Monday, April 25, 2016

Creating a Custom Chair Part IV: Upholstering the Seat and Creating a Kitty Hammock

Chair With First Covering Option
Photo: P. MacLeod

I was able to work on the custom chair this weekend and get it all done! So I'm going to chronicle that process in this blog.

As shown in the picture above, when I put the material I originally picked for the seat on the chair, I instantly felt it was all wrong. The pattern of the material is too busy and "fighting" with the mosaic. Darn.

So I went off to Jo-Ann, our only retail sewing store, to find a better option. My instincts told me a solid blue is going to be a good choice. I don't know how many of you have purchased upholstery material, but it ain't cheap. I don't have deep pockets, so I spent a lot of time picking through the remnants and marked down bolts. I did find a pretty blue for the seat and a fleece blue for the hammock. (I wanted a very soft fabric for the hammock.) I also bought white decorative cord for the hammock.

When I got home, I just laid the material on the seat and immediately knew this is the right color. My cats thought so too, as you can see in this photo:

Juno and Rango Check Out the Chair
Photo: P. MacLeod

Now I was ready to try out my new pneumatic upholstery staple gun. I bought a Surebonder brand staple gun and the recommended staples. I haven't had much experience with a compressor, but the staples are forced with air from a compressor.  I had help from my husband and after using the compressor and gun, I don't think I would work with those without a helping hand. I'm just too nervous. To top it off, the safety warnings in the owner's manual were long and sobering.

(DO NOT use any of this description for directions. READ and FOLLOW all manuals and instructions with your tools.) The basics of using the compressor are that it has to force air into the tank, which is measured by one gauge. After it fills to your specific p.s.i., you can attach the air hose, and open the valve to allow air into the hose, this p.s.i. is measured on the gauge on the right. Then the air hose is connected to the staple gun. After you are done using the compressor, you have to let the air out. The staple gun itself is rather simple. It loads a lot like a regular stapler. There's safety on the trigger. I put the safety on anytime I was not actively stapling. 

This is noisy and scary. The compressor keeps the pressure in the tank stable, so it will turn off when the p.s.i. is right and turn back on to maintain that p.s.i. It takes a few minutes to get used to that. I was really nervous at first. I wanted to be very careful not to put a staple in my hand or head. Here's a brief video of me using the staple gun:

Video by R. Scurlock

It does a great job, though. I stapled the middle of the top side and the middle of the bottom side first, just to keep the material from slipping. Then I worked on each side and overlaid the material at the corners for a nice, smooth tuck. I pulled and smoothed the material frequently to keep the material from bunching.

Next I worked on the hammock. I haven't sewn anything in years, so my plan for this was VERY basic. I measured the approximate space that seemed large enough for a cat or small dog, and then I measured the distance from the hooks to about where I felt the hammock should hang. After that, I cut four lengths of cord and taped those in loops in each corner. Then I set up a bobbin and simply sewed the sides closed. 

And here's the before and after shots:


Photos: P. MacLeod

I hope it will bring a big bid at the auction! It is Saturday, July 30 at the Levin Jewish Center here in Durham. I'll cover that in a blog afterwards.

May all of your scores run true!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Creating a Custom Chair: Part III, The Mosaic

Chair back mosaic, Photo: P. MacLeod

I finally got to the mosaic for the chair! I chose daffodils for the spring flower detail and did the same design on the front and back of the V shape of the chair.

The tools I used to create the mosaic are:

From left: Grout Elf, Dust Mask, Safety Glasses, Dremel, Running Pliers, Pottery Pick, Tweezers, Mosaic Cutters, Dust Brush, Photo: P. MacLeod

I drew the design with chalk so I had a basic guide for where the blooms and foliage would go. Then I started cutting the shapes for the blooms. I chose tile adhesive to attach the glass pieces because it has a stickyness that will hold pieces on a vertical surface. And, because this is an INDOOR chair, I didn't need to worry about exposure to extreme temperatures or water. After the blooms and foliage were done, I filled in the background.

After the adhesive was dry (tile adhesive needs 24 hours to dry completely), I began prep for grouting. Because some of the surface wasn't completely flat, there were some spots where the glass edges were uneven. To make sure that the surface is completely smooth, I used a Dremel with a cone-shaped grinding attachment and gently smoothed the sharp edges. To do this, I wore eye protection AND a dust mask. That is really important, because grinding on glass without water releases glass dust into the air. Breathing in glass dust causes silicosis, which could be fatal. Once I'm was happy with the surface, I began the grouting process.

I used sanded grout, which is important because of the variety of spacing between the pieces. Sanded grout will fill areas up to 1/2" inch. I went with a neutral white color that won't overwhelm the colors of the design. Grouting is messy, so I made sure that I set up in my studio where I can be messy.

Mixing grout can be tricky. Texture is the key. I use old plastic containers from hummus, sour cream or yogurt as mixing tubs and craft sticks for mixing. When I'm done, I just toss the whole thing in the trash. (Never put grout in the sink--it will clog the pipes.) I wear a dust mask as I scoop dry grout into the mixing container and add water. I add the water slowly, so that I can control the wetness of the grout. The mixture should be smooth and about the texture of peanut butter. A test for accurate texture is to scoop up a bit of grout on the craft stick and turn it upside down. The grout shouldn't be runny and drip off, but have some "hang time" on the stick. (Runny grout will crack as it dries.)

For the application, I scoop grout onto the glass and push it into the spaces with my Grout Elf. Some people prefer using their hands or other tools, which is fine. I created the Grout Elf to be like a miniature grout float for small spaces and I really love the way it cuts down on clean up time. Grouting is an important finish for a mosaic and when it is done well, it makes all of the difference. Below is a short video of me grouting:

After cleaning up all of the surfaces, the mosaic is done!

Mosaic front and back, Photo: P. MacLeod

Next steps: Upholstery!

May all of your scores run true!