Thrift shopping is the best, second only to having lots of money to splurge on perfume and designer clothes. When does that happen? Never. Thanks for asking. So why not just buy cheap stuff in the shops if you are cash strapped, you might be wondering. Firstly, thrifting is even cheaper than buying cheap stuff in the shops and secondly you can buy better quality used items. Because they survived long enough to become unwanted, that’s usually a sign that they’re well made.
The secret to thrift shopping is to not have a plan, but to have a vision. If you really need a fan high enough so it doesn’t terrify your cat and sturdy enough to withstand the wrath of said cat, a thrift shop will not be of much help. For very specific needs you will have to fork out. But if you just want a comfortable couch and know what will go with the look you are aiming for, you are on the right track.
Thrifty finds (I would say second hand, but who knows how many hands have owned that porcelain dog with the pop-out eyes from 1920 China) are seldom perfect, so either you have to be happy to pay a twentieth of the price for something that a cat already measured its strength with or you can fix it. Be honest with yourself about this. Ask yourself if you are going to make the time to fix it or if you are going to pay someone to do it. It defeats the purpose of thrifting if you’re not going to reuse it.
Needle and thread go a long way. Here’s how to fix clothes, but these skills can be applied to fixing or customising furniture too.
You also want sandpaper and paint. Don’t be afraid to work to achieve greatness for almost no money. Anybody can use sandpaper. Get out some gloves and newspapers and have a go. Here’s an easy to follow guide to restoring nasty looking, but quality, furniture.
Get a gun. It can save you so much money and hassle. Oh, I meant a staple gun. You can make covers for wooden chairs, boxes or anything you feel could do with a cushiony coating of comfort. Find material that is appropriate for the punishment the item will have to take. Thick upholstery material is my favourite to work with as it stitches easily, lasts for years and it staples perfectly as it is sturdy enough not to crease or rip with time.
Now you have to get creative. The dining room chairs I fixed up had woven leather seats, but these are expensive to fix and will snap again after some time. The same goes for chairs with wicker seats like this:
The wood might still be perfect, but the wicker can resemble old, moth eaten stockings. So here’s what I did.
1) Cut that nasty old stuff off your chair’s frame. Put a large piece of paper on the chair and draw the outline of the seat or where you want your new and improved cushion seat to end. Cut out the paper shape and have someone make you a piece of about 40-50mm thin wood in this shape or do it yourself if you have a jigsaw and required skills.
2) Take wood off-cuts or small blocks and screw them to the bottom in such a way that the soon-to-be cushion cannot move about, but can still be lifted up. One block on each corner should do it. If your frame sits in the chair’s frame, you are lucky, skip this step. Take some time making the “frame” because needs to last longer than the cushion part. When the upholstery or cushion starts looking sad you can just put new ones on.
3) Then you cut the material in the shape of the wood, but making it at least 5cm wider around the sides. Have the edges over-locked or go onto the next step (not over-locking will make the next step harder).
4) Put the material on the ground, the cushion you had made or thrifted on top and then the frame from step one on top of that (wooden block side up). Pull the material tight on two opposite sides and staple it to the wood with only one staple on each side. If you didn’t have the material stitched around the edges, fold the edges in on themselves twice so they do not unravel and then staple on this “seam” you folded. Pull the other two sides over and put a staple on each side. Check to see if the material is correctly placed to cover all the sides before starting to staple all around the material’s edge.
5) Place your masterpiece on the chair and think of all the money you saved.
With some skill you can cover entire sofas with upholstery, but you’ll have to shape up on your measurement skills to make it fit nicely.
(This is a post by our intern Elizabeth Smit)
(Image by Mc-Q, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)