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Adventures in Upholstery: The Filth Inside The Chair


Week 1 of the “Simple Upholstery” course I’m taking at The Makehouse can be summarized by the following word: ICK!!!!!!!!

Not because of the course itself – oh no, so far it’s great fun.

But when you discover what kind of crusties are hiding beneath the cushion of an old chair, you may find yourself gagging, wincing and/or screaming.

Upholstery 1 Chairs

Let me back up.

My project is to re-upholster these four dining room chairs. Two were given to me by my dad’s girlfriend and another matching pair were found at a garage sale. I also plan on refinishing them so that I’ll have a (mostly) matching set.

Upholstery 1 Kidston

When I was in the UK in January I picked up this strawberry fabric from Cath Kidstonspecifically for this project (this exact pattern doesn’t seem to be available online but I absolutely love this and this too!). I know, I know – it’s white. Not exactly the best colour for what will essentially be an ass landing mat, but I will not be swayed! I figure I can always redo them once I learn the skills.

When I arrived, The Makehouse was bustling with activity, and three chairs were on the verge of going into surgery. Here they are with their respective surgeons:

Upholstery 1 Student 2

Upholstery 1 Student 3Upholstery 1 StudentUpholstery 1 Miro 2

Instructor Miro started by going around and giving us all an individual diagnosis. Some of us (me) have the unfortunate task of having to glue together some unstable aspects of our chairs between this week and next.

Upholstery 1 Close

The universal first step, however, was peeling back the skin and seeing what gore lay beneath our seats. It was fascinating to see how much variation there was. This was the oldest chair in the course and it contained springs as well was horse hair.

Upholstery 1 Fuzz

Others found organic material (Miro said this stuff was similar to seaweed).

Upholstery 1 Foam

This disgusting foam looks more like a chunk of cinder toffee than anything.

Upholstery 1 Miro

Everyone had to painstakingly remove the tacks and/or staples that held the yucky old upholstery together.

Upholstery 1 Inside 2

Mine was by far the crappiest chair in the room and it took me a while to get over the profound chair envy. I have concocted a master plan to somehow acquire a better chair before the course is finished but for now I do need to get these chairs functioning.

Upholstery 1 Inside

Beneath the first layer of fabric was a 1960s-era fabric that had seen better days. My dad’s girlfriend had warned me about this – I bet she’s laughing now.

Upholstery 1 Inside 3

As I began lifting the tacks, a gross wave of crud started seeping out from beneath the fabric. I’m still not sure if it was dirt or disintegrated foam, and I’m not sure if I want to know!

Upholstery 1 Inside 4

Here’s the completed dissection – that’ll make you think twice about NOT recovering antique chairs.

Into the garbage it went, all of it.

Upholstery 1 Hands

My chairs have  a plywood base, but those who had webbing tightened it up.

Upholstery 1 Tacks

Everybody’s foam was toast – Miro is ordering up a slab of brand new foam and we’ll be diving into that next week. In the meantime, I’m looking at all chairs with suspicion.

If you live in Victoria and think you’d like to take this upholstery class, there’s one starting in April.

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Begone, Nasty Dining Room Chairs!


Reusing and honouring perfectly good furniture is a huge principle ’round here at The Life Nostalgic. There are so many reasons why:a) The planet has too much poorly-made crap for sale these days – why buy new if it already exists?b) Fixing up something yourself helps hone your self-sufficiency skills (you’ll be well on your way to invincibility).c) Reusing enables you to save money and use it for more worthwhile things (like freedom).So, starting on Monday, I’m taking a four-week course called “Simple Upholstery” at The Makehouse, and I’m going to be blogging about my progress here on a weekly basis so you can see how it’s going (and count how many upholstery tacks I’ve managed to hammer into my thumb).To start, I paid a visit to the instructor, Miro, at his home studio.

Miro Photos

Miro’s Short Biography

Originally from Léon in Spain, Miro came to Victoria at the tender age of 17 to romance the ladies (“people thought I was a gigolo”) and pursue a career in upholstery. He worked for Standard Furniture, The Empress Hotel (where he was head upholsterer) and Eatons before establishing his home studio. Just from my short chat with him, I could tell that Miro is severely allergic to shoddy upholstery jobs.

Miro Cushion

Why re-upholster?

“Some people look at this chair and think: ‘that’s a piece of shit.’ UM, EXCUSE ME?! It’s hand carved and will last hundreds of years.”

Simple upholstery course victoria BC Miro chair

The Course

“I don’t want to see anybody going bigger than this chair,” Miro says. “If you start too big, you will run into problems.”

He suggests starting your upholstery education with a dining chair, small stool or pillows. Sometimes people end up getting disappointed and frustrated when they find out they can’t work on a big puffy armchair in a course – the kind of work that would take an expert like Miro a whole week and cost around $1000!

“Being an upholsterer is like being an artist, it’s a very creative thing.”

If you need to refinish your project, you have to do it BEFORE the upholstery portion. (Guess what I’m doing this weekend?)

Miro Tools

The Tools

To upholster properly, you’d need all of these tools.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – there’s no way I am personally investing that much when I don’t even know if this might be my last as well as my first upholstery experience.

Miro says you can cheat and start off with a hammer, scissors, flat screwdriver and pliers. The only thing that might be a hassle is finding upholstery tacks – short/thin regular nails can be substituted.

Miro Fabric

The Fabric

“Buy good quality fabric that’s going to last,” Miro says.

You always have the option of using Scotchgard on the finished product as well.

Join us!

If you can’t make it this time, there is also an April course.

Special thanks to Reb Stevenson from THE LIFE NOSTALGIC for her coverage of our new upholstery course!

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If You Build it They Will Come…

Marilyn – Fairy Godmother of The Makehouse

Although The Makehouse is still a very new fixture in Victoria, our space has already been enhanced by some very generous and enthusiastic souls!  Some might call them fairy godmothers, others would say they are angels, but one thing for sure is that we are so lucky to have these people in our lives!

It all started with the first article that appeared in the Times Colonist, which led to the telephone ringing several times with delighted Victorians offering their sewing machines, fabrics and haberdashery to help set up our studio.  I met with several people in person, including a stop in Chemainus for tea to meet a lady called Bea who is now sadly unable to sew due to arthritis in her hands.  Bea told me that when she saw the article she was so delighted that she finally had the answer to what she could do with the contents of her sewing room!

Before + After
Moving in Day September 1st and Now!

The article also led me to get to know Marilyn Vallance [pictured above], the first godmother to The Makehouse. Marilyn [a lifetime seamstress and crafter and serial networker] began to bring round very useful equipment and materials to the studio including ironing boards, fabrics, patterns and so much more.  Marilyn continues to bring happiness [and small gifts, which are sometimes edible] whenever she visits and will soon be teaching a workshop in rug-hooking!

Shortly before moving into our Fort Street shop front, I exhibited at the Vancouver Island Mini Maker Faire held in North Saanich. It was there that I met our next godmother Dela Wilkins – a nurse, knitter, sewer and lifecare coach.  Dela has been very generous in her donations of both useful equipment, materials and books, but also with her time. In fact Dela has also given her time by running the ‘Stitching Parlour’ sessions to give me a chance to travel to a family wedding!  Here’s what Dela says about The Makehouse…

When I first met Jenny at the Maker Faire, my first thought was “Wow, what a great idea”. My next thought was “How can I support this, in every way?”

As a lifelong sewer, who also knits and crochets, I have often been asked to make things for others. My usual response is: I will help you make it. We would work on the project together, either at their home or in my sewing studio. It was a great way to visit with friends or get to know new people. When I lived in a small rural Ontario town, this was comfortable, as I knew everyone. In a city, this is more difficult.

Everyone has the ability to learn how to make things. What most people lack is the confidence to do it alone or for the first time. The Makehouse offers a welcome space for people to work on projects together until they gain confidence.

Dela Wilkins – February 8, 2013

More recently we’ve been awestruck at the love shown to us by Ed George. Ed and his wife were previous tenants at 833 Fort Street for over 15 years as Angela Fashions. They ran a bridal shop together, which was based in Oak Bay for many years before.  Ed came to see me just before Christmas to deliver the sad news that his wife had passed away. He later told me that he would like to bring over some of the materials from her sewing studio. We are now housing an immense collection of patterns, beads, feathers, silks, art supplies and the list just goes on and on. We are so grateful for Ed’s generosity and for sharing his wisdom and stories of their life in business together in Victoria.


We’ve also had random donations from excited souls including the ladies from Satin Moon [our neighbours] and some of our students who just can’t help sharing! I still can’t believe how lucky we are to have so much support in such a short while. With our 6 month anniversary coming up on Friday March 1st, I want to say thanks again to Bea, Dela, Marilyn, Ed, my mother and father [who has helped with so many of my handy man needs on visits to Victoria!] and all of you wonderful people who have helped to make my dreams come true!

What a warm welcome back to Canada! I am truly touched.


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Swap into Spring – March 6th

Closeup of ladies clothing on hangers.


You might not believe it but spring is really around the corner!

Are you hoarding tons of clothes that you never wear? Sometimes you fall in love with a dress but only wear it a couple of times before deciding it’s just not your style anymore. After all, styles and trends change so quickly; who knows what you’re going to like a few months or even a year from now. All of those unworn clothes start to take up precious space in your closet, but just throwing them out isn’t an option. So how do you clean out your closet AND find new clothes to add to your wardrobe that you WILL wear?

Come to The Makehouse SWAP INTO SPRING Clothes Swap!

March 6th, 2013
Time: 6pm – 8pm
Place: The Makehouse, 833 1/2 Fort Street
Facebook Event:

Here are a few swap rules…

Guests should arrive at 6pm for set up. Swapping will begin at 6:30pm once we’ve laid everything out.

Each garment that you bring is worth one token, which can be exchanged for something else. It’s a one for one concept that makes for easy swapping. Please bring your own shopping bags to take your new loop home!

If you pick it up and try it on first – it’s yours. This rule has always worked in every swap I’ve been to. If you love it too don’t get green-eyed – just get over it and find something else! There’s always plenty of clothes to go around!

We ask that everyone label their clothing by size [this can just be a paper or tag pinned to each garment [safety pins please!]

All clothing should be clean and free of stains, holes, or major damage. It’s true that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but no one wants to be stuck with actual trash.

Please if possible drop your garments off in the days leading up to the swap as this helps immensely with the setting up.

We hope to see you there!

Please note that the swap is potluck so please bring along either something to drink or some nibbles.

Leftover clothes will be upcycled in workshops or donated to charity.

This event is free, but we are looking for a few volunteers to help set up and clean up!