DIY footstool: Nailing the art of upholstery

CHRISTINA KUNTZ
Last updated 05:00 24/02/2017

Picking the right fabric is key to getting a great footstool.

GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ
The first step - measuring and stretching webbing across the base of the footstool.
GEORGE HEARD/FAIRFAX NZ
Sore fingers are par for the course when it comes to upholstery - but the end result is worth it.

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I am not a crafty person. You know the type – the kind of person who makes their own Christmas cards or carves fruit into flowers or repaints old furniture for fun.

I am not one of those people.

Over the years, I've given everything from pottery to painting a go. The thing is, I'm just not very good at any of it and I don't expect to be any better at upholstery. 

The good news is that the upholstery workshop at the Make Company in Christchurch is designed for "absolute beginners" such as me. All tools are provided and, after two-and-a-half hours, I'll walk away with my very own footstool, so I reckon it's worth a try.

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When I arrive, the instructor, Sally Anstiss, asks me to pick a fabric for my stool. I choose a bright, bold floral print, hoping the busy pattern will hide any flaws.

Four tables are set up in the small but cosy room, with two people sitting at each table. All those attending this class are women of a mix of ages, which Sally later tells me is fairly common.

Her first question to the class is whether anyone has any experience with upholstery – and the answer is a resounding "no". The second question is whether we know how to handle a staple gun. Not everyone does, and it's probably the most important skill of the night, so we spend some time covering the basics.

An assortment of bits and bobs, including wooden frames, elastic webbing, foam, wadding, tacking and feet for the stools, are set out on the tables. 

We begin by measuring and stretching webbing across the bases of our stools for support. 

It's harder than it sounds and most of us stand up to get a better grip and a better position for stapling. The staple guns prove to be our biggest nemesis throughout the night, often jamming or not fully inserting the staple, which means we either have to remove it using a screwdriver and pliers or bang it into place with a hammer. 

There's an awful lot of noise, but everyone seems to be having a good time, and there's plenty of laughter and chatter mixed in with all the banging.

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Next up is attaching the foam and wadding, followed by the fabric – and even more stapling. Sally warns us there's a good chance we'll have sore fingers tomorrow, but jokes that at least there's no blood yet.

"With upholstery, you have to be firm with it and show it who's boss," she tells us.

Pleating the fabric around the corners is tricky, so we gather around Sally as she shows us how it's done. I have no problem with the first two corners, but the last two prove a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, I was right about the floral fabric – my double pleats are far from neat, but the busy pattern hides that well.

As the end draws near, some of us are moving faster than others, so Sally gives us instructions for the final few steps, so we can all work at our own pace. 

Sewing on the button – which Sally has covered in matching fabric – takes me far longer than it should. I blame the thick thread, which is surprisingly difficult to get through the needle. Finally, all that's left is to attach the tacking to tidy up the base and then screw in the legs. 

By now, most people have left and I've gone over time, but Sally tells me there's no rush. She says everyone has their own way of doing it – some people just want to finish, while others want it to be perfect.

My footstool is far from perfect, but it actually looks quite chic, and I drive home feeling rather chuffed about the finished product.

Perhaps, I've found my craft, after all. If nothing else, I'm now a whiz with a staple gun.

The low-down

Cost: $85.

Where: The Make Company, Christchurch

What to bring: Nothing; everything is supplied.

Level of skill required: Beginners.

Need to know: There's a good selection of fabrics from which to choose, but you can also bring your own. 

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