Sunday, March 17, 2019

How I Made My First Chair Slipcovers - With No Pattern!

Here's an old party project I forgot to share last December: chair slipcovers! In fact this was one of my first party projects, from those early days when I had the luxury of time and endless optimism convincing me I could, in fact, DO ALL THE THINGS.

I decided to cover these teal chairs in a gold tapestry fabric (harvested from a thrift store duvet), to better match the 'Puff Common Room aesthetic:

 Much as it pained me to cover them, since these lovelies are my favorite place to sit in the whole house. Remember how plain they were before we added the nail heads & gold feet?

You may recall I am NOT a sewist - as evidenced by the fact that I kept saying I wasn't a "sewer"  until someone took mercy on me in the comments, ha. Still, I'd watched a ton of tutorials on foam armor making over on Youtube, and figured the principles were basically the same. 

And get this, it actually worked! So let me walk you through the process.

First cover your chair in craft/butcher paper, taping all the seams with masking tape:

I used large-headed pins to help hold the paper in place while I added the tape. Don't tape the paper TO the chair, though, or you won't be able to slide it off later.

We have a big 3 foot roll of that paper in the garage, btw, and it is endlessly useful for pattern making, tracing projections, and to cover large work surfaces (like tables) while you're painting. Highly recommended.We found ours at a specialty paint store, but Amazon has the same stuff for $30.

Use the tape to bend the paper to fit the chair like a glove.

This top curve was tricky, to say the least.

When you're done, use a marker to draw on the paper where you want your seams to go. Ideally the seams will be at right angles, or wherever the flat planes of the chair change direction, if that makes sense. I wasn't great at this part, and worse, I forgot to take a picture. So try to do better than I did.

Next slide the whole paper cover off, and cut it apart on your drawn-on seam lines. Make sure all of your new pattern pieces lay flat. If they don't, divide them into smaller pieces that will lay flat - or cut in small darts.

You can see my top curve there was kind of a mess. Since the top of my chairs are fat and rounded, I cut an extra top piece off that curve in the pattern paper, which became an extra strip of fabric for the chair's top edge. You'll see what I mean soon.

Transfer your paper pattern to the fabric, making sure the fabric pattern is all facing the same direction, then add a seam allowance before cutting. Don't forget the seam allowance. And don't make the seam allowance too big like I did, or you'll get a sloppy slipcover.

Next I used a $3 thrifted sheet to test out the pattern, but this is optional:


Here it is all pinned, complete with what appears to be TWO cats underneath. ::waves:: Hi, girls.

Now, I'll be honest: since I still don't know how to adjust patterns to make them fit better (my brain refuses to work in 3D) this step didn't help me at all. I felt like I did twice the work for no reason, and wish I'd just skipped ahead to using the real fabric. I suppose the test fabric does show if the pattern fits... but if you did what I did with the paper template & then added a seam allowance, there's no way it WON'T fit, right?

Anyhoo, while we all ponder my dubious credibility as a sewing instructor, here's the real deal going on:


Aww yeeah.

I started with the seat/back seam, then worked my way over the top of the chair and around the sides.



Sew, try it on, curse, rip out seams, repeat.

I should have made the bottom edge pieces (the chair skirt part) all separate pieces, but I'm lazy and didn't know better, so I used one long piece instead. That made the chair skirt loose and fit a little funny, though from this angle you can't really tell:

MY FIRST SLIPCOVER, LADIES AND GENTS.

I had exactly one seam intersection between the two chairs turn out perfect, so that's the one I'm going to show you:

LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL.

And see how the top edge has an extra fabric strip? That's the bit I was talking about to deal with the chair's rounded top.

The rest of my seam intersections turned out puckered and lumpy, but at least I had ONE work out nice. 

Here are the finished chairs at the party:


You can see what I mean about the chair skirts: that one edge on the right especially makes me cringe, oof. If I'd added seams at each of the two front corners, they would have fit much better.

Fortunately people were sitting in the chairs most of the night, though, so I doubt anyone noticed. Plus - and I can't stress this enough - I spent 3 night working on slipcovers for a 6 hour party. Why. WHYYYYY.

Buuuut as much I question Past Jen's priorities, I actually had fun figuring this out, making it work, and ending up with something actually usable on my first try. Plus they look nice in the background of my other party photos:


Any of you with even a little sewing experience will no doubt do much better than I did, so I hope this inspires you to tackle your own slipcover projects! Remember to check the thrift store for cool bedspreads and curtains to cut up; we used this big duvet to make both slipcovers, two giant floor cushions, some accent pillows, and still had a lot of fabric left over.


Thanks for all the support and check-ins after my last post, btw, you guys continue to rock. Someone commented today that it never occurs to them to call someone or reach out when they're feeling bad, and that's exactly the instinct I'm fighting whenever I'm open about my panic or brushes with depression. It's natural to want to withdraw and hide, but we need each other. We need to make it OK to keep talking, to be open about when we're weak and scared, because that's how we all feel sometimes.

So I promise I'll try to keep talking if you will.

Love you guys. Now, go make something new this week! (Memories count.)

40 comments:

  1. "I spent 3 night working on slipcovers for a 6 hour party" - I relate super hard to this comment! I've spent many hours making Labyrinth props/decorations for my now yearly viewing party (I started on 2019's decorations in August of last year!). The things we're willing to do to celebrate our fandoms ha ha! It's all worth it though, because after the party ends we have all these fun things that get to stay in our house year round!

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    1. I want to come to your party one year! Your prop-making is serious goals.

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    2. If we lived closer you and John would definitely have received an official invite in the mail by now! If you ever find yourself in Alberta, Canada mid-July then you will have to let me know, I will set a place for the two of you!

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  2. I have never heard the term "sewist". I think of myself as pretty handy with a sewing machine, but I just know "sewer", "seamstress" (although what do you do for a man?), and a "tailor". Huh! Cool!

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    1. Yeah, seamstress or tailor is what I've always called someone who sews. Seamstress is how my mom and grandmother always referred to themselves. Not sure 'sewist' is really a word. lol

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    2. You guys are really confusing me here, lol. Maybe "sewist" is some newfangled word invented by youngin's? :p

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    3. I just googled "sewer" vs. "sewist" because I had never heard of sewist either, and guys, it is a whole Thing.

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    4. "Sewist" is a made-up word for young people who are dissing the thousands of years of people who sew - aka Sewers or Stitchers. Tailoring refers to a type of sewing and training to do so. Hate this term deeply.

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    5. Whoops! Sorry, Jen! I didn't mean to start a whole Thing! Honestly, I just really love finding new words people are using. This one clearly is a loaded topic... (Makes me wish I needed a topic for a research paper)

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    6. *waves her cane* All you young people and your newfangled verbing and fleeking and yeeting. Back in my day we were threadulators and proud to be. None o'that fancy-schmancy 'tailor' or 'seamstress' business for us. No ma'am! Proud threadulators we were, wielding our sharp owsticks deep into the night. The night resented it, of course, but it put up with it because that is what folks DID back then. Now get off my lawn!

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  3. Maybe someone came up with "sewist" because, without the right context, "sewer" (soh-er; someone who sews) can be read as "sewer" (soo-er; an underground conduit for carrying off drainage water and waste matter). Ah, the pitfalls of the written word.

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    1. I always assumed this was the case. As a bit of a language snob, I always want to slap them and tell them that if they're THAT illiterate, they shouldn't be allowed to make up words in the first place. Context clues are a grade three language arts lesson. But I'm a good girl and just shut up and pointedly use sewer regardless.

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    2. My sister did her senior art exhibit with a friend of hers who referred to themselves as a "drawer" in a written bio that I had to read several times before I realized it meant 'one who draws'

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  4. Jen,

    Feel your pain. Spent three days sewing a Halloween costume for my daughter for her first Trick or Treat when she was three. She wore it for 15 mins.

    Maureen

    P.S. It was great to see you in Pittsburgh!

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  5. I had never heard the term "sewist" before either. Google is telling me it is from trying to combine sewer and artist, or just to not be confused out of context, but I don't think it will catch on around here for a long time if at all. Sewer + artist is already textile artist around here.

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  6. Storm the KlingonMarch 18, 2019 at 5:42 AM

    "Sewer" is just one of those words that works just fine until you go to write or read it, like the short version of "identified"; is it "I.D.'d", "IDed", or what? Either way looks weird. Also, I think the term "sewist" is a nice, short way to say "I make clothes, costumes, art quilts, appliques, and other textile arts". (Funny thing; my Spell Check does not recognize sewist as A Real Word)

    Re: the sheet version of your pattern. You were totally right in doing this step! This is commonly called a "making a muslin" (regardless of fabric type), and it's meant to allow you the ability to fool around with any adjustments on something softer and more pliable than paper. Then, you take it apart and use it as your pattern for your fancy fabric. This is especially recommended when doing any fitted garments from a Simplicity-type pattern; you almost always have to adjust the fit in a bodice to match your actual measurements. Also! you now have a sturdy copy of your pattern, instead of trying to fold up butcher paper that's gonna get all crinkled up. Fold it without creasing it too much, put it in a gallon Ziploc and label it; if it's wrinkly when you use it again, give it a quick press.


    Rock on, li'l mama!

    Storm the Klingon

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  7. Those were still worth the three days! Also that fabric is fantastic to have been a thrift store rescue. Part of me wants to go "I need to hit up thrift stores more often!" and then another part goes "no, because you would *buy things*" and then there's a mental slap fight. XD

    Also, thanks for mentioning the paper - I've been trying to figure out what to use besides paper towels to protect the surface I'm working on now that I don't have a daily newspaper delivered, so that answers that!

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    1. "Mental slap fight" is my new favorite phrase. Bless you. :D

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  8. "Sewist" is a made up word that offends deeply those of us that SEW - hand, machine, badly or not. PLEASE stop using this term. When one sews, one is the continuation of a million year tradition. Calling it anything else is dissing all the stitchers who created the techinques, tools and terms we use. Sorry for sounding off but there nothing wrong with being a SEWER.

    Good for you to make a paper pattern, hope yuu labeled it well to re-use in the future.
    I am off to finish sewing costumes for"Guys & Dolls".

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    1. Language changing over time is a natural thing, and the word "sewer" to mean "one who sews" certainly hasn't been in use for all the thousands of years that people have been sewing. I don't think I understand what's offending you so much. Can you please explain further?

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    2. I sew and I am not offended at all by sewist. Sewer, when read, makes people think of drains and gunk and overall grossness. Seamstress or tailor leads people to ask me to hem their pants or alter their wedding dress. IMO, sewist is a perfectly fitting modern term to describe a person who sews.

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    3. I feel "sewist" is for the people who boast about not learning a craft, taking someone else's patter, making 1 tiny change and charging rather inflated fee for crap. Sorry but I learned to sew from both grandmothers who valued sewing and doing it right(seam allowances!) before venturing into Theatrical Costume Design as a profession.

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  9. Well...this is timely. I just found the fabric I bought to recover a chair. I've only been meaning to do it for, oh what, four years now? Thank you!

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  10. Don't feel bad. My sister needed to recover her dining room chairs since her son was in high school They just did it. The son is now 33!

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  11. “Stitcher” is the term used in costume shops for people who sew.And Jen, I did not notice any ugly seams on your slipcovers in person and loved how they made the chairs blend in with the rest of the cozy decor!

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  12. I might need to try to cover my lovely to sit in, but ugly to look at arm chair! Oh, and you can sometimes get rolls of paper at the newspaper office. I have gotten them for about $5 and they are 4’ wide.

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  13. My husband avidly sews and is extremely talented at it & there really is no good modern word for it - as far as I am aware of. Seamstress and tailor imply that you professionally sew and do it for a living. But I feel like I've heard seamstress applied to women who actively sew as a hobby, and not as a profession, whereas a tailor is only ever referred to a man who fits suits and other specialized garments to men's figures.

    So...I've never heard a man who sews as a hobby referred to as a "tailor."
    I call my husband a "seamster" as a joke on the word seamstress, since there really is no word to accurately describe a man who sews. We laugh that it sounds like he sews for a union... Like, I'm a Teamster for the Seamster's Union! Lol!! Language is a goofy thing and we need to update these antiquated terms.

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  14. Jen, your comment over on facebook about the hubbub over here in the comments to this post intrigued much more than the slipcovers, I confess. And I'm glad I came by for the show. A word fight! So much sniffery! So much huff! I'm on the edge of my vintage wooden folding chair. With popcorn. And Earl Grey tea (with milk, whole). So far looks like it's Aunt Foggy for the win! Can't wait to see how this turns out.

    Oh, and your slipcovers are highly impressive. : )

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    1. Are you trying to start a tea battle, Ariela?! There is only one way to take Earl Grey. (I'm giving you the hairy eyeball over tonight's mug of, yes, hot and milky Earl Grey.)

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  15. I prefer stitch witch. I love all your great ideas!

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  16. I spend a lot of my social media time in the online sewing community, so I'll throw in my two cents on the "sewer" vs "sewist". Frankly, I'm going to blame the hashtags. It's easy to read sewer in the correct context in, say, an instagram photo caption. But if you tag it with #sewer or #sewersofinstagram, it could very easily get mixed up with, say, photos of underground waste treatment systems. I did check the #sewer hashtag, and about half of what came up in the top photos really are pictures of the latter. So it's really not that we hate grammar, we just don't want to waste feed space on manhole covers!

    For the record, I'm not offended by either term. I'm also fond of the "sewcialist" one that's popped up in the last several years, being someone who sews and likes to be social about it.

    Also, "Sew, try it on, curse, rip out seams, repeat." Jen, this means you really are a sewer/sewist/whatever you want to call yourself. XD

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    1. Jen - your corner problem just needs "Clipping for ease". You cut a curve one size and then sewed it smaller (seam allowance is the space between the stitching and cut edge). SO now you need to make several small cuts thru the seam allowance to the stitching to release the tension on the curve. Just don't cut your sewing or you will have to re-sew that area. Then Press As You Go - to open the seams and to get things to lie flat.

      Just a tidbit from a sewer.

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  17. Put my vote down for "threadulator," please! I stand with Aunt Foggy and her owsticks.

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  18. At first I thought you were permanently recovering those beautiful emerald chairs! I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I realized, then I gasped realizing the work for one party! Wow! What a great job. I'm very jealous of your sewing talent! Maybe someday I will learn.

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  19. yesssss sewing AND making your own patterns, you're One Of Us :D
    small tip from someone who makes about 85% of her wardrobe: press the seams! seriously, all my clothes get ironed exactly once in their lifetime - during the making, right after sewing each seam - and it really makes a difference

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    1. I'll vouch for this. I never iron anything ever — except when I'm sewing. I don't personally understand why it makes such a difference, but it does. So even if you're as dedicated a non-ironer as I am, do it for seams.

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  20. As someone who sews [by hand, without using a sewing machine], I call myself a 'sewist'. I don't want the ambiguity of 'sewer' in print, and IMO 'seamstress/seamster/sem(p)stress/sem(p)ster' and 'tailor' are reserved for professionals who sew/alter for a living. But it's *REALLY* not as big of a deal as some people are making it.

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