But recycling doesn’t just have to save you money—it’s also a great way to transform your old furniture, or perhaps a piece you found at a charity or second-hand store.
Bringing personality and character to the home, upcycling is the perfect antidote to fast fashion.
Rachel South teaches modern and traditional upholstery courses for the Association of Master Upholsterers and Upholstery Soft (AMUSF) in London Metropolitan UniversityHe has worked in various roles in the furniture and textile industry for 25 years.
She’s an expert at recycling to the highest level and is a huge fan of hers, so here’s her advice on getting started.
Ideally, start with furniture that you already own and love – don’t spend a lot of money on a piece you plan to restore or decorate. You’ll learn a lot about materials and techniques in these first pieces, so start with something simple.
If you’re buying furniture to restore, look for shoe sales, charity stores, and second-hand stores. There are also some good occasional furniture fairs that you can visit for purchase. You can buy very reasonable items such as “training parts”.
There are plenty of local organizations out there that are set up for people to give away furniture they no longer want for free, and they are a great resource for takeback ready furniture.
You can use this type of furniture to try out a lot of different techniques and keep them as examples of how different polishes, waxes, and paints work when applied.
Do your research
Check books and magazines for hints and tips to help you with your project and for inspiration. There are also great online tutorials – look at places like YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.
Stick to one or two websites or books that resonate with you, as there is so much information to choose from and it can become overwhelming. Most craftsmen developed their own approaches, so if one book or website differs from another, that’s okay.
You can also join a class. There is no such thing as a hands-on education to learn great skills.
I teach Upholstery at London Metropolitan University along with a great team of teachers who all work in Upholstery. We are always happy to share our skills and knowledge, as with most craft teachers. It’s also great to learn alongside like-minded people.
Use the right tools
A small investment in a few tools can save you time and make the project more interesting.
Many restorers enjoy collecting tools as much as they enjoy the work they do – boot fairs are great for finding powerful old tools.
keep a record
If you are removing canvas or other materials from a project, keep a photographic reference to help when putting it back together.
You can also start a notebook of some kind so you can go back to all the projects you’re doing. It will become a workbook for all the techniques and materials you used.
If you are using paint or polish, stain a part of the furniture where it can’t be seen. Paints and pigments can look different once applied and dried. Alternatively, you can start collecting samples so that you have a reference for all the dyes and finishes you are using.
Start collecting items when you see them. It’s great to have a selection of paints, fabrics (etc) to use when needed. You never know where a new discovery for your group will inspire you to go.
Set up a workspace where you can make clutter and get creative.
Don’t worry if you don’t have the luxury of permanent space. If you’re going to use your kitchen table, that’s fine, just invest in some covers to cover the table and floor, just in case.
Don’t make mistakes
- Don’t be too big at first. Choose small projects to start with – As your skills develop, the items you choose can work on.
- Sometimes you can really improve a piece of furniture just by cleaning it well. Painting old wood isn’t always the only way to brighten something up.
- Don’t feel like you have to take something apart for him. If the piece of furniture is structurally sound, this is a good place to start – find other ways to improve it.
- Keep going. It is very common to start a project and then face a problem and put it to one side. But if you can keep persevering, you’ll get great results…and a usable final ingredient.
- Do not be afraid of your creativity – go for it.
A starter project: a seat that falls into place
“A dining bench would be a great simple upholstery project, covering some basic woodwork and basic upholstery techniques,” says Rachel.
What will you need
- Dining chair with removable seat
- clean wood wax
- 0000 wool wire
- Pliers or upholstery pliers
- electric carving knife
- scissors (old)
- sharp scissors
- staple gun
- Glue spray (non-chlorinated is the preferred environmental product)
- 2cm foam or an eco-friendly alternative such as Ultraflex
- upholstery fabric
The frame can be cleaned with clear wax. This is important because you will want to remove all the dirt that the chair has collected over the years. The wood may also be too dry – the wax will revitalize and moisturize. Use 0000 wool wire to apply the wax and a rag to polish it afterwards.
advice: Cut the wire with old scissors, as they will soften the sharp cut and not tear well.
To remove the old cap and filler, use a chisel and hammer to pry out all the old staples or nails. Once lifted, you can use upholstery pliers (or pliers) to pull out any residue.
advice: Be careful to tap the chisel with the hammer away from yourself.
Lay the seat back frame on foam or Ultraflex and drag around with a marker. Cut the foam to size with old scissors or if you have one, it’s best to use an electric carving knife.
The fourth step:
Then the foam is fixed to the base with spray glue.
advice: Spray glue on the foam and place the frame down on it so you can see all the lines.
Using your sharp scissors, cut the upholstery fabric 12 cm larger than the frame on all four sides. Wrap it tightly around the frame and staple it from the bottom. You can put the first few staples in the center of each side and corners to check for tightness, then fill in.
advice: Make sure to fold the corners neatly and remove excess fabric if you need to. Check out some upholstery books for ways to fold corners, there’s an art to it.
Place your newly upholstered seat in the chassis and sit back and feel comfortable.
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