Adventures in Upholstery: Introduction

April 15th, 2013

Most of my textile work to date has been focused on garments. Imagine my excitement (and trepidation) as I embark upon my first upholstery project!

The book I’m using for reference — a gift from a dear friend — suggests a small tufted footstool would be good for my initial endeavor. But I don’t believe in starting slowly.


Here’s the turn-of-the-century parlor suite I’m going to upholster. Without knowing much about wood, I’m going to guess it’s oak. There’s a sofa, a divan, an arm chair, and two side chairs. My mother found them, in this condition, years ago in an East Coast antique store. Her baby brother (whose childhood nickname was Flash) convinced her to buy the lot on the spot. My father was not so quick to appreciate it however, and it lingered in their basement for over a decade before Mom decided to ship them out to me in California. Actually, they’re just the thing for our early 1920s redwood cabin living room. (The house was originally just the single room — later 20th-century additions expanded it to a luxurious 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths.)

Furniture Detail

The carving is very art nouveau!

Furniture Detail

Legs on metal casters are typical of parlor furniture from the second half of the 19th century through the early 20th. They made the heavy pieces easy to move around on carpet so the rooms could be rearranged for various uses.

Furniture Detail

Don’t you just love the open arms? And they’re very strong. The whole thing is quite solid actually.

I sort of wonder who removed the original upholstery — was it the antique store? Perhaps it was in such tatters that they thought the pieces would sell better without it. Or maybe there was some awful intermediate treatment featuring cartoonish flowers from the 1970s…regardless, it’s completely gone. It’s a shame, since the suite would be much more interesting, not to mention valuable, if it were intact. But then I would have to worry about ruining it by using it. So maybe it’s better this way.

I wonder how common these suites actually are? Here’s a page from the 1897 Sears & Roebuck reprint, featuring a couple of similar sets (the two on the bottom):

Sears Catalog Page

Based on this, it looks like my suite is missing the rocker. Darn! I adore rocking chairs.

Things I’ve Been Up To

April 10th, 2012

In case you were wondering what I’ve been doing with myself instead of writing endless blog posts, I’ve compiled a selection of my recent activities.

Bathroom Curtains
Bathroom curtains from reclaimed sheets.

  • Moving In
    This one goes without saying perhaps, but it’s taken up such a large chunk of my time for the past month that I had to mention it. From refinishing 90-year-old floors to installing new laminate flooring (you should see all the power tools I’ve learned to use); from making curtains out of old sheets to hanging towel bars; etc. And then there are the seemingly endless boxes. Every other one of which contains either books or fabric. Oops. You can see more pictures of our homemaking progress at Bungalowing.
  • Volunteering at the local Historical Society
    You can bet I made a beeline for the history museum in a nearby town. I’ve been volunteering there since February, helping with their surprisingly (for a relatively small area) complete and truly fantastic costume collection. There are dresses from 1860 to 1980, uniforms from every 20th-century war, undergarments, coats, hats, gloves, and much more. They even let me pick out four dresses to put on display later this month for their seasonal fashion exhibit.
  • Learning to Play Bridge
    It turns out there are even fewer whist players in California than New York. So I begged the local bridge doyens to teach me. Along with our expert teacher, there are two other lovely ladies who are also studying the game. We play every Saturday afternoon.
  • Tickling the Ivories
    Our new house came complete with a baby grand piano. It’s the first time in more than 10 years that I’ve had constant access to a keyboard instrument and I had no idea how much I missed playing. My mother made me a present of the music books I used during my decade of piano lessons (they’d been hers when she studied music). I also inherited batches of sheet music from my grandmother and from a dear friend and musician who once lived in our new house — it was her piano as well. Then there’s my collection of early 20th-century hymnals…
  • Producing a Radio Show
    Life has a funny way of making you do things you never imagined you’d do. I suddenly find myself the producer/engineer of a syndicated radio program.

Alas, my sewing has been limited to simple curtains and other little household odds and ends lately. With time of the essence and most of my supplies still in boxes, I haven’t even tried to find an historic angle to these projects. But life is gradually settling into a semblance of routine. Which means it won’t be long before I’m up to my old tricks again…