31 January 2009

Making something old new again - reupholstering dining room chairs

For quite some time, the state of my dining room chairs has been bothering me. Before we moved, I was cleaning them nearly everyday after mealtime and finally I stopped being able to remove the stains from them. Savannah's chair was in the worst state, followed by Kevin's. The light canvas cushions were covered in small stains - olive oil, blueberry and raspberry, turmeric, tomato, red wine, chocolate, etc. I purchased this set of six chairs used from a family in Denver with a formal dining room that was never used - they always ate in front of the tv. The chairs were made in Italy for Pottery Barn and I got them for a steal. They are very well made and the wood is beautiful. I intend to keep them for many years.

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Before (Okay, the stains don't show up as pronounced as they really are, but you'll have to trust me, this chair, Savannah's, is covered in them.)

A while ago, I made slip covers for them in a zebra print, which no one liked except for me and Savannah. Now that we have moved in to our new house and my dining room table and Chobi rug are selected, it is time to reupholster the chairs with a more long term solution.

Jo-Ann's had a 50% all upholstery fabric so now was the time to do it (the same sale will return around February 13th if you missed it). Instead of going with another canvas, I opted for something with a more luxurious texture this time. Here were the considerations that made it to the final round:

We don't have much green in our house, except for the living room, and I thought it might be nice for a change. The red fabric had the most interesting texture and the colors would have hidden most stains. In the end the wheat colored velvet won the contest since it picked up the same colors in the rug and added an interesting texture to the room without being a focal point.

Here's the end result compared with the original. The texture in the new fabric draws more attention to the rug below it. We're all happy with the new ones!

Tutorial for reupholstering dining room chairs.

Reupholstering dining room chairs tutorial

The wooden frames of chairs, if well made, can far outlast the fabric that covers their cushions. It can be so expensive to hire a professional to reupholster them for you and your choice of fabrics will be limited by the company or contractor you choose. For $40.00 (there was a 50% fabric sale) and 2-3 hours of my time I reupholstered six dining room chairs. Here's how.

Supplies needed:

  • Staple gun with upholstery-appropriate staples (generally the proper size staple for upholstery is 5/16" or 8mm but I also like to have on hand the next size up or 3/8" (10mm) in case longer staples are needed)
  • Screw drivers - Phillips and flat head
  • Fabric scissors
  • Upholstery fabric

Supplies that may be helpful:

  • cambric (the thin nylon fabric that is used to cover the bottom of upholstered chairs to give a professional look, prevent staples
  • from damaging the wood frame and keep stuffing from falling out - you only see it when you turn a chair upside down)
  • glasshead quilting or sewing pins
  • pliers (for removing staples if you are removing the existing fabric or if you make a mistake)
  • an extra set of hands

1. Bring home upholstery fabric samples from your local fabric store to place in the room and compare to rugs, furniture, wall color, etc. The fabric should have little give when pulled end to end or side to side (don't bother pulling on the bias or diagonally). Appropriate fabrics include canvas, velvet, twill, thick upholstery-weight cottons, microsuedes, and flax/linen blends.

Here were the final candidates for my project - two are velvet, one is a thick twill blend.

2. Once you've selected your fabric, calculate how much you'll need and purchase it. (I like to measure the longest length and widest width of the chair then add 6-8" to each to giving 3-4"extra per side to staple or wrap around the underside of the chair. Depending on the height and size of your cushion, you may need more than the 6-8".)

3. Flip your chair over and determine how the cushion is attached. There are usually four long wood screws that extend into the cushion base. Loosen each screw, then remove the bottom ones, and the top two last.

There are four long wood screws extending into the base of the seat cushion that hold it in place. If you unscrew the top first, the top will flip over while you're working on the bottom screws and possibly rip a hole in the chair or cushion in the screw hole. Notice how in this picture the staples keep the cambric attached to the bottom of the chair and they don't touch the wood frame of the chair.

4. You have two options from here - use your new fabric on top of the old fabric (you can do this once) or remove the old fabric carefully by first removing the staples, then removing the fabric, evaluating the quality of the muslin beneath it and replacing it with your new fabric. (Muslin has tight weave and protects the foam or batting beneath it from stains.) Since my fabric is thin enough and in excellent condition overall, I'm using the new fabric on top of the old fabric (but next time I'll have to go the more complicated route).

5. Lay your fabric out with the right side facing down, then place the old cushion on top of your fabric from front to back (make sure the grain or pattern of the fabric is the way you want it!).

Before making any cuts, pull the fabric up around the sides to be sure you'll have enough to work with. Peak beneath the cambric to see where the original fabric was stapled and how often it was stapled. You can also see how the fabric was folded around the corners. Be sure to follow this as your model!

6. I like to begin stapling at the back of the chair first in the middle, pulling the fabric tightly as I go. It's best to start in the middle and staple out towards the sides since your corners will be finished last. I place my staples diagonally about every 1/2 to 3/4 inch. After stapling fabric to the middle of the back, staple to the middle of the front, pulling the fabric as tightly as you can as you go, then turn and staple the sides, from the middle out towards the corners.

7. Using the existing cushion cover as your model, fold the corners in tightly before stapling in place. If you need to trim extra fabric for the corners, do so before stapling and try not to conceal the existing holes for the screws.

8. Holding the corner in place before stapling. You could also use fabric pins to help you keep the folds in place but I find it unnecessary.

Place extra staples in the corner to hold the fabric stretched and folded in place.

This is what the underside should look like once you've finished. From here you can choose to add cambric or not. Since I'm covering over the existing fabric this time, I'm not using cambric but was careful to place my staples where they won't rub on the chair frame.

9. Replace the newly covered cushion in the frame and screw each screw in half way before tightening fully. You may want to hold the back of the cushion as you do this.

Before and after versions of the chair.

30 January 2009

Radiant flooring, when it rains...

Another crazy week. We prepared the basement floor for the retrofitted radiant installation. As part of this, the existing baseboard heaters had to be removed. Behind the baseboard in the downstairs bathroom (ie the kids bathroom), we found a thriving colony of black mold. In November after removing the shag carpet on that floor, we noticed water on the concrete but Kevin couldn't locate a leak. Fortunately, the plumber could and repaired it, but we had no idea how long the area had been leaking. Turns out, it was long enough to feed a thriving mold community. Since Kev was out of town, it was up to me to take care of it and explore the extent of the problem after Savannah was tucked safely in bed. I cut out the old drywall and found mold on the inside of the drywall as well as on some of the studs and baseboard but it didn't appear to infect the drywall on the other side of the wall (there was no insulation between). I bleached the whole area and when Kevin came home he sanded the studs and cleaned up some of the dust that needed to be vacuumed up so I could bleach again. We wore our NIOSH respirators and eye protection as well as the industry type gloves but the respirator makes my rosacea act up so my cheeks are red this week.

I purchased three mold test kits from Pro-Lab to test for and culture the mold. It will take a few days for incubation but we'll know how bad the problem is or was this way and will send away for lab results on a positive culture to identify the mold - just in case one of us gets symptoms or is sick and just in case it ever comes back. Our plan is to wait a while, reculture the area, then to put mold-resistant drywall up in its place and hope for the best. It does appear to be localized but it seems to me that the process of removing mold also stirs up and spreads spores so, we've got our fingers crossed...

The uninvited house guest in the downstairs bathroom.

For the radiant flooring, first a vapor barrier and thermal layer is laid down on the old slab to insulate the radiant floor and increase the R-value. The product used was low-E slab-shield. Over that, a wire mesh is laid and to that the tubing is tied. The wire also helps stabilize the concrete.

The slab-shield is laid.

The tubing is tied down onto the grid.

The tubes are connected to the manifold inside the mechanical room.

The new concrete slab is mixed by the truck, then pumped down to the basement.

Then, the new concrete slab was poured on top, leveling much of the floor.

Once enough of the Accu-crete is down, it's smoothed out and leveled then left to dry. You can walk on it after 3-6 hours and it doesn't smell terribly like paint or epoxy does. However the concrete does put lots of moisture in the air as it dries.

On Monday the job should be finished when the boiler is installed that heats the floor. Sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately the slabshield wasn't installed to the manufacturer's specifications so after long work days, Kev and I had to stay up until 1:30 am correcting as much of the installation as possible... Somehow my 30-week pregnant body managed to hold up with all the bending over a "bowling ball" business to repair the slabshield.

Plus, we've signed a contract for a 5.52kW photovoltaic system to be installed this year in the summer. I'm excited about having solar power, which will tie into the radiant floor, powering that system and more. We will be grid-tied so we'll sell power in the spring and summer and then use these credits in the fall and winter. The incentives for New Yorkers are not being renewed as of February 2nd of this year, so by signing our contract today, we've made it just under the wire, as are many other families. Our PV system will be mounted on poles, which increases the efficiency of the system by approximately 10% over roof-mounted systems since it permits the panels to be adjusted seasonally. The PV will be installed on the berm that blocks our house from wind and weather on the west side. The hill faces south and has great exposure without obstructing any of the views from the home or of the house from the road.

28 January 2009

What's in a name

We have decided on baby names even though the sex of baby will most likely be a surprise since I'm probably not going to have an ultrasound. If baby is a girl, her name will be Sophia Ann Bacon, with two middle names after my dearest grandmother, Ann Warder Bacon. Sophia is Kevin's first (and only) choice for a girl name. Fortunately, I've always liked the name - it is the name of the founder of my all-women's college and is traditional enough for us. Sophia means wisdom and is derived from English and Ancient Greek.

Ann Warder Bacon as "Ann Bruce", her modeling name. Don't let the beauty on the outside fool you, she's the only person I know who could finish a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in under 40 minutes and preferred tumbled beach stones to Tiffany's diamonds.

If baby is a boy, his name will be William Bacon, after my dearest great uncle William Bacon III, and for the long line of Williams in Kevin's family as well as the many William Bacons in my family. In earlier years Bill Bacon filmed Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar and Nikki, Wild Dog of the North and in later years documentaries like Tibet, A Moment in Time and Friendship Village: A Place of Healing. William means protector and is derived from English and Scottish. Acceptable nicknames would be Sophie or Will (sorry, we're just not as fond of the other nicknames derived from these names).

Besides the importance to me of choosing family names that have meaning, both of these names meet my other criteria, which is that they sound well when pronounced in French and that their meanings are suitable. Both names also fare well in the numerology charts. I like the Japanese proverb that says, Tigers die and leave their skins; people die and leave their names. I agree very much that names and words have power. It's one of the reasons why, when I feel conflicted, I would rather not say anything at all than say something I could never take back. Words are permanent, eternal, and don't disappear once spoken. After I've found clarity, words can flow again. Most of my friends are people who understand this and choose their words with great care. You can only imagine the kinds of debates Kevin and I have over names. What a relief to have come to an agreement.

Savannah disagrees with our names entirely. She prefers Beauty for a girl's name and Tom for a boy's name, mainly because she's so smitten with her grandpa who she says is the nicest and rascaliest guy she knows. Savannah also insists that I'm having a girl. Savannah is named after my favorite ecosystem and the southern-ness of her name, honors the southern roots of my family while her middle name, Sinclair, honors the Scottish side of Kevin's family.

I recently had a dream that baby came and we had nothing - no diapers, no car seat, just a baby in a birthday suit. So I've decided that after my curtains are done and the next two books I'm working on, I will settle down and make some things for baby. The dream did prompt me to buy some plain white onesies, wrap and snap Ts, and socks. The first two can be easily embroidered and embellished with girl or boy fabrics, ribbons, buttons, etc. The socks were just plain cute. Small enough for one of Savannah's dolls. Savannah helped me stock up on some diapers and two other "supplies" that are necessary after having a baby, so now it's up to Papa to pick out a car seat. My first baby project will most likely be a quilt or two (one in girl and one in boy colors), then a Boppy-style nursing pillow. My finished quilt stash of baby things is down to zero after the recent baby boom among friends in my life so even though I'll only end up using one of the quilts, I'll be replenishing my supply.

27 January 2009

Savannah takes on corking

Savannah has desperately wanted to learn how to knit. I tried to teach her a few weeks ago on the kids learning needles with a bulky yarn and only 10 stitches across, but I had to hold the needles for her most of the time. Corking to the rescue.

I had never heard of it, but it's also called Knitting Nancy, an appropriate name considering the corking supplies were a gift to Savannah from our neighbor Nancy. The small hand-held corker helps kids learn how to knit without having to juggle needles and it holds stitches in place easily. Savannah made her first creation yesterday - a scarf for her daughter bunny - and is now working on a larger one for herself (or for her Papa if she can get him to wear pink and purple under his Carhartt jacket).

My very serious daughter who chose to skip a bedtime story so she could have more corking time.

Hard at work, making bunny's scarf just the right length.

The happy recipient of her first corking experiment! Savannah woke up early and picked up her corking right away before "good morning" or kisses so she could finish bunny's scarf before breakfast. I wonder where she gets her work ethic...

21 January 2009

Little sewing projects - curtains, curtains and more curtains

Now that our house is packed with boxes again, I've begun some small sewing projects. Today I made a valance for the downstairs bathroom and lined it with light blocking fabric. I know it's kind of silly to line a valance with light blocking fabric but I wanted the practice of sewing with that particular lining, which is thick and semi-sticky on one side, before attempting some more important drapes with a much more expensive silk fabric. Plus, the light blocking fabric will prevent any damage from UV rays to the silk. All turned out well I think tying the reds, greens, and yellows together and giving the bathroom one last punch of color. Kevin has custom-ordered the double honeycomb blinds with a high R value for this window (and most of the others in the house as well) from a local company in Troy, but the valance will conceal the blinds and hardware when they are opened.

A simple lined valance rod pocket with ruffled header.

I've also finally decided on fabric for the kitchen. The one color scheme I've always loved in the kitchen are the colors of blue willow. So the only colors I ever buy are white and white with blue trim or a willow pattern. This makes it very easy to match sets over time as dishes get broken and chipped. I also like being able to "see" my food so having white plates and bowls appeals to me. I've chosen an Asian blue willow print for the curtains made by Duralee (E20781, royal blue & white Willow pattern). Eventually, the rest of the kitchen will be updated - stainless steel energy-efficient appliances (I can't wait for my induction top stove!), new counter tops, and a backsplash of white tile with a hint of blue border - to better match my curtains. I bought a stainless steel curtain rod in anticipation of my future appliances, which may trickle in one at a time with the rest of our more costly home renovations. Having "colors" makes everything easier. I also bought some bathmats today that I'm going to repurpose into kitchen towels with trim that will match the curtains. They would have done terribly as bathmats but they will make for very soft absorbent kitchen towels!

I'm trying a new style of curtain for the kitchen - inverted box pleats. It's a bit more formal for a valance with such a large playful print on it but I expect it to hang well and the personality should match mine in the kitchen - both formal and playful.

And, as if that weren't enough, I let Savannah pick out the fabric for her playroom curtains. I think she did a great job! The playroom has an enormous picture window that is almost 100 inches wide. I wanted to hang a large retro-looking curtain with oversized grommets but Savannah prefers the ring clips. Here's the fabric she's selected along with floor tiles and the paint. I want to finish the curtains before Kevin returns from his trip, if possible, because there's no way he would approve of this bold fabric choice. Because the fabric is from a 2006 Alexander Henry collection (Mocca), I've purchased it for only $5 a yard! I'm working on convincing Kevin that a bright red sofa or slip covered sofa, would look great in the kids playroom but he's not convinced. Brown is my second choice and after that a plain old neutral. Either way, the sofa will be plastered with pillows that match the curtains. I might also make floor pillows for the kids for this room since it's meant to be a 100% kid-friendly space.

Above are the Alexander Henry fabrics Savannah selected for the playroom (Esprit stripe, Mocca and Kleo). The large print on the right will be made into curtains (in progress). Below are the floor tiles, paint color and Chobi rug that I'd already picked out. As the kids grow, it will be very easy to make the room more sophisticated but until then, I see nothing wrong with some bold color choices that say, come and play.

19 January 2009

Making the winter warmer

Other than sunshine what makes the winter is warmer is people. We spent New Year's Eve at a neighbors' party where Savannah spent half the night goofing off with her favorite cowboy Andy.

Here's a picture Andy's wife took of the silly duo.

There was an Asian theme so we brought doughnut holes to the party - the round shape of doughnuts without a hole in the center are supposed to be lucky for the New Year. This was our first time making doughnuts and they were so delicious! We rolled some in cinnamon sugar others in powdered sugar and glazed others that Savannah sprinkled jimmies on. I should have taken a picture! I promise to post the recipe the next time we make them but it will be a while since the dough has to rise twice and takes a few hours. We left just before midnight to tuck the little one in and saved ourselves the embarrassment of having to do karaoke. Here we are before the party:

A week later we had another party at our neighbors down the road and we've been teaching Savannah how to ice skate on our neighbors' pond. Savannah likes to hold onto a chair.

We've been skating on our neighbors' pond because they use a snow blower to clear most of the snow off and night flood lights. We help shovel the rest off so the ice is smooth. The deer like to cross on our pond at night and pack the snow down making it harder to clear with just a shovel.

Another fall... Savannah falls on her bum quite a bit during ice skating but she always gets back up again. She's had a few bruises on her hips and bum but it doesn't seem to bother her much. The padded snow pants must help!

18 January 2009

Busy winter bees

Bees are supposed to rest in winter - eat the honey they've stored, keep the hive warm by snuggling together and taking turns on the outermost cold spots, and on warm days, taking a quick flight to do one's business, keeping the hive clean. Our beehive hasn't been quite so restful these past few weeks.

Savannah started her classes at the YMCA, I've received a never ending list of books to work on before baby comes, and Kevin has been busy with work and late night grad school classes. On top of this we are still in the midst of some big home renovations.

The fireplace is now completely disassembled and ready for a new chimney (which won't go in until the first day our roof is cleared of all snow and ice) and soapstone woodstove. A few times during the demolition process I couldn't help but wonder if it was a good idea (especially with the film of dust from it settling over everything in the house) but when we got to the fireplace and saw the holes in it and ashes and coal that had escaped and piled up over the years outside of the fireplace and in between the woodbox, then I saw that our chimney sweep was right to question its safety and recommend its demise. I'm looking forward to having the new woodstove in but it may not be until spring since it requires a new chimney, which requires that the roof be cleared of snow and ice. So we wait...

Cleaning up the last of the black monster... I wish we could put the new woodstove in right away but the chimney doesn't meet the current requirements. Our chimney sweep is lining the chimney since its structure is still good and wrapping the new insert in a fireproof blanket and metal sock to help keep it all together. The insert will be secured in multiple places along the existing chimney and will bring us up to code and meet all the requirements of the new woodstove (at 1/3 of the cost of replacing the chimney, which is what other installers wanted to do). Our plan is to keep the black box that encloses the chimney and to wrap it with a diamond mesh that will hold mortar to install a stone veneer finish. Some day it will be beautiful...

In the meantime, the radiant flooring that we are retrofitting the basement with has been pushed back to next week but we've had to clear out everything from the basement to get ready for the process. Now we have two floors worth of furniture stacked on the first floor with the exception of Savannah's bedroom, which will be the next and last room to move. We'll have to put her mattress in our hallway for a few weeks while the hoses are laid, the concrete layer is poured and dried, and then while we figure out how to lay down tile to finish it (something we haven't done before). Savannah won't have a space of her own for a few weeks but she's always a trooper about change as long as she can reach some art supplies and books.

To prepare for the upcoming construction here are some of the things we've done:
  • Removing the bathroom vanity (the new concrete can't be poured with a vanity or toilet in place but it can with a bathtub).
  • Moving all the furniture to the greenhouse or first floor so that it looks like we just moved in this weekend.
  • Painting the ceilings (and soon the family room walls too).
  • Picking out floor tiles and paint colors. (Of course the floor tiles we picked out were discontinued but they were still available at one store in town!)
I'm really looking forward to having the space finished!


Also, Kevin decided to cut a hole in the wall under the stairs so he could "explore" what was there. There was zero insulation between the studs, which explains all the blue cold spots on the infrared imaging around Savannah's bedroom and the downstairs hallway during our home energy audit. Kevin plans to insulate this area then "finish" it roughly. I plan to cut a larger hole and to reinforce the existing studs so I can remove one to make an attic style door. Then I can use the new found space as much needed storage. It's about 4' x 7' and perfect for storing little used items such as my boxes of holiday decorations and camping equipment.

Kevin decided to cut in the center of the studs but he ran into a lot of nails cutting there.

Here's the 24" x 16" "door that Kevin crawled through to inspect the space and peek behind Savannah's room. The wall there was just bare studs, no insulation. Most likely Kev will nail plywood up to seal off the space and then we'll blow in insulation from Savannah's room to fill it up to the ceiling. The two outside walls are just concrete.