{DIY}ish Upholstered Child’s Rocking Chair

So my latest upholstery project here is DIYish and not plain DIY for a couple reasons.  First, I didn’t make the frame of the rocking chair.  Second, at some point I stopped taking photos of every step because I realized that no one project like this is going to be exactly like another one.  So I’m not giving you exact step-by-step instructions like I did for the upholstered bench, but a bit more of an overview on how you might go about something like this.  I did learn some useful tips that would apply to any project though, and here they are:
  1. Do not buy upholstery nails from JoAnn Fabric unless you are working with very soft wood.  I spent hours – hours – trying to hammer these in and they were warping and breaking left and right.  It was one of the more frustrating experiences I’ve had in my life as a handywoman.  I shrieked and smacked the carpet with a hammer at one point.  Not my finest or most patient moment.  I finally went and bought a bunch of the nails from Lowes (where I had gotten the ones for the upholstered bench) and while there was still the occasional break or warp, it was no where near what I’d been experiencing with the JoAnn ones.
  2. Buy about double the amount of upholstery nails you think you need.  Mine were $1.30 per box of 25 and you can always return any you don’t use.  Much easier than running out four times for more nails.  Which I did.  Four times.
  3. No sewing skills are required for reupholstering.  It is a lot of folding, pulling, stapling, and nailing.  It does require some level of patience.
  4. Do not put batting where screws are going to go.  The screws can go through foam just fine but will wrap the batting around themselves so tightly it will take you an hour to cut it away.  Again, unfortunately, learned from experience.  Just cut holes in the batting where the screws are going to go, it’s invisible once the fabric goes on.
  5. Get yourself a tack remover or cat’s paw (see photo below) for any nailheads you do have to remove.  Much, much easier than trying to pry out with a screwdriver and needlenose pliers.  

    I have had pretty much a lifelong obsession with child-sized upholstered rockers.  I’ve mentioned before that my great-grandfather was an upholster…and man do I wish now that he had lived to 112 so he could have passed his trade to me!  As a first birthday gift to my mom, he made a child-sized replica of a full-sized dark green leather chair he also made.  Here I am, around 18 months, climbing into “my” (really my mom’s) chair.

    This chair has always been beloved in my parents’ house.  My mom loved it, I loved it, my brother loved it, every child who has ever passed through their house has been magnetically drawn to this chair.  And for Ada’s first birthday 2.5 years ago my parents brought the chair to an upholsterer and had an exact replica made for her first birthday.  Here it is.
    I will have a very hard time allowing her to take it from our house one day when she is grown because I love it.  But it’s hers.  And maybe by then I will be able to build another one for myself.
    So, my point in all of this is that I have a deep-seated affection for miniature upholstered rocking chairs.  (I’m feeling like this could be a long post…)  About three weeks ago Scott returned from his trash run to the dump…that’s right, no trash pickup in our town, everyone hauls their own trash and recycling to the “Transfer Station.”  Not my favorite chore, and really, I have gone maybe three times in the five years we’ve lived here, but there is this little corner of the dump with a “swap shed” where people can leave things in workable condition and take things they see there and want.  So Scott comes home and says, “I think you should come back with me, there are some interesting things at the swap shed today.”  So I did, and was instantly drawn to this filthy, plastic-upholstered, miniature rocking chair.
    It was sturdy and had good bones and I was eager to try a more complicated upholstery project, so home with us it came.  Step one was cutting off the red plastic and taking it apart.  It was held together in various places with wood screws so it wasn’t much more complicated than unscrewing one-by-one (an electric screwdriver or drill with screwdriver attachment makes this process pretty easy).  What you see below is what I found after removing one of the arms – dirt, old pennies, rusted safety pins, mouse poop, and general debris.  This was my second least-favorite part of this project, behind the initial nailhead fiasco.  Just want you to be prepared for what you might find if you come across a similar project…

    This is the back side of the chair back.  I thought it was pretty cool how roughly hewn the pieces were.  The bottom piece still has bark on it!  I so wonder who built this and for whom.  And, in case you are wondering, that is not one of children lying on the floor to the right of the chair, but an abandoned babydoll.  This is usually the way of things in my “studio.”

    And here are the six components, all disassembled: a seat box with springs, back, two sides, and two rockers.

    I stained the bottom rockers with the leftover dark stain (Rustoleum Wood Stain in Kona) I had from the upholstered bench.  I added a lot of padding and stuffing to the chair components, basically following the same process I did with the upholstered bench (click here if you don’t want to scroll up to the previous link) of foam and then batting wrapped tightly around the foam and stapled flat.  Here is the progression of the seat:

    After the batting is in place it’s time to drape your fabric over and start playing.  As far as I can tell, there is no science to this.  Perhaps this is why having furniture reupholstered costs so darn much!  It is art, darling.  But, seriously, I draped the fabric over the seat and adjusted it so the pattern was fairly straight on all sides, then cut slightly larger than I needed so there was enough excess to pull and staple underneath.  Think of it as very similar to wrapping a present.  If you are a stellar present-wrapper, I think you can do this.  You want the fabric smooth, the edges and corners sharp and as flat as possible, and the fabric pulled very taut since it will stretch a bit over time.

    I continued on with the same foam, batting, and fabric process with the back and arms and then started to think about putting it all back together.  Which was a bit of a mistake because I forgot about the screws and had to undo some of the fabric to put the screws underneath it.  Again, there’s no exact process here, you just have to pay attention to how it all came apart and then recreate that backwards to reassemble.  You wrap most of the fabric before the screws and then finish it after they are in.  Here are some shots of the chair almost complete, just missing the nailheads and bottom rockers.

    You can see in the above photo especially how the fabric gaps at the edges but this is where the nailheads serve their perfect dual purpose of being both beautiful and exceedingly practical.  Based on where the fabric had open seams and with an eye to consistency, I decided to put nailheads along the sides and bottom of the back, sides, and front of the chair.  This part took for.ev.er. because of the nailheads I started with but moved along more quickly once I got the sturdier ones.  I marked dots for where the nailheads were to go 1/2″ apart.  There is some pulling and flattening and lining up to be done here too because you want the fabric edges and nailheads to follow the outer lines of the furniture.  
    Many swings of the hammer later, here she is, my friends.  Pretty vast difference, huh?

    My plan all along has been to sell this when I finished it.  But, of course, now that I am done I am sort of in love and don’t really want to.  But I think I still will.  I figure it will keep me motivated to take the next step and combine my understandings of woodworking and upholstery to try building a frame and then upholstering it, thus building an entire chair from scratch.  At any rate, I think I will hold onto it at least another week so I can look at it and sigh for just a little longer…

       Linking this project to My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia!
    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15400474657560523097 The Corson Cottage

      This is adorable! You did a great job. Thanks for the tip. I have an old chair I am thinking of tackling for our new house. Found you through Everyday Occasions:)

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04809294341214528745 Courtney

      This turned out amazing. I really want this chair! Where are you planning on selling it?

    • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06055887032215823433 vikki

      Wow that is a transformation. I did a similar redo with a really yucky old rocker very similar to the one you did. You can check it out here: http://www.quirkyquail.blogspot.com/2011/12/little-rocker-for-new-little-prince.html

      I love how your great grandpa was an upholsterer and you are carrying on the tradition. Your children will thank you some day.

    • Anonymous

      This looks great! What kind of fabric did you use and where did you buy it?

      • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04707073682080677083 Jennifer {The Chronicles of Home}

        I love it too…and unfortunately it’s been discontinued. I couldn’t find it anywhere recently. It’s by Duralee, the pattern in Kilburn, and the color is grey. If you find any, let me know!

      • Anonymous

        Thank you for the info. I found it in a grey/green at fabric.com, but not plain grey. Do you know about how many yards you used for this project?


      • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04707073682080677083 Jennifer {The Chronicles of Home}

        I had 3.5 yards on hand to be safe. I did get the original fabric from Fabric.com. It looks like it’s sold out in Surf from them as well but they have some orange, yellow, and navy left!

    • Charlotte Smith

      Hi! I went down the rabbit hole of your various upholstery projects trying to get a sense of ‘stuff’ and tools you use… and I literally have the exact rocking chair in our basement. Mine is yellow and silver (classy) but it’s that same old vinyl and I totally figured it would be a practice upholstery for me! Question: What size foam do you use most often? 2″? (And where the heck do you find it… JoAnn always seems mucho expensive). Also… tips on piping size? I think I have 1/4″ but never know if there’s a gold standard… THANKS! Hope mine looks even 1/2 has nice as this one!!

      • Jennifer@TheChroniclesofHome

        The foam kind of varies project to project – depends how much height you want and who’s going to be sitting on it. 4″ is probably most common for adults, 2″ is fine for a child’s chair. I order a lot of my upholstery supplies from DIY Upholstery Supply (online). I’ve bought foam at JoAnn too but always with a coupon (they almost always have a 40% off one) because of how expensive it is. Piping just depends on how big you want it to look – no right or wrong :)

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