Friday, May 29, 2015

How to “Reupholster” Patio Sling Chairs

Have you ever written an email, or a paper, and then {{POOF}}… something happens and it is completely gone with no hope of recovery? And you have to do it all over from scratch? That was this post. The something that happened was actually someone… my 4 year old. Note to self: Next time, SAVE YOUR WORK. Sheesh. So, take two…

Durn!!! Take 3! Apparently Google has stopped working with Windows Live Writer for Blogger! Yesterday! Arghhhhhh!!!

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This post is about turning trash into treasure with sewing skillz and a will of iron (or something like that). On a recent weekend, I picked up a set of 4 high quality welded metal swivel rocker patio chairs… some aging gracefully, and others not so much. Photo bomb credit to our breathtaking garage floor… saving THAT project for another time. I carefully inspected them pre-purchase to make sure there would be no rocket science involved. With minor haggling (I couldn’t help myself!), I got all 4 for $15.

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I then read up on how to replace pre-made slings with a handy tutorial from This Old House, and ordered 3 yards of sling seat fabric at FabricGuru (here is the exact fabric I bought; it was inexpensive compared to other sites and came in 3 days!). I bumped into another tutorial for replacing sling seats, but regular outdoor fabric was used. It was pretty but DON’T USE ANY OLD OUTDOOR FABRIC FOR SEATING!!! It will not be able to hand the stress of supporting hundreds of pounds, and will shortly look saggy and not be supportive or comfortable. The proper fabric for this project is called “sling for seating”… it will not stretch or sag over time, even in the sun and weather. PSA for the day!

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Custom replacement slings for chairs like this would cost at least $65 per chair, so I knew this was going to be a DIY from the start.  I reused the original splines (the vinyl rods that secure the fabric in the rails) and saved myself about $20. I did not order a special “spreader” tool that replacement sling sites will sell you for ~$50, and spent an extra hour wrestling the tight fabric into place instead.

One chair has a little peeling paint and a missing spreader bar (perhaps the result of someone else’s failed attempt to fix it?), but the 3 others were in perfect condition aside from the old fabric parts. I considered painting them all before replacing the slings, but I decided that was not necessary right now (read: I’m too lazy). The missing spreader bar made the install of the new sling more challenging, but it is no less sturdy because of it. Other sling chairs that would use a form of this process include these styles:

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To start the process of sewing new custom slings, I measured the frame of the chairs and drew up a “finished measurement” sketch. I measured from side to side and top to bottom of both the seat and the back, from the centerline of the rails (basically, the visible portion). I then removed the fabric from one chair and examined the construction to plan for proper rod pockets and hems. I drew up my pattern pieces using a squaring ruler and a French curve.

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I fully re-did one chair in order to perfect the pattern before cutting and sewing the other 3 at once. I ultimately needed to rip out one rod pocket from the seat and remove 1/2 of fabric width to get the seat tight enough. You want it tight. Spoiler alter: if you are testing and the spreader bar goes in with no challenge, it’s not tight enough :) I also learned that you should reduce the bulk in your seams as much as possible with such thick fabric, or it will be much more difficult to run it through the rails.

I used wonder clips (affiliate link) instead of pins for working with this thick but loosely woven material. A seam gauge was crucial, and a magnetic seam guide on the sewing machine plate really helped too. I used painter’s tape to mark the wrong side of the fabric (a trick learned from Threads magazine! also good for delicate, snaggable or hard-to-pin fabrics). I notched out a 1/2” by 2” rectangle at the corners to reduce bulk (the 2” edge was along the hem sides and the 1/2” edge along the spline pocket sides). I stitched all the hem sides of both the backs and seats (two lines of stitching per edge, for strength) before moving on to all the pockets. The curved pocket on the top of the back piece was done just the same, only easing in the excess fabric, or folding as necessary.

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Once the pieces are all sewn up, I disassembled one chair at a time. I put down a dropcloth since the chairs were dirty and I wasn’t planning to clean them (ain’t nobody got time for that!). Here’s the level of mess you can expect:

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The tools I used included a screwdriver, a hammer, a pry bar, needle nose pliers, a ratcheting wrench with an extension, a clamp (two would have been better), and a boxcutter.

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I replaced the seat first. I laid the chair on its side, removed the 2 bolts holding the lower rail to the frame, and used my foot to stretch the fabric and remove the spreader bar (shown here, out of order, going back in the same way).

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Then I removed the end caps carefully (they were not in great shape), pulled the old sling out of the rails, pulled the splines out of the old sling, replaced the splines in the new seat sling, and then replaced the new seat sling in the rails.

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Then I put the spreader bar back between the rails (put the lower end in the unattached rail, push down with bodyweight, and wrangle the top end into the hole in the top rail). The clamp was handy for stretching the tight new seat sling in order to get the bolts back in. Replace the end caps, stand the chair up, and test it out!

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Now moving on to the back… carefully pry off the metal cover in the lower back, remove the bolts on the lower rail, remove the rail, and pull out the spline.

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I found it necessary to use a box cutter to cut the stiff old fabric in order to remove the curved top spline. after getting it out to reuse it, I just pulled the old back sling out.

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I then put the bottom back spline in the new back sling, pushed the curved top of the new back sling into the curved top (pliers!), and then pushed the top back spline into place (easier than I thought it would be). I then put the back bottom rail back on, reattached it with the bolts, and slapped the metal cover back on.

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DONE*!! Take that puppy outside and enjoy :)

Here is the project breakdown:

$15.00 for 4 garage sale chairs

$32.00 for 3 yards of sling fabric for seating from FabricGuru, shipped

Total cost: $47.00

That’s $11.75 per chair! And the satisfaction of having accomplished this project entirely myself. Non-scale victory!

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*Don’t forget about the other 3 chairs. This 4-chair project stretched over about 10 days for me after the material arrived, but we were out of town for 4 of those and also working on other projects every day we were home. Definitely something that could have been powered through faster if the circumstances had been different. Now, did somebody say margaritas?

2 comments:

Erika C said...

I have the same exact chairs! I am really excited my daughter found your tutorial. I picked up a set of 8 (6 regular, 2 captain chairs) and I am astounded that we have the same ones! I got all 8 of mine for free! Do you have any idea how old they are?

Mark said...

Does anyone know the brand of these chairs? I have the same ones that came with the house I bought. The seats are torn up as well and I'm no seamstress. I wanted to order the slings premade and just remove the old ones and install the new ones but I can't figure out the brand and a couple of the sites I'm looking at ordering from ask for the chair manufacturer. Any ideas would help!