Furniture Makeovers

Old Wood Rocking Chair Makeover

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Tell City Rocker, circa 1930

Hey guys! I know it has been a few weeks and I know you missed me (all two of you!), but my latest project had me all tied up! Add to that, Hurricane Flo brought all kinds of rain to this little valley here in Central Texas, and it flooded my workshop! I was going plumb stir crazy for almost a week not being able to get out there to figure out why my shop flooded for one, and second, to get the whole darned mess cleaned up! You can’t very well run a sander standing in a pool of water! Any way, everything got back to normal for five minutes before the latest wave of rain hit and I was finally able to get out there and get to work on this sweet little darling!! This is my favorite yet! (I feel like I say that at the end of every project….must be because I love what I do!)

This sweet girl is a Tell City nursery rocker. This little girl had some stories to tell! Y’all not only did it take me a solid week to get her broke down to the frame so I could start on her, she had FIVE different layers of upholstery!!! This is a long one. Y’all ready??? Here we go!

Let the journey begin…

OK, so here is a tip for my DIYers out there who are going to try this. Take pictures as you pull upholstery off at every stage so you know exactly how to put it back on. I do this with even the easiest upholstery jobs because tack or staple placement, fabric placement, and creases and corners matter if you want a good outcome.

First thing I did was flip her upside down and take the screws out, this is pretty straight forward, so I didn’t get pictures, but I will tell you that if you work on vintage, you work with flat head screws. These are a pain and they just kept coming. Fortunately, they all came out, and I was able to save them and put them all back in. If you are not upgrading to philips screws, DO NOT try to take these out with a power drill or impact driver. They are old and rusty and you will strip the screw head out. I will have to be muscle and grit with a flat head screw driver to preserve their integrity. I didn’t upgrade these for two reasons: one, the client wanted as many original details preserved as possible, and two, they had a much larger thread than I have seen on philips head wood screws. I was not sure I could replace them without having to strip out the wood of a 85-year-old chair and it not split under the stress.

I got the seat pulled out and set it aside. As you can see this is covered on the back and was hand stitched with a running whip stitch down the side seams of the back. The back frame didn’t have screws I could get to so I just started unwrapping it where it was tacked down on the bottom. I was praying after pulling out about 15 tacks slowly with a screw driver under each edge that once I got the back up it would be stapled. NOPE. Tacks all throughout the upholstery top and bottom. I counted them before I threw them away, and after removing all six layers of upholstery, I removed 533 tacks BY HAND!

Any who, six screws on the inside of the back frame, three on each side. I took the back off just as the rain started so I put the chair frame on my work bench and carried the seat and back pieces and my upholstery tool box inside to work.

OH the smell….

If you work with old vintage upholstery, it’s going to have a smell. Not just from all the seats it has hosted in its lifetime, but think of how my lifestyles this chair survived. It probably sat next to an open fireplace, a wood burning stove, we didn’t have pampers back then and it was a nursing chair, and let’s not forget the pipe and cigarettes. Honey, I smelled it!!! It stunk!

I got the backing off and it looked like only two layers of upholstery, so I thought this was going to be cake. Wrong again! After I pulled up this first corner, I noticed there was a different type of fabric wrapped around the frame. It wasn’t until I got to the top I discovered it had FIVE layers of different fabric laid on top of one another. See the difference in textiles? The first two were quilted coverings, the middle one felt like a picnic table cloth from my childhood, but the next the last one was a pretty silk screen print and the last one was a beautiful stitched brocade. I plan on putting them all in a frame for my client and delivering them with the chair.

So this is a super old chair with actual spring seating, like we are talking old bed coil springs. I didn’t take a photo of this because my clients direction was to only take it down as far as I needed to and recover it. The potato sack covering and stuffing were still good and didn’t smell once I got the fabric off so I left it.

To make sure the chair would stay smelling fresh, I put some laundry scent booster pellets under the padding (I tested it, no pea under the mattress here). And when you sit, it gives off just a hint of freshness around you. Like sunshine and rainbows!

Putting it back together…

I was grateful to not have to reattach any banting or cushion. I am completely in love with the fabric we picked for her! If you are recovering something, if you can, remove your fabric intact. I was able to do this with the top layer, so I just pinned it to my new fabric and cut a half inch variance all the way around the pieces. I like my edges to be clean, so I then hemmed that half in variance with some Stitch Witchery. It just ensures my fabric isn’t going to start tearing or pulling when I put it on or when the chair gets used in real life. I have a house of men, and they plop, rock, and slide on every upholstered surface in here!

We reattached it using tacks to stay true to the era. My brother and I were up until 1:30 in the morning tacking down fabric. But, oh, it was worth it! We had to have the frame finished to put the back of the upholstery on, so I just hemmed that up and set it aside. We are almost there y’all, I promise! No peeking!

Finally, the frame. I filled in 2 small areas with wood fill. This chair was old and stained, so I didn’t even chance it. If you don’t want bleed through when you paint, especially if you are going light here is a tip-seal it first. I put two coats of poly on the frame and let it set overnight. I didn’t even have to prime it you guys! Paint went right down like it was a fresh new piece of wood.

I had just ordered my first round of Dixie Belle Chalk Mineral Paint and was eager to try it. I posted on my social media that I used Driftwood. I ordered both Driftwood and Drop Cloth, I actually used Drop Cloth on this piece. But I wanted it to stand out. I used the Silver Metallic Undercoat! Painted the whole piece with one coat, let it dry and then two coats of Drop Cloth. The next morning I took a 300 grit sanding block and distressed it back. I love the finish!! I finished it off with two more coats of Polycrylic and put her back together.

Last thing to do was get that back piece of fabric on. Now y’all, I’m not the best seamstress in the world. Shocking, I know, but if it can’t be done with fabric glue or fabric tape, I usually don’t mess with it. My client said she wanted tacks at the last minute. That I could handle! So we tacked the top and inch apart on center (center of a tack to center of a tack), and the sides at 1 and a half inch apart on center. Take your time on this part. If you go slow and steady, you won’t waste tacks, because these suckers bend, and you aren’t trying to reposition them to line up later. All in all, this DIYer/Fairy God Mother is pleased as punch. She is sure to be the belle of the ball now!

Sorry this post was so long and so long overdue! Come back on Sunday and check out my new round up! I have some really talented ladies who have demonstrated some really cool and unique pieces for this one! And be sure to drop your comments and questions below and I will get right back to you. Now go make something beautiful and be sure to come back and share it with me! And If you don’t already, hit those links at the left and follow me so you can stay up to date on my next project!

Talk to y’all soon! Until next time,


Olde Made New



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