Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Barstool Covers

My son and daughter-in-law bought some barstools from IKEA but the seat cover options were rather limited. My DIL asked if I would know how to make them different covers from a more exciting fabric. I had never done that before but I welcomed the challenge of trying to reverse engineer from a cover they had. My first step (I thought) would be to disassemble the cover to have a pattern to use to cut out a new one. Well those seats were so well sewn, taking them apart was a real battle! The raw edges of a ⅜" construction seam were overcast together and then the seam was pressed to one side and a decorative topstitch paralleled each seam. Ripping that out was very slow going since it was like ripping out three seams. I thought, "I have got to streamline this somehow." Then I got an idea. If I cut the seat cover in half I would only have to take out half the seams and I could cut the fabric out on a fold since it would be symmetric anyway.

The chair that these covers go on looks like this. The seat itself has side gussets but the seat back gets its contoured shape without gussets, just two fabric sections, the back one wrapping around toward the front and cleverly seamed. All four sides of the seat Velcro to the underside of the chair frame and the lower edge of the seat back also Velcros to the chair frame.

Here are the seam lines marked and some key alignment points for assembling the new covers. As is typical of IKEA's ingenuity, two curves in the upper corner are joined offset and this makes for a smoothly tapered and also sleekly curved design feature to the back to the chair. That is another BIG benefit of cutting the cover in half. I still have an intact model to look at when I go to sew the pieces together. It gets tricky where the seat back mates with the seat itself and tucks into that crevice where the two meet, while further contouring around the chair legs.

Then I truly got brave and realized I could mark boldly where the seams were by gliding a Sharpie pen along the seam lines before they were opened up. I could also use the Sharpie to label what the various pieces were. This technique seems obvious now but initially this approach did not occur to me. It probably never would have, had those seams cooperated more in coming apart. I am lucky that those covers were a light solid color so I could write directly on them and read it afterward. Here is half the cover disassembled and on my rotary mat. It was not until I got to this point that I answered the obvious question of just how many pattern pieces there would be. By arranging them on the gridded mat I also got a sense of how much fabric I would need. The mat size is 36" x 24".

Here is my DIL's fabric of choice. It was discontinued and my husband and I one day frequented five JoAnn's Stores to gather enough of it. I only have 4½ yards to make five covers, each with a seat and back support.  I know I have another 1½ yards that we bought when my DIL visited and selected it, but I cannot find that additional yardage. I have the receipt but not the yard goods. Very frustrating! I thought perhaps my DIL had taken it home to compare with the stone on her kitchen counter but she says no. Her house is half the size of ours and she is at least twice as organized as I am. She is also about half my age without any associated memory decline, too, so it is highly improbable that she does have that extra yard and a half. But I'll be danged if I can find it here.

The fabric is 54" wide so I may have enough. Perhaps I will run the fabric cross grain. The print does not look like it would appear odd to be run sideways. The tape measure shows a side width total of about 27" so I just might be able to eek out both sides of the seat back and the seat top itself from a single width of fabric. This allows for no shrinkage whatsoever. The fabric is 100% cotton so the covers could never be washed if my DIL wants them to fit again. With a toddler under two, non-washability is not a desirable trait. I am working to avoid cutting it so close if I can. I am blogging about this now so I can have these thoughts circulate in my brain for a bit and so I can procrastinate actually making any cuts.

My backup plan if I cannot fit all these pieces on the yardage I have is to make the side gussets in a different fabric. If I finally found the extra yard and a half after doing that, I would really, really be frustrated.

Here are some of my calculations and plans. I will need about 10 yards of Velcro.  I do not know how IKEA sells these covers as cheaply as they do - the lowest price plain white one is $10 and a beige linen-like one is $20. Even disregarding the time invested, home sewing these covers does not make economic sense. But the gauntlet has been thrown down and I am not backing down from the challenge. Truly, IKEA's fabric options really were kind of blah!

Making a bit oversized estimates for rectangle sizes for each of the pieces, I put the shapes into PowerPoint to see if they will all fit. The height h will run along the grain of the fabric (horizontal in the graphic) and the width w on the cross grain (vertical in the graphic). If I cut the gussets along the grain I think it will work; and in this orientation they will all be the same. The fabric repeat is such that I will not have enough fabric to make the five barstool covers identical. But since that detail did not occur to me until how, it will be OK. Breathe deep. Aim for excellence, not perfection. This is an experiment after all.

So, although not a quilt, these covers have been on my to-do list for a while and I am glad to be attacking the project and figuring it all out. "Well begun is half done," as the saying goes. Not that I am being philosophical, but that proverb was attributed to Aristotle. Now I am off to see what others are up to at this week's Freshly Pieced's Works in Progress.


  1. Oh my gosh, these are going to look excellent! I have 6 dining chairs that look like your stools, and they are really worn out (vinyl is rubbed right off in a lot of spots) and I've been thinking of recovering them all! Your fabric choice is beautiful!

    1. Good luck with the recovering. And a bit of advise. Buy more fabric than you think you need and make life easier on yourself. Less stress, less worry. And try to convince yourself you like a fabric that is current and in stock! At last count I had to go to 7 JoAnns stores to gather enough of the discontinued fabric my daughter-in-law selected. I misplaced a 1.5 yard piece and miscut the last two backs of another piece. This is not my first foray into finding barely available fabrics. My husband is a good sport about accompanying me to places we would rarely go were it not for the call of the fabric.

  2. Thank you for working so hard on this project! We really appreciate it!

  3. I feel your pain. I always get nervous when cutting fabric I cannot buy more of - did you ever find that other 1.5 yards? On my dinosaur quilt, I spent 2 days searching for a fabric that, when I finally pulled up my email receipt, it turned out I hadn't even ordered. I guess I just thought about it, and then apparently changed my mind. Fortunately, I then went a different direction, so it wasn't a biggie.

    1. As of seven weeks beyond this post I never did find that extra 1.5 yards. Fortunately I was able to buy more at a store in SoCal.