-Anne Fabrics(?)–it’s been so long). Since then, we have made pillows, skirts, pajamas, curtains and more. We used to go to the annual bird expo too… but that’s for another time. At one point in my childhood, we had over 50 birds.
Ok enough chit chat. Here is how I went about making the cushions:
This is the secondary fabric that will be up against the panel and hopefully not too visible once the cushion is attached. In this picture, I’m just making sure that I have enough fancy fabric to reach the secondary fabric. I probably should have done that before I went and cut up the fancy fabric… but it looks like I have enough! *high five*
Check out that gorgeous corner! I sewed the cover inside out so that my seams were nicely tucked inside the cushion. All of the seams were 0.25″.
Me: Calah, you did good. Also me: I know right?!
I turned the cushion over to see if I was on the right track. It’s a bit baggy, but that should resolve once I sew on the secondary fabric because the fancy fabric will be pulled taut against the foam.
Checkpoint: So you can see that the fancy fabric was measured, cut, and sewn into shape to wrap around the foam. I intentionally left extra material on the fancy fabric’s edges JUST IN CASE. It’s always good to have some wiggle room.
The next part was to add the secondary fabric to the back part of the cushion. It was at this point where I needed to make a decision: Do I, essentially, sew the foam into this fabric cover or do I do something else that is different and likely nicer looking but a method that I also wasn’t sure would work?
So I got to work sewing the foam into the fabric cover like so:
The secondary fabric is pinned into place and ready to sew!
Check out that lovely seam.
Now I am at the step where I needed to actually close the cover and encase the foam. My brain told me to go like this: sew the top and bottom edges (parallel seams) so that I could then gracefully shove the foam into the cover from the smallest possible hole. Make sense, right? I thought so, too.
Lesson learned in this step: Pins are sharp.
I went ahead and did the same thing for the second cushion. Now that I had both covers, I just needed to get the foam into them and secure the finished cushion to the chair.
Hi! Calah here! I am going to be sharing how I made cushions for the first time ever… from scratch… like a boss.
First, let’s talk about WHY I took all of this time to make them (total time = 3 weeks).
Matt resurrected two previously really ugly and orangeCraigslist chairs (if you don’t know what I am referring to, check out the earlier posts in his weekly woodworking blog. They drop every Tuesday at 10 am PT.
Ok, so, Matt finished the chairs a few weeks ago and they are delightfully comfortable–EXCEPT for the top wooden part of the chair’s back–you know the place where your spine hits as your sitting in the chair? Maybe it’s because I slouch (my mom was always reminding me to stand up straight), but whatever the reason, if I could just have some cushion on that area I’d be able to sit in those chairs for forever. So Matt suggested that I make some cushions. I thought to myself, I never made cushions before, but how hard could it be?
Here’s that adventure divided into multiple blogs for your entertainment.
Step 1: How TF do I make a cushion??!
I had to decide what these cushions would look like–fabric, size, how they’ll attach to the chair, etc. For consistency, I wanted the cushions to be the same fabric as what Matt used for the seat of the chairs. To make things easy, we are going to call this particular fabric fancy. I will be using a second fabric, and we’ll call that one secondary (creative, I know). I didn’t need to have the entire cushion covered in this fancy fabric mostly because it is a bit too stretchy for my taste, and I was concerned that it might sag in the long-run after consistently being pulled taut (you’ll see what I mean)… and also, why have it up against the back of the chair where no one gets to see it?
Enter: the secondary fabric! Matt and I have a massive tub of our combined fabric remnants, scraps, and old clothes that might come in handy one day for patching and such. A deep dive into that tub produced the perfect fabric for this role! I don’t know what kind it actually is… feels like denim but isn’t… it’s durable… does not stretch… and it’s brown. Perfecto.
THEN, once I chose the fabric, I got measurements on scratch paper of every length, width, height, of that top board. I must have measured and remeasured those panels a million times to be sure that I had it right.
So, in case you can’t see the notes on the paper, the actual sizes of the panel are: bottom edge length = 17.5″, top edge length = 18.25″, height = 4.75″ (see top paper in this picture). But, according to this YouTube video by SailRite, I should add 0.25″ to all sides of the foam when I cut it (I assumed this allowed for foam compression). So, the foam’s measurements would have, essentially, 0.50″ added to the length and width (see middle paper in this picture) . We were working with 2″ deep piece of foam, so that part was not going to change.
I decided that since I had the measurements and the fabric, the next best step was to make the actual cushion. Premature? Likely. I still wasn’t sure how I was going to attach the darned things to the panel.
The search for the fabric I’d use started with what I had in my fabric bin already. There were all kinds of soft fabrics and denims. Calah wasn’t keen on those but recommended some fabrics of her own. Lauren got involved and sent me inspiration like:
Looks cool, but at a minimum of $174 because you have to buy at least a 56sqft, it’s a little outside the price range.
Interesting in concept, but it’s £95 per metre–whatever that even means!
At only $24.99 a yard, it’s certainly the most reasonable of suggestions, but there’s no guarantee it would look good in person. I also didn’t know how durable it would be. I was thinking that I’ll do all this work, spill something on the chair, and then there’s a big stain and I’m sad.
I kept looking and found a metric that I hadn’t thought of: butt durability!
Think about it! You have a seat cushion, and that means people sit down. How many times can someone sit down and stand up before the fabric goes away altogether?
The industry has a different term for butt durability. That term is Double Rubs!
I found a fabric that is rated to 50,000 Double Rubs!
The color and durability rating seemed to be consistent with what I needed, so I bought it. It feels like mid-century fake leather, so that seemed good.
The next step was to cut the fabric and turn it into cushions.
After careful measuring and adding on some extra, I had my first piece.
I stretched the fabric around the board and used Calah’s electric staple gun to put the first staples in place, starting from the middle and going out from there. But with the first staples in, I wanted to see if it even could look good.
I kept going.
I then remembered that I needed to drill an air hole so the cushion could deflate and inflate properly. But I got it in time.
Every so often, I didn’t hold the staple gun firmly against the board as a pressed the trigger, and I got some squishes. Every time that happened was a new unpleasantness.
It took a while, but I learned to press the trigger with my index finger only and smoothly while keeping the rest of my hand stable.
It’s not like it really mattered because it was a first go, and I’d have to redo the whole thing anyway.
The corners are a real bear.
I reassessed and realized I had the opportunity to build in a way to keep the cushions in place while also being removable for cleaning!
I bought anchors.
and the corresponding screws
I also had to do a little more planing to get everything aligned just right.
I took the anchors out to staple the fabric in place. Once complete, I added a layer of thin fabric to the underside and replaced the anchors.
Ultimately, the result wasn’t perfect, but I’ll take it!
You might say, “Hey! That’s not the same chair as in the photos above!” You’re right! It’s a set of two, and this was a better photo.
I had to find foam and fabric for the cushions. Without foam and fabric, it’s just a wooden seat. Now, we’ve all sat in comfortable wooden seats. Some of the most comfortable seats are just wood–especially if you’ve only had the choice between wooden seats and stone seats. But the comfortable wooden seats are not flat boards. And I just had flat boards.
The old foam from the gross, original seats maxed out at two inches in thickness, so I figured that was the way to go. I looked around for dense foam, but I’d gotten upholstery foam at Jo-Ann before for another project, so I was just comparing everything to Jo-Ann. Also Jo-Ann coupons generally are pretty good, and there’s no real competition anymore on a budget, so that seemed to resolve itself.
There are many methods for cutting foam. There are fewer good methods for cutting foam. Some videos and blogs advise using a razor blade because it’s so easy! Those people live in a universe that isn’t mine. Other people say that using a bread knife or offset serrated knife will do it just fine. I, too, was surprised at how strong the serrated knife lobby is.
Everything I came across on the topic advised to trace the boards first.
The only real thing to use to cut upholstery foam is an electric cutting knife. I’d never used one before, but they’re pretty nifty. I was surprised.
The result looked to be pretty good, too!
The next thing I had to think about was batting. Batting is like mattress material?
Since batting is new to me, my mind kept wanting to call it bunting. But bunting is this:
Batting is supposed to add more cushion and complement the foam. It’s a nice touch. But it meant more to buy for such little benefit that the neither the original cushions nor the dining room chairs I recently discarded incorporated it. I passed.
Then there was the topic of fabric. More on that topic next week.
I had struggled to get a clean, chamfered edge with sandpaper. I learned that I really should have been using a plane all along.
I found some planes specifically for chamfering on Amazon. YOU PROBABLY DO NOT NEED THIS PLANE.
Buying the plane wasn’t necessarily a bad decision because it taught me why I should not have bought this plane. It also reinforced the idea that if there are a bunch of products that look identical and have the same spelling errors in the descriptions, go for the absolute cheapest one because there won’t be a different.
It was $9.99 when I bought it. Now it’s up to $17.99.
It’s not that the plane itself is bad or that the concept is bad, it’s that the plane itself is bad and the execution is bad.
It’s not nearly sharp enough, the bubble level feature is beyond useless because it accomplishes nothing and makes you wonder why it’s there. And since it won’t break easily, it gives no immediate reason throw it away.
What attracted me to it is that it’s got a consistent 45 degree angle for chamfering. No attention has to be paid to make sure you’ve got a consistent angle, and you can take off material consistently along the edge because the blade encroaches on the corner at a fixed depth relative to the corner guides.
The problem is that the edge guides rub against the rest of the wood. That both leaves a mark and creates resistance that is annoying.
This plane was a better purchase. The blade is sharper (and easier to sharpen when that becomes necessary), and it’s substantially more comfortable to hold.
I started off with what I’d managed to get out of the chamfer-specific plane.
I then took more material off pretty quickly.
And then more. Rotating it as I went to get all the sides.
I’m very happy with the small plane for this kind of work.
The rounded edges made me feel comfortable that I could wrap fabric around without causing tears.
I left off last week in my seat cushion project having purchased the plywood boards I wanted but without a way to cut them to size. In a complete nonadventure, I purchased the jigsaw blades from amazon.
I had done a lot of research into which blades I needed because jigsaw blades come in many teeth arrangements. I learned that a 10 TPI (teeth per inch) blade is good for plywood, so that’s what I used. I got a multipack, so now I have ample supply. Also I guess there is no immediate need to expand my DeWalt set to include a cordless jigsaw because I have all these U-shank blades. Longtime readers of this blog know how my DeWalt set continues to expand.
Finally equipped with the tools I needed to cut the boards to size, it became a matter of tracing and actually cutting.
Rather than measuring, I used the perfect stencil: the prior seat board! And, lined up, it looked pretty good to me. And I did the same with the other chair so I could knock out
I clamped the board to my table, which is a super important step when cutting so it doesn’t chatter away or get grabbed and stuck in the teeth of the saw and just go out of control.
Then to the cutting. Now, I hadn’t used a jigsaw in I don’t know how long, so I was hopeful that I wouldn’t screw things up. I checked that the blade was firmly in place because, as I mentioned, this is a U-shank blade. A T-shank blade is supposed to snap into place without such concerns. Like how my impact driver bits snap into place for a quick change without having to tighten a chuck. I’ve not used a T-shank jigsaw, but this is my understanding of it.
That went well. Apparently, I have no pictures of the first cuts, but I do for the second board.
Things were looking up. The jigsaw was very easy to use.
I had spent all that time researching how to get pre-cut boards, and all it took to get some in this shape was a few quick cuts.
I was well on my way, sure, but the edges were rough. I had to find a way to chamfer them. But with all my tools, I didn’t have any planes. And I’d long learned my lesson that trying to sand a corner is a tedious process that makes lots of dust and is unreliable for a uniform surface.
I began to research planes. More on that next week.
A cushion is made of three basic parts: the cover we all see, the padded part we know is there, and the board that is the structural foundation.
I had figured that cushions are somewhat standardized, so I should probably just be able to buy new cushions instead of making my own. I spent hours trying to find sites that sold seat cushions. I found one that sells to churches, but the reviews were mixed at best, and the cushions weren’t the proper size.
I tried to find just the boards that had been precut to the proper size.
But there was no luck.
Finally I watched enough YouTube videos to be convince that I needed to cut my own boards.
Luckily for me, Calah has a jigsaw. Unfortunately, she didn’t have blades for the jigsaw.
But that was OK because I didn’t have any wood to cut.
The boards that had been used for the old cushions were 3/8″-thick crap plywood. Just three plies, and there were gaps all over the place. Knots in the wood added further inconsistencies and gaps.
Cushions don’t have to be pretty all the way through, but since the old boards had lost integrity, I wanted to start off with something better. It’s possible that the crap boards had only recently started to sag, but there was no guarantee of that being the case. Though, of course, I had wandered around to see if there was any abandoned plywood that had been used to board up windows in the area before deciding the best move was to buy new plywood.
This jigsaw is designed for U-shank blades, but quicker-change, T-shank blades are the new standard. No matter, there were many packs of U-shank shown as in stock at the local Lowe’s, so I was fine ordering those.
But when I went to pick up my order, they informed me that they didn’t have the U-shank blades after all.
I left Lowe’s with the wood I needed but nothing to cut with.