• Upholstery

    Vintage Vanity Chair with Recovered Seat

    recover the seat on a vanity chair

    Re-covering chair cushions is so much fun. It’s very easy and it’s a huge upgrade to existing or thrifted furniture. Plus, I love an excuse to show off my favorite fabrics. When I use a fabric on something like this chair, I know I’ll get to see it every day, and that’s such a treat!

    I recovered the seat of this chair a few years ago, and shared the progress in my Instagram stories but never here on the blog. Instagram is never enough to get to the heart of the project, and I wanted to share more of the construction details but also more of the history.

    This chair belonged to my grandma, my mom’s mom. When I was little, I loved to sit and spin in it while I waited for my turn in the tub.

    Grandma and Grandpa’s house had a big clawfoot tub in a bathroom with floral wallpaper and carpeted floor. There was a drawer in the kitchen that held the plastic teapot, cups, and saucers that we were allowed to take upstairs and play with in the bathtub. And when I got out, I’d sit in this chair again, often in an adult-sized bathrobe, while my mom brushed the tangles from my wet hair. I always felt grown up, elegant, and special. When I picture that bathroom in my head, even now, I can smell the peach-colored Caress soap.

    This chair still feels very special. I’m so glad I get to own it, and I was excited to give it a happy, new cushion. Its original cushion had long been replaced with one of those bathmat-coordinating toilet lid covers with an elastic band around the edge, so there was nothing to lose by adding some new fabric.

    recover the seat on a vanity chair

    I found this wonderful modern floral print in Bangkok, and it felt like the perfect choice for this chair. I love the way the gold lines echo the brass of the chair, and the colors work well for a piece of furniture in my house.

    Once I had selected a fabric, I took the chair apart. I traced the round piece of wood and cut a piece of foam for the top. For cutting foam, I usually use a bread knife – I find the serrated blade does a good job. For big projects or thick foam, an electric turkey knife works very well. That’s what we always used to cut foam at Joann’s when I worked there (pro tip!).

    recover the seat on a vanity chair

    I lined up my fabric so that one of the motifs was centered on the cushion, then I used my trusty staple gun to tack it down. I always use way more staples than necessary, but that helps keep any wrinkles in check. My staple gun is pneumatic which makes stapling much easier. But a regular handheld staple gun works just fine for small projects like this (you’ll just get a workout!).

    I try to work from the centers outward when I’m stapling: think of it like a cross shape or like directions on a compass. It works the same for a circle or a rectangle – but circles are easier to cover since they have no corners! I start with one staple at the top center (North), then pull the fabric taut and put a staple straight across at the bottom center (South). Then one staple at the center of the left side (West), and one staple at the center of the right (East).

    From there it’s just keeping the fabric taut and smoothing out any wrinkles as you add staples in between the existing points. I’ll often remove the first staples after I’ve added a few more, because I either need more or less slack in the fabric.

    I wrapped the chair’s swivel post in paper towel because it had a little bit of grease on it, and I didn’t want to get grease on my fabric or on my hands (which would then touch the fabric).

    From here, the chair is already mostly done! I wanted to add a cover to the bottom to cover up my staples and the raw, crinkled edge of the fabric. I cut a circle of white cotton, then made a square hole in the center so the chair hardware could stick out. I sewed a little hem on the square to finish that edge.

    recover the cushion on a vanity chair

    I then used some bias tape from my magical box of bias tapes. I’ve found a few collections of bias tape at estate sales and thrift stores, and my stash isn’t enormous but now, no matter the project, I always have something that matches. Magical.

    This bias tape was overkill for a part of the chair you don’t really see, but it makes me happy.

    I tried to use fewer staples for this layer and only half succeeded. I poked little holes for the 3 protruding bolts.

    recover the cushion on a vanity chair

    Then I just had to add back the hardware…

    recover the cushion on a vanity chair

    And chair complete!

    I love that I was able to bring new life to a piece of furniture that’s so special to me.

    recover the cushion on a vanity chair

    Here it is in the bathroom of my old house – and of course, it matches everything even though the bathroom was decorated before the chair came along. I still don’t have a vanity, nor would I really use one, but this chair is the perfect perch for painting my toes!

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    Blue Poppy Maxi Dress for Lectoring

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    At the beginning of this year, I became a Lector at my church. This means that on my assigned weeks, I get to read one of the Scripture passages of the Mass from the altar. It’s a great privilege and it’s really special to serve in such an active way.

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    I only had the opportunity to read on three occasions before the church shifted to virtual Masses due to Covid-19, but those three occasions wiped out the majority of my lector-acceptable wardrobe. When I’m scheduled to read, that means I spend the first ten minutes of Mass sitting on the altar, facing the congregation. None of my skirts are very short, but I don’t have many that go well below my knees, and that’s obviously what I want if I’m sitting facing everyone.

    “Lector Skirts” were high on my sewing list, and “isewlation” is the perfect time to work through my more practical to-do’s. On my recent trip to Japan and Thailand, I bought this gorgeous poppy-printed rayon in Bangkok specifically to make a lectoring skirt. Fortunately, Bangkok fabric prices mean I always buy more than I need, and I had enough fabric to make a full maxi dress.

    I have a much easier time wearing dresses than skirts, because skirts always have the issue of finding a matching top. This dress will be easy to throw on for dinner by the beach (dreaming of someday when we can go out to dinner again!), and it will be perfect for lectoring with a little sweater over my shoulders.

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    I lined the bodice with a soft knit to add some comfort to an already very comfortable dress. I didn’t use a formal pattern for this dress – a few years ago, my mom bought me a dress in this style and I LOVED the fit but the fabric wasn’t quite right. So I traced the simple shapes of the dress to save the pattern, a la Tabitha Wheelwright, and my mom returned the dress to the store.

    me-made may: blue poppy maxi dress

    I didn’t include pockets as I was sewing the dress because I was eager to just be DONE. And then I realized a dress without pockets is just sad. So I opened the seams back up and added in-seam pockets. I might not use them often but I’m glad they’re there.

    I have fun selecting lining fabrics that coordinate rather than perfectly match. This allows me to work from my stash and worry less about having all the perfect fabrics before I can complete a garment. My bodice lining is a golden yellow that matches the yellow poppies, and again, it’s comfy knit which is more important to me than having it be a perfect match. And the in-seam pockets are a peach that matches the pink flowers. The pockets, especially, are never seen from the outside of the garment, so this fabric was also chosen by weight first – it’s a midweight rayon with enough support for a pocket, but thin enough that it won’t weigh down the dress.

    The back has a little keyhole with a button, which is mostly a design detail, as I don’t need to unbutton it to put on the dress. Choosing buttons is always both very fun and very challenging! Here I debated going for something more “fun”, like a flower shaped button, or something more contrasting, like the handful of yellow buttons I found in my stash. In the end, I went with a flat pink shank button… nothing fancy, but I like its simplicity. I used a thin hairtie for the button loop! I have a whole pack of assorted colored hairties that I keep on hand for occasions like these when I might need a thin, colored elastic.

    I’m looking forward to the day when I can wear this dress farther than around the block to my favorite pink wall! But I can’t complain about days spent inside, they certainly help me cross projects off the endless to-sew list.