Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Un-Caned Chair

A while back I acquired this chair at a thrift store. I liked the lines of it and knew it could look really cool with new upholstery, so I took it home and let it sit in my dining room all winter. At this point, that shouldn’t be a surprise to you.

I have to admit that I twinge a bit when I watch people remove cane from furniture and replace it with upholstery. It seems like they do it with such enthusiasm, like cane is this terrible trend in furniture that we need to remove from antiques across the country. I think part of the reason for the slow extinction of cane furniture is that, at least most of the time, the cane is damaged, and few people know how to replace it. I realize that this is kind of an unreasonable rant about cane furniture, but humor me for a minute. My grandpa knew how to weave cane furniture and often repaired chairs for friends. My grandparents’ house was full of cane chairs, and I associate that craft strongly with my interest in refinishing furniture. So to remove cane from a piece almost seems sacrilegious to me.

But, I am a heathen and so I replaced the cane on this point chair with upholstery. *GASP*. I know, I feel guilty, but hear me out. There are two ways to apply cane to furniture. One is by weaving the cane yourself through holes in the seat, and the other is by using pre-woven cane that you shove into a crevice. Based on the technique used on the chair, the replacement technique will be different. Well, my grandpa was really good at the actual cane weaving, but I don’t remember seeing a ton of furniture in their house that used the newer technique, so I didn’t feel as bad replacing the cane with upholstery. Plus, getting the cane out of the crevice was going to take forever, this chair didn’t seem worth the effort.

To makeover this chair, I first removed the seat by unscrewing it from underneath the chair. Then I removed the cane by running my flathead screwdriver through the holes and ripping the cane close to the frame. Once I had removed the cane piece, I took pliers and removed as much of the cane left over as I could. I knew it didn’t have to be perfect because fabric wouald be over it.

 I decided to paint this chair because the shiny look of the finish made it look a little too 80s for my taste, and I didn't have the patience to refinish it after my last chair refinishing endeavor. So I took my chair down to the basement where I sanded it with 80 grit sandpaper, getting it nice and scuffed up. I decided to spray it with a light coat of primer outside because I planned to paint the chair white and didn’t want the wood to bleed through. I also wanted to make sure that the paint bonded to the still a little bit shiny frame. I guess I forgot to take a picture of this step in my haste.

Once the primer was dry, I brushed on two coats of Glidden flat paint in Picket by Martha Stewart. While the paint was drying, I took apart the old seat cushion and found a gross piece of foam completely falling apart. Yuck. I also found a ton of staples in the wood seat, which I used my screwdriver and pliers to remove. Luckily the Christmas Attic uses lots of staples to hang things in their store, so I had plenty of experience removing staples. It took quite a bit of work to get the wood seat clean, but I got it done.

At this point it was late on Sunday night, so I let the paint dry overnight and hung out with the boy for a while.

The next morning I used some 80 grit sandpaper to distress the edges of the chair. I used a cloth to dust off the chair and then brushed a coat of Minwax Polycrylic over the entire chair. I let the chair dry while I was at work and got back to it when I came home in the evening.

Then came the upholstery. This was my first try at upholstering something with a picture back, so it took longer than I had hoped, but that always seems to be the case when I’m learning a new technique. Again, I used instructions I found on Design*Sponge to upholster the back, except I only used layers of Dacron instead of foam because the foam was just too poufy for this chair. I used my parents’ electric stapler to attach all the layers. It sucked. No matter how hard I tried to keep the staple gun straight, the staple went in sideways. I finished off half a box of staples and had to go to the store to get more. And after I thought I was finished, I realized that somehow the pattern wasn’t quite straight, so I had to fix it a little the next day. So a recommendation for you: If this if your first try, I recommend using a floral or something more abstract that is forgiving in terms of pattern placement.

Upholstering the seat was much easier. Notice that this seat has a hole in the base. I didn’t really want to cut a new piece of wood, so I used another set of instructions I found on Design Sponge to attach some new furniture webbing to the wood base. Then I added a thick piece of foam and then covered the foam and seat in Dacron, stapling on the underside of the seat. I made sure not to obscure any of the holes for the screws to attach the seat back to the frame.

Next I cut a piece of fabric for the seat, made sure I lined it up centered, and stapled it in place. I improvised a bit with the back, which had room cut out for the back of the chair.

Finally it was time to sew my cording. I used this tutorial from Centsational Girl to make my double welt cord for the back of the chair. Double welt cord is great because it hides all the imperfections of the staples. Sewing the cord was easy, but a bit time consuming. I also didn’t have a zipper foot, so the cord is a little wider than normal. That was fine by me. Once I had finished the double welt cord, I attached it to the chair with a hot glue gun. Then I sewed a single welt cord and attached it to the bottom of the chair with a glue gun. I screwed the seat back onto the frame, and my masterpiece was done.


  1. You should be really proud of yourself! It's amazing!

  2. WOW! So Funky and Fresh!I love the fabric choice and the color you painted the chair as well,all around a Winner!You totally rocked it:) Deidre~

  3. You did such an amazing job on the chair! I was wondering if you could cover the caning instead of taking it out. Thank you for sharing this beauty at my link party!

    1. Yes, it's definitely possible and some people like to do it because it makes the back sturdy (in my case, the burlap and the upholstery webbing served that purpose). I took the cane out because I wanted the backside fabric to be inside the frame, if that makes sense. Other techniques would've required me to attach the fabric to the back of the frame, which means more batting and more double-welt cord. Miss Mustard Seed did a chair like that, which she featured again recently if you're looking for more info:

  4. It looks fantastic! I love the fabric you chose! Visiting from RA

  5. What a great idea. Looks great!! If you get a chance link up here:

  6. This chair makeover is savvy and snazzy! Love the fabric choice, you given this chair new life........I'm your newest follower :)

  7. Hi, good night. I was googleing somenthing and some how I end up here.
    I read some of it, checked out some of your projects.if my wife was like you we would be the best couple in the world. you are amazing. on your projects I see myself . all the attention to the detail, trade friday night for painting etc ..

    I love work on painting, wood , building , fixing,saving money etc..
    At one point in my life I Had this dream of open a store, you know selling stuff that I created of fixed or invented. my wife never like the idea :(


  8. This is REALLY cute. You'd NEVER guess what it looked like originally.

  9. Repairing chairs is not that easy. But in this blog, i have learned to treasure the antique chair and make it new again. It just depends on the persons eagerness to treasure old things in their house than to throw it on the garbage.

  10. Can you tell me how much fabric I'd need to reupholster seats and upholster the cane back on 6 dining chairs? I'd rather err on the side of caution. TIA. -Yaffa

    1. Hmm, that's a tough one. For the cushion: most chairs are about 18" wide and 20" deep. You would want to add a good 6-8" on either side to account for seat cushion. Just for the cushion you would want a piece about 26" wide x 28" tall. You should be able to get about two cushions out of one yard, so you would need about three yards to do the cushions. Then for the backs you probably need about 20" tall (maybe smaller) x 16"-18" wide. Again, an extra 6"-8" on either side, 26" tall x 24"w, you would need a yard for the back. You also need a yard for welting. So for six chairs, I'm thinking 10 yards? That could be a huge overestimation, but could give you extra if you run into any issues.

  11. Hello there, does this chair model have. Specific name? I have had a set of eight since 1978 and still love them, so comfy! But one of them got stolen from me and I wld like to replace it, do u know where I can look for that model? Thank you so much.


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