Continuing on with my first upholstery project, today I am going to show you how to build the cushion of a wood framed side chair. Take careful notes and pictures when you disassembled your chair and follow those steps again to reassemble. I’ve found that each chair I research is put together a little differently. So if you try this, take lots of pictures! I did; however, I am having doubts about the method. I’ll share those as I go, but for now, let’s jump into adding some fluff to the chair!
Here’s a quick summary of Part 1: I started with just the wood frame of the seat, nothing else attached.
Burlap was stapled to the underside of the frame. The frame was filled with high density foam and Dacron, then a tight weave of jute webbing was attached on the top of the frame. The chair ended up looking like this.
The chair is now weight sustaining but far from comfortable! In this post, we’ll add burlap, an edge roll, horse hair, cotton, and Dacron to pad the chair then hold everything down with a layer of muslin.
First up is to cover the jute webbing with another taut layer of burlap. Staple this layer to the frame using 9/16″ staples because this layer will bear weight. Cut a layer of burlap roughly the size of the chair seat plus a few inches on each side. Lay it over the frame.
Using a pneumatic stapler, begin stapling the burlap to the frame. Start at the center back of the chair (north) then pull the burlap taut to the front of the chair and staple the front frame piece (south). The burlap should be taut between these two staples.
Then move to the left side of the chair (west). Pull the burlap straight but not so tight as to warp the shape of the burlap. Next go to the right side of the chair (east) and pull the burlap very taut and secure with a staple.
The burlap should now be attached with four staples: one north, one south, one west, and one east. The burlap is taut between those staples and fairly loose otherwise. Continue on in the same pattern (north, south, west, east) to pull taut the burlap between opposite staples. When finished, the burlap layer should look like this:
An edge roll is needed all the way around the edge of the wood frame. The edge roll holds functional purpose: the underside of your knees don’t rest on a hard wood edge and an aesthetic purpose: it allows the exterior fabric to go smoothly from the top of the seat to the side where it is stapled to the side of the wood frame.
I chose to re-use original edge roll that was on the chair. It had one part that was a little frayed, but the rest of the parts were in good shape.
The edge roll should sit flush with the outside edge of the wood frame. It should be stapled securely, not wiggling. This is the first place where I didn’t do it quite right. I held my stapler wrong when securing the edge roll. Follow this tutorial to get the edge roll stapled in a more secure fashion (check out step 9).
You can see in this close-up, my edge roll is not quite stapled close enough to the edge. This happened because I held my stapler with the nose into the roll with the handle of the stapler in the middle of the chair. The proper way would have been to have the stapler handle on the outside of the chair with the nose of the stapler over the edge roll toward the middle of the chair. This would have gotten the staples much closer to the roll resulting in a more secure finish.
Next I put a layer of horse hair on top of the burlap and inside of the edge roll. I’ve read that using horse hair in upholstery is a lost art, and I hate “lost arts” so I re-used the horse hair from the original upholstery.
When I disassembled the chair, there were large stitched tacks holding the horse hair to the burlap beneath it. I’m assuming this is to keep the horse hair from shifting when sat on. I decided against using regular thread as I thought it wouldn’t be strong enough, and instead, I used wax thread (used for upholstery buttons). It is very thick and strong. The wax helps give the thread extra hold.
Using an extra long upholstery needle, sew large stitches through the horse hair and into the burlap layer underneath. Sew one or two large stitches then tie the string in a not on the top side of the horse hair.
The tacks are not as evenly spaced as intended, but I had to lift up the horse hair to thread the needle through the burlap the back up through horse hair. This lifting and threading made for very uneven stitches. A curved upholstery needle would have been the right tool to use, but I chose to make do with what I had on hand.
Pad with Cotton and Dacron
With the horse hair secured, put on a layer of cotton and a layer of Dacron. (I don’t have pictures of the cotton.) Cut the Dacron roughly the size of the chair seat plus a few inches on all sides then lay it on the chair.
In order for the Dacron to lay smoothly around the legs and arms of the chair, you need to make some relief cuts.
Make relief cuts for each arm and the back legs of the chair then tuck the Dacron around the horse hair.
If I was doing this over again, I would secure the Dacron with staples instead of tucking it, like in this tutorial. The next step, securing the top layer of muslin, was a little difficult since I didn’t staple down the Dacron. The Dacron kept popping out when I pulled the muslin taut.
Layer of Muslin
The last step to build the cushion of the chair is to staple down a layer of muslin over the entire seat. Cut the muslin to roughly the size of the chair seat plus several inches on either side.
I barely bought enough muslin, so the depth of the seat barely had any extra. I didn’t have to go out to buy another cut though. That’s a win!
Pull taut and staple the muslin in the same North/South/West/East pattern as the burlap layers.
Continue working around the chair until the muslin is smooth and taut.
Trim the muslin very close to the staples, all the way around the chair. When finished, this chair will have the wood frame on the sides, front, and back exposed. I was careful to not staple the muslin too close to the decorative edging. The top layer of upholstery will need to be secured right up against that trim, so I needed to leave room for those staples.
To build the cushion of this wood framed side chair, I started with a firm, taut layer of burlap covering the jute webbing. An edge roll was secured all the way around the outer edge of the wood frame to improve comfort and aesthetics. On top of the burlap came a 3 inch thick layer of horse hair. It was secured with large tacks into the burlap layer. Next came a layer of plush cotton (not pictured), and finally, a layer of springy Dacron to finished off the cushion. Holding all the layers together is a layer of muslin, stapled securely into the sides of the frame, covering all the padding, edge roll, and burlap.
These steps to build the cushion came together surprisingly quick. Once again, I’m kicking myself for delaying this project so long! Up next is the final layer of upholstery and a row of nail head trim. I have a feeling I have my work cut out for me in this step!
Thoughts on putting this cushion together? Should there have been a layer of foam on top of the jute webbing? Did the horse hair replace the need for that? At the end of the day, the chair will be functional and comfortable, so I’m not overly worried. I do like to know the proper way to do things though. Do share if you know!