Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Masters - Taking a Lesson (No, Not Golf!)

I know how to sew, but I also know how to calculate my personal satisfaction when it comes to time & money spent and what I get out of it.  That's why I called on a local pro to make a slipcover for a chaise lounge I've had now for a couple years.  Here's what the chaise looked like when I bought it:
I bought the chaise at auction, and it was like new, upholstered in a Waverly print of violets, and I placed it in our sunroom.  It wasn't a fabric I would have chosen, but it was beautifully finished, clean, and oh so comfy! For the past two years, I have been wanting a slipcover.  Last Fall, I helped a friend move who, in turn, gave me a bolt of 10 yards of leftover duck / sailcloth fabric she had used for her family room couch.  BAM!  I called a local textile shop and found a seamstress who makes slipcovers, and she put me in her cue for late October.  Disappointed that she didn't call me back, November came, and I got busy with holidays and didn't want to fool with the project.  At Christmastime last year, I decided to put a French matelasse twin bedspread and sham on it, to tone it down so it would blend better for the holiday and winter season.  Here's what it looked like last winter:
For those who follow me, you know it's not easy for me to convince Mr. P. that decor can change more than once in one's lifetime. He didn't like the coverlet, and he wanted the original fabric back.  But I also knew he wouldn't like a slipcover so, like I said before, I didn't want to fool with the project. Spring was coming, so I granted him his wish and removed the coverlet back to the original floral.

Long story short, my seamstress, Doris, came through about a month ago, and drove to my home for the initial fitting for the slipcover. She immediately unfolded that 10 yards of fabric and began her magic.
 She has been doing this for over 50 years (!!), worked in two - now defunct - retail stores in town (one of which my mother had worked in for a short time).  When she finally told me she was 88 years old (!!!), I simply couldn't believe it.  She was on her knees for over 4 hours during the fitting, with hands nimble and  mind sharp!
I told her I wanted to take notes in case I ever did decide to do this on my own, so she was very gracious in providing instruction as she went, pointing out particulars, such as nipping curves and tucking generous selvages into edges.
She made sure the corners were tucked Army-sheet tight.
Doris marked the edges of both side of fabrics tucks, where seams would eventually be.
I loved her tools:  her trusty scissors, knee pads, a wooden ruler, nubs of chalk, a box of stainless steel t-pins (she complained about having a hard time getting the same size replacements, as many of hers were getting dull from use), and an old can opener magnet to have the pins at the ready - all in a plastic supply tote.
She had me fit and pin the cushions, allowing for the cording (the appearance of ticking in the fabric is actually the shadow cast from the sun shining through the blinds in the sunroom's overhead windows).
Three weeks passed, and Doris came over today for the final fitting.  Humorously, she said, "I'll bet you thought I was gonna die before I finished your slipcover, didn't ya?"  She was worth the wait!  Her work is so meticulous and professional.  She brought a roll of quilt batting, to help smooth the fabric for a better fit (sorry, fuzzy picture).
She cut the batting to fit over the cushions, just enough to wrap each of the two.  Stuffing the cushions was tricky - Doris did the backrest cushion while I snapped a photo, but it took both of us to wrangle the long cushion into the slipcover.
Doris uses metal zippers for her cushions.  Next, she assured a great fit by tucking, taping and tacking. For tucking, Doris used a similar approach as when she fitted the slipcover, taking her ruler to push the fabric down into the side seams.  But this time, she used bits of the batting to stuff in, adding to a clean, smooth finish.
 For taping, Doris sewed one side of the back, and continued to the underside of the pleated shirt, with velcro tape for a zip-lock close.
Finally, for tacking, Doris uses upholstery tacks to clean finish the underneath selvage, and further pulling the sides down for a nice, tight fit.  I let her show me how she does this, and the spacing between, but did not complete the process, for ease of taking on/off.  Knowing Mr. P., I would have to return to the floral soon after Doris' departure.
For the finish, I asked Doris to stand by the chaise so I could take her photo.  She obliged, rightfully proud.
Recap of my chaise lounge slipcover project:
Original gavel price of chaise lounge at auction:  $250
Cost of 10 yards of heavy duck / sailcloth:  $0
Cost of labor and additional materials for slipcover ("list of findings" as Doris called them):  $190 (less than half of the estimates I calculated online).
New friendship struck with Doris, the Master:  Absolutely Priceless!

What a joy Doris was to have in my home!  She is just 4 years younger than what my mom would have been this year.  Though she was very different from my mom, she was also very much the same, and it felt like a little visit from my mom, having her by my side.  I'm so happy she came into my home.  And, after we hugged and she drove off (yes, she still drives!), Mr. P. came in to see the finished product.  His only comment:  "She does really good work doesn't she?  But I still like the green (really?  green?) better".
So, before I return to the floral (before the finished product, I was negotiating the change with Mr. P. by saying it would be a nice neutral for the Fall and Winter seasons), I took photos of the chaise with some neutral pillows in the sunroom.  I'd say I'm getting one step closer to how I want this sunroom to be.  After all, I'm taking lessons from the Masters. 
Now, if I can get my industrial cart back from the store display, and hang my recent chandelier purchase from a friend that's currently stored in the basement, and maybe a sisal rug.....hopefully Mr. P. will find it all irresistible.  Changing decor is definitely a process in my house.  But  it's a results-worthy process.  :)
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