From Frame to Fabric: Making An Ottoman From Scratch

Week Three: Topping It All Off

This week something amazing happened to me, something I've long wanted: I had my birthday. No, that wasn't the amazing part. The amazing part is what happened to me because of my birthday. In celebration of that fact—and not, as I'd like to believe, because my upholstering skills had warranted it—Matthew let me have the demonstration table! Oh, the relief I felt that at least for this week my ottoman would make it through unscathed (as would my pride). The one problem, though? It's true what they say: you learn my doing.

Week Three:

The potential downside of being at the demonstration table became apparent when I sat down to write this post and realized I was having a hard time remembering what each of the steps were! No frantically scribbled down instructions, no sore arms and blisters (for the most part) to remind me of a particularly painful step. Just my 80+ photos and my memory to rely on. (Is that a little bit of regret in my voice, you ask? No, no, it couldn't be. I got the table! I got what I wanted... right?)

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Gluing down the fox edge and covering the corners.

Step One: Gluing Down the Fox Edge and the Cotton

And thus we start: the first thing Matthew did to my ottoman was spray 3M glue along all four sides of the fox edge, pressing down firmly after the glue became tacky. Then he took four burlap squares and stapled them over the corners. While the rest of the class worked on this step, Matthew sent me over to help Antonio, who was cutting all of the fabric. Normally, Matthew said, the students cut their own fabric, but the whole class was so behind that Antonio was cutting the fabric for us while we got caught up. I wasn't asked to cut any fabric, just lay it out on the table for Antonio. (Thank goodness, because it's one thing if I mess up my own fabric, but quite another thing if I mess up someone ELSE's fabric! Perhaps Matthew intrinsically knew this, and so did not ask for my help in this area.) More on my fabric in a moment, because that's a bit of a story in itself...

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The cotton padding.

Step Two: Placing and Pushing the Foam Down

The next step involved gluing down a large square piece of LX Blue Foam. Matthew went around to all the tables and drew a line along the top half of the blue foam to let us know where to spray the glue. After the glue was tacky, he pressed down the blue foam with one hand while pushing the sides in with the other, just enough to have the blue foam fold over exactly on the black line he had drawn with a marker around the edge of the frame.

This ended up being harder than it looked. After Matthew finished demonstrating this step on my ottoman, he told me to work with my neighbor on her ottoman so I could get a feel for what to do. Again, this was a step to pull out all the muscles (much like the coil tying).

Push down with the left hand, press in with the right hand, push it over onto the line, press in to have it stick, press in again when it doesn't stick, press in again and silently try to woo it to stick on the line instead of sliding back up, become convinced that the foam is out to get you.

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Stuffing the LX Blue Foam into the sides.

Step Three: Stapling on the Dacron

The last step before the fabric was to staple on the dacron. A large piece of square dacron was placed over the now-stuffed-and-rounded foam to be stapled. Matthew said to make sure to pull, smooth, and create tension before stapling. I did 3 of my four sides on this step, and unfortunately, I pulled too hard on the dacron in my effort to create tension, so much so that it started to fray a bit. Matthew said to think of it like pantyhose... pull firmly, but gently so you don't rip them. Take care of it. (The question is, what would he have said had I told him that I actually sometimes wash my tights in the washer?! My personal treatment of tights/pantyhose is clearly not what Matthew had in mind when he suggested them as an example.)

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Now we're ready for the fabric.

Step Four: Putting on the Top Fabric

So, regarding fabric: I went shopping last weekend for fabric with a pretty vague idea of what I wanted. I knew I wanted a pattern and something to go with my Hable Construction chair in the living room. I ended up buying 3 yards of Alexander Henry Canyon Path fabric in Pink from Purl Soho. It was colorful and fun, and I liked the contrast with the chair. I remember Matthew saying no stripes or patterns you were going to have match up, but I thought this was okay because the pattern was pretty random anyway, and I didn't think I'd have to worry about matching it up.

All was well until about an hour before I was supposed to leave for class when suddenly the fabric was all wrong. It was too busy! Too arts-and-craftsy! Too patchwork-like! Ack! What had I done? I should have just gone with something simple, something basic. (My neighbor had a beautiful gray felt that looked so cozy.) But at this point it was too late. This ottoman was about to get its multi-color on, whether we liked it or not.

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So after Matthew demonstrated how to pull tension and staple down the fabric on two sides of my ottoman, I set about doing the other two sides. And if I didn't already know this by now, it was soon confirmed: I have trouble stapling in a straight line. That detail plays second fiddle to concentrating, keeping tension on the fabric, and not stapling my finger. I had to take a few staples out when I realized I had stapled into the dacron. Oops.

So, my conclusions at the end of this, my third upholstery class, are:

  • It was great to have Matthew work on my ottoman for awhile, if only because I'm somewhat reassured that it won't end up looking too much like a lumpy cast-off.
  • I actually kind of missed (gasp!) trying to do all the steps myself. It wasn't as satisfying at the end of the day.
  • I'm at peace with my fabric choice. Yes, I'm still a little unsure about it, but part of the reason I went with a bright pattern is because I knew I was never going to be able to duplicate it. If I wanted a solid blue ottoman or a solid grey ottoman, I could probably find that and buy it in a store. But I'll never be able to buy this ottoman anywhere. It really will be unique once it's done.

One week left to go until the big reveal! Till then...

Related Post:

Making An Ottoman From Scratch: Week One
Making An Ottoman From Scratch: Week Two

Interested in trying out Matthew's classes for yourself? Get more information here. You can also check out Matthew Haly’s Book of Upholstery published in 2009 on Random House’s Potter Craft imprint. It explores techniques, tips and tricks to producing upholstery projects at home.

(Images: Cambria Bold)