A neighbour asked if I would have a go at renovating an old director’s chair, replacing the existing fabric with leather. On the face of it, it didn’t look too difficult a challenge. The slight concerns were i) getting a suitable weight of leather that would bear the weight of a person, without stretching too much over time and ii) getting the width dimensions right so there was sufficient give to make it comfortable. Not too tight so the mechanism couldn’t expand fully but without being saggy.
Leather: Metropolitan Lamport Shoulder in Dark Tan – seat back in 2.0-2.5mm and base in 3.0-3.2mm (after trying 2.0-2.5mm)
Thread: 0.8mm Tiger Polyester Braided thread in Colonial Tan (JK79) with 4mm stitch length
Existing fabric was striped deckchair canvas, ‘repaired’ with heavy duty curtain material! The fabric had certainly seen better days!! But the patination of the wood would be kept Stripped of its coverings, back to the bare bones of the chair A thread swatch was made using the Dark Tan hide so Paul could chose a preferred colour A couple of trial pieces were used to confirm the dimensions of the open pockets. The raw edge of the first trial looked half finished so a stitched rolled edge was tried instead Offering up the seat back to check dimensions and fit Stitch lines could then be marked on the rear of the hide Typical – nothing is ever square!. At least it’s not too far out to be an issue The edges were skived back 18mm to avoid bulking the rolled edges. An additional 3mm was added to the marked stitch lines to provide some curvature to the seat back Getting a neat, straight rolled edge can be difficult on long edges. Marking fold and target lines helps Ahem … I require some attention! Corners trimmed, ready for folding Pre-creasing by running a bone folder down the edge of a straight edge Edges folded, glued with contact adhesive and tamped down Leather conditioner applied prior to stitching To ensure the top and bottom rolled edges were fully stitched around the open pocket ends, it was necessary to use two lengths of thread (starting at opposite corners). Once the full widths had been stitched, the threads continue to close their respective pockets The pockets are closed by passing the inside thread back through an earlier stitch hole and continuing down the closing line Strengthening loops were added, over the rolled edge, to provide addition robustness at the pocket ends The seat back pockets were a very snug fit to the uprights The next task was to make a trial piece to determine the desired width and pocket size for the seat base. Too narrow in this case but the shortfall will just be added to the piece cut for the final version. The same 2.0 to 2.5mm leather for the seat back was used but it was noticeable how much it stretched when sat on. Erring on the side of caution, an additional base was made using a 3.0-3.2 mm hide The stitching of the trial piece was made much harder as it has to be done directly onto the chair, which was trying to collapse at every opportunity! So I decided to investigate whether some dismantling would be an easier option. With a lot of patience the nails securing the side runner joints were removed This allowed the tenon and mortise style joint to be ‘persuaded’ apart and the side runners removed. Much to my relief as it will make things so much easier as the same approach to the seat back can be used – the side runners can be slid into open pockets before being reattached to the chair The pocket stitch lines were accurately marked out, spaced at 128mm (32 stitches) to provide a snug fit on the seat runners. The stitch lines for the rolled edges are less critical but the aim was to have them separated by a distance divisible by 4mm to make an exact number of stitches running down the pocket length Making the cutouts in the side pockets for the supports for the seat side rails Cutout were made approx 5mm oversized to allow sufficient adjustability when fitting The cutouts needed an additional section removed to allow the nails securing the tenon and mortise joints to be fitted once the chair was reassembled The concern was that the 2.0-2.5mm leather would be too stretchy when taking the weight of a person. By making a second base using the thicker 3.0-3.2mm hide, Paul could try each to see which was preferable. The leather used for the unused one would be repurposed to make some long overdue sheathes for the growing collection of leather knives Seat side runners inserted into the side pockets It was decided the thicker leather would be the best option to reduce the amount of stretching over time. However the down side is the seat base is much stiffer so when the seat is in the closed position, the leather causes it to spring back to the open position Clamping the seat side runners in place while the wood glue sets and the retaining pins punched back in to further secure the tenon and mortise joints I decide to made a retaining strap to overcome the issue of the seat springing open due to the thicker leather used. I suspect the leather will mellow over time and the tendency to open will reduce over time. Sam Browne studs were used so the straps could be removed in future if necessary The cut edges were dyed and applied with gum tragacanth before burnishing The retaining strap was mounted discreetly – low down on the back of the chair The completed chair A most agreeable reward for undertaking a fun project!!