One project that’s been on my to-do list for a couple of years was making new slipcovers for the wing chairs in the family room. When things linger on a list that long, it’s because I don’t really want to do them. I know how to make slipcovers and I love the results, but I make them out of thriftiness, not out of a zest for making slipcovers. I usually do my slipcovering and upholstery in spurts, but between Lucketts and getting my house ready for this shoot, I’ve been on a sewing/stapling marathon. I think I’ve done 20 chairs in the last 2 months. Whew!
These wing chairs might be in an important shot, so I really wanted them to look their best. The drop cloth slipcovers have held up well for about 8 years, but they are examples of my “early work”and they were starting to look a little slouchy and grungy from all of the washing and wearing.
I was planning to use lightweight antique hemp sheets for the slipcovers and have been collecting them for a while, but a happy turn of events made me decide to use the same weight hemp sheets that I do for upholstery. I had a large basket of them for sale at Lucketts, but they got muddy and soaked in the rain at the event. I had no choice but to take them home and wash them.
I had never washed one before. They always came to me cleaned and pressed, so I worked with them as is. They felt a bit stiff, which was perfect for upholstery. Once washed, they were unbelievably soft and felt more flexible and appropriate for slipcovers, so I decided to use them.
The one on the left is the new slipcover in antique hemp sheets and the one on the right is the old one in drop cloths.
You can see how much structure the hemp sheet gives the slipcover and you can also see that my sewing skills have improved. (The one on the right didn’t have the cushion, because I had pitched the cover before I took the picture.)
It took Kriste and I two days and 5 hemp sheets to upholster both of the chairs. She had never made a slipcover before, so I had her make the piping, cut pieces for the cushion and skirt, pin the cushion cover, iron, etc. It was “busy work”, but a huge help.
It’s hard to capture in a picture how beautiful the texture of the antique hemp sheets is.
I love adding feminine details to a slip, like the ruffled skirt and the twill ties on the back. Kriste watched me work and said “It’s like you’re a magician. That was just flat fabric and now it’s a slipcover.” I told her I often am amazed as I watch a piece of fabric take shape. It’s exciting work.
So, why didn’t I use drop cloths again? I know drop cloths are very popular for DIY projects nowadays. They are inexpensive and they can look really nice. The downsides are…
- the quality can be unpredictable (they are meant for catching paint drips after all)
- they can fray along the seams pretty easily and I’ve had to do many repairs to my wing chair slips over the years
- the fabric is thinner, so it doesn’t give the slipcover very much structure, resulting in a “slouchy look”, especially after years of washing.
I think drop cloths are a great solution if you’re on a super tight budget (although sometimes you can find pretty fabrics for even less) or if you’re brand new to slips and want to work with a material that is no-stress if you make mistakes.
Some other good alternatives are cotton twill ($7-16/yard), cotton duck ($3-11/yard) or hemp canvas/linen ($15-17/yard).
As I was working on the second chair, crawling around on the floor, pinning, cutting, making a mess, I was really ready to be done with these slipcovers. I started talking to myself towards the end; giving myself pep talks. Now that they are done, though, I’m so glad I took the time to redo them. These free chairs, that were yard sale leftovers, have served us well for many years and deserved some new digs.
In addition to helping with some of the “busy work” of the slipcovers, Kriste worked on painting a few pieces of furniture, but that’s for another post…