I Broke My Valentine’s Leg

Yes, it was a violent encounter, on-lookers were horrified.  Did I mention that my valentine was the wing chair I am working on restoring? I was not going to miss my upholstery class for a half-baked holiday that makes couples force romance and singles force smiles.  So yes, I spent Valentine’s Day upholstering. Well, there was no actual upholstering; I was trying to salvage my relationship with my valentine.

I started class by loosening all the joints of my chair so that I could glue them back together to be sure my chair would be a steady one.  After applying wood glue I put my chair in traction with large, heavy metal clamps so that the joints stayed tight as the glue dried.  As I was tightening one of the clamps that ran from the bottom of the rear left leg up to the top of the chair’s back I heard a loud CRACK! The leg of my chair had snapped right off, but it was not a clean break.  I gasped, then whispered to my chair “It’s not you, it’s me.”
My chair’s broken leg
Maybe I should have seen this coming, friends told me he would never amount to anything, but I saw something in my chair that I had not seen in others.
I was emotional and heartbroken as I held his leg in my hand.  Heartbroken that a relationship that had started out so promising — and one in which I saw so much potential for the future — was irrevocably broken, snapped in two pieces with painfully jagged edges exposed.  We had a deep connection my chair and I.  We were compatible on so many levels.  Sure, I wanted to change him, but it was for his own good.  I could see his potential.
My teacher assured me that all was not lost. There was hope. It would take hard work (and a plethora of wood glue) but we could get this chair back on track and we would still have years of happy reclining to look forward to. I pulled myself together and squeezed glue all over the breaking point as if it was my only hope for a happy ending. I stuck the broken leg back in place, used some staples just to be sure, and carefully, reapplied the clamp.  It was touch-and-go there for a minute, and I will not know for sure if we have a chance until I return to class next week.  But I am hopeless romantic, and I think this may be it!
Reapplying the clamp after the breakup
If only all relationships could be fixed with wood glue and some clamps…

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Back At It

Those of you have been reading this blog for a while know that one of my first endeavors was upholstery, and I really fell in love!  I may have actually found my passion on one of my first tries!  It combines the physical challenge of breaking down a chair to build it back up, with the creative challenge of choosing fabric, piping and just how cushiony you want your chair (A very important questions as I have discovered). It is the ultimate form of recycling: giving a tied old chair with great bones, a brand new look and a new life.
This chair has great bones, but this fabric is terrible
After bringing one of my grandmother’s piano benches, and an ottoman back to life, I have begun my next class at the Eliot School of Art with a very challenging project: a wing chair.  I found the wing chair on ebay for $99 for a set of two (amazing deal), and I found some gorgeous Hinson & Company fabric at Griswold’s fabric outlet (a treasure trove of designer fabric at deep discount) and hauled it all to Jamaica Plain this past week.
It took over three hours to break down this chair and it was not easy (I have cuts all over my hands to prove it). I pulled out hundreds of stables, yanked the ugly, worn, peachy fabric to shreds and battled some very old, rusty springs.  At one point I was standing on the naked frame of my soon-to-be-beautiful chair pulling at a tiny strip of fabric as if a mugger just stole my purse.
Hinson & Company Fabric
My teacher tells me that it could take me several months’ worth of classes to finish this chair, and I will have to get very comfortable with a sewing machine.  As a result, you won’t get as many updates this time around, and I won’t get the sort of instant gratification that I received from my smaller projects last spring.  But I promise to post tons of pictures of the final product!
My naked chair
Until then I will be hard at work creating my dream chair! And those of you who have asked if I take custom orders, this project should get me to a level where I can reupholster your furniture without losing any limbs (both mine and your chairs’)!

The Sweet Smell of Success

My first upholstery project is complete!  I finished on Tuesday and I really am busting at the seams over how good I think it looks: the fabulous fabric…the dark shiny wood…the tight pleats on the corners of the cushion.  I love it!  It fits perfectly in a little nook in my bedroom by a window. In fact, it has created the perfect window seat for me to perch and look out on to Worcester Square (although in the cold, dark land known as New England in Winter there’s not too much too watch – except for snow melting). 
I was practically giddy throughout this week’s class because I finally got to work with the beautiful fabric I had bought weeks ago: a modified ikat print in several shades of blue.  It’s from the Iman – yes as in David Bowie’s wife — collection from Calico Corners.  I was so excited to finish the bench that I nearly ruined it by not making sure the fabric was situated just right on the bench.  The center of the almost egg-like design had to be in the exact center of the bench.  I figured with an abstract print it didn’t really matter, but my teacher Paul was adamant that I would regret it if I didn’t “measure twice and cut once,” as my father would say.
As I left the small wood-framed school house that is the Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts — nearly tripping up the stairs with my bench awkwardly balanced on my back — I was more proud of myself then I have been in a very long time.  I was really very blasé when I was nominated for an Emmy as part of the production team of “Rules of Engagement,” and it wasn’t about feigning false modesty.  I was over it at that point, “it” being news, New York, TV, everything that had been so central to my previous life.  The weekend the Emmys were handed out (not to us) I was packing up to drive to Boston and into my new life (remember I have a flare for the dramatics). 
Completing this little bench, and having it look so good left a bigger grin on my face than that Emmy nod. I realized this on my bench and mine walk to my car. I initially thought I should have my head examined.  But then it dawned on me that this was one of the surest signs yet that I made the right decision by making a big change in my life.  The sense of satisfaction I got from finishing this silly little bench was a beacon for me to see where this new life of mine — not to mention this blog — takes me!

Mental Block

 @font-face { font-family: “Times New Roman”;}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; I have been hunting for my next upholstery project and the bold fabric that will become its second skin.  Conveniently, this month’s House Beautiful is devoted to the celebration of pink.  While I like to use pink as an accent color in my wardrobe, I had never thought about using it on a chair.  It just has always seemed like too much, until I saw it in action.  The layouts got my colorful creative juices flowing and I started to daydream about starting my own business like my upholstery hero (yes, I have an upholstery hero) Molly Andrews, the woman behind Chairloom.  I imagined all the old chairs I could rehab and give a second, colorful life.  I imagined a tiny brightly painted storefront tucked into a corner of a cobblestone-lined street. 

I quickly pulled myself out of the fantasy with a mental quip dripping with self-condescension, “way to waste that brain of yours.”  Upholstering is creative and physically challenging, but not a heavy mental workout.  But does it have to be?  I have spent years of my life giving my synapses reason to fire.  What’s wrong with giving them a break to do something fulfilling in an entirely different way?  I have always felt the need to push myself intellectually, but now it seems that I have boxed myself into a mindset that requires any vocational pursuit to be an intellectual one; that anything worth doing demands analytical thinking, or demonstrates analytical thinking.  Now, I am not a member of Mensa, so my occupation shouldn’t require me to prove my intellectual capacity. Am I closing myself off to exciting, new, creative possibilities just because that little type-A monster is rearing her strawberry blond head again?
This quandary won’t be solved in a single self-run therapy session, but as I continue upholstering (as well as my future adventures) I’m going to have to try to come to terms with the idea that my passion may not validate my intelligence — and that’s not a tragedy.  That’s life.

Hitting the Nail on the Head

I have made some serious progress on my little bench!  I didn’t post after last week’s class because I had a run-in with a can of wood stain and had no pictures to share.  Let me catch you up: I sanded my bench to get rid of all the little nicks and scrapes it has suffered through over the last 60 some odd years. I learned how to use a power sander, which provides a work-out that I would imagine to be close to that of a shake weight (note: I have no experience with the latter). Then I started re-staining it…and that’s where the trouble began.  My teacher, Paul, gave me clear plastic gloves to keep my hands clean as I applied the stain to the bench with a large wad of cotton (this raw, fluffy cotton is used to cushion pieces of furniture).  I took the gloves off in between staining and wiping the excess stain off.  But when I put the gloved back on I put them on inside out…so stain was caked in every cranny and crevice of my hands.  Hence no pictures.

After a good scrubbing with paint thinner (followed by a great deal of moisturizer) I was back in action last night getting acquainted with some new (or at least new to me) tools.  I did a lot of work with a magnetic hammer (in an effort to get the cushion on my seat in place and ready for fabric) and I now feel that ALL hammers should be magnetic.  Seriously, no one would ever hit their finger again.  My teacher had quite a technique, and kids, don’t try this at home, he put at least 10 #4 tacks in his mouth and when he was ready for a new one would stick a tack half way out of his lips, bring the hammer close to it so it would magnetically stick to the hammer then he would drive it into the base of the bench that will support my cushion.  He was really like a squirrel with nuts, except his nuts were sharp and dangerous.  He said he has swallowed three in his upholstery career. I tried this technique once, but got nervous and spontaneously gagged and nearly swallowed the tack.  I decided to leave the stunts to the experts.  Paul even told me that upholstery tacks are sanitized because experienced upholsterers always use their mouth as a staging ground.  

So this week I got the seat of the bench prepped with foam, cotton and next week will be fabric time!  I am also looking for my next project…a chair that has springs, but that is not so complicated that it will take a year for me to upholster.  If you have a chair with a medium amount of upholstered surfaces that you would like to become my next masterpiece send me a picture!