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New Item at the Etsy Shop!

I made a batch of wedding ties recently and decided to make a few extra for the cherbertshop on etsy (and one for Joe too.) Check it out here!

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And stay tuned, I’ll be talking about those wedding ties along with a tutorial for a DIY kid’s bow tie very soon.

My Trial and Error Ottoman

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I really wanted a brand new ottoman for our livingroom. We wanted to add more seating to our tiny space, but a chair with a high back just seemed like it would feel too suffocating. So I thought an ottoman would have been a good solution since its low height would feel less imposing. As usual, I had a very specific look in mind, but was having trouble finding what I wanted for the price I wanted. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I could make what I wanted for the fraction of the price.

Originally, when I first set out to tackle this project, I had intended to make this a DIY tutorial for the blog.  I had never built furniture before (let alone upholstered furniture) but I’m usually really good at figuring things out and I was sure I’d be successful.  And yes, I did end with success, but I made A LOT of mistakes along the way.  So instead, this post will be more of a documentation of my process, rather than a step by step instruction manual.

I got most of my supplies from diyupholsterysupply.com which is just a wonderland of everything you’d ever need to tackle a DIY furniture project.

My first step was to build the frame for the ottoman.  I got a few pre-cut two by fours from Home Depot and roughly attached it with some wood screws.  It didn’t have to be perfect since the whole thing would be covered with stuffing and fabric.  The important thing was just that the dimensions were correct.  I decided to go with a 24″X28″ frame since that was the smallest standard size in stock at diyupholsterysupply.com.

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The next step was to attach the seat springs.  Unfortunately this is where I encountered my first hiccup.  I bought the 20 inch zigzag springs,  but the opening in my frame was about 21 inches wide (a 2X4 is narrower than 2 inches).  I made up for that by adding extra strips of wood to the inside of the frame to make it narrower.

Also, I was too cheap to buy a spring stretcher and thought I could improvise with what I had around the house.  This was a big mistake because attaching zig-zag no sag springs is way harder than it looks.  They come bent into a half circle that you have to straighten out across the frame.  Maybe its because I have very little upper body strength, but they are VERY hard to stretch and have really strong resistance.  I ended up using this complex system of locking pliers and slowly tightening a C-clamp to attached them (nailed in with spring clips).  Also, DEFINITELY wear safety goggles for this portion of a project like this.  The springs have a tendency to fling into the air if you are not stretching them properly.  I was dumb and caused myself a lot more trouble than I should have.

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Anyway, they were eventually attached successfully after many hours and very much sweat.  Next I tied twine across the springs to act as sort of a stabilizing element.

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I bought my upholstery fabric from Mood in the city.  Their lower floor is just full of amazing upholstery fabrics.  I bought this beautiful, heavy, mesh-backed, basket weave fabric in pale grey.  I love the texture and it totally matches the mid-century vibe that I was going for.  I thought that something more clean and modern would balance out some of the more traditional pieces I already have in the space.  This was the intuitive part or the project for me, since I have tons of experience with fabric and sewing.  I sewed together the basic shape of the ottoman, making it so that the foam would fit inside nice and tightly.  I also left one edge open in order to stuff it later.  Another note is that I used upholstery thread which is much stronger than standard sewing thread.

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The piping was made from cotton cord wrapped with extra fabric cut on the bias.

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I also had covered buttons custom made from the fabric I bought.  3G in the fashion district (NYC) is a great resource for this and their prices are very fair.

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Next I wrapped the wooden frame with sheets of bonded Dacron, attaching it with staples.

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I also covered the big block of upholstery foam with Dacron using spray-on foam adhesive.  Apparently this gives the cushion a smoother look.

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Then I started stapling the fabric to the frame using the same stretching technique that I would use for stretching canvas for a painting.  You want your fabric stretched tightly and evenly.

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how to stretch canvas

I was also too cheap to buy an upholstery staple gun (which seems to shoot finer staples.)  I just used my regular $16 staple gun with standard staple gun staples.  I seemed to work just fine!

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Note: the spring side of the frame is facing towards the fabric.  The springs are what support the cushion.

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This is what the other side looks like.  That hollow sack will house the big block of upholstery foam (I used medium firmness foam).

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This next part required a little muscle and patience again.  Since the fabric was sewn to allow a tight fit for the foam, it took a little doing to get that thing inside there.  I found that it was important to reach my hand inside and smooth the Dacron as I went along – and especially when I was finished – since it had the tendency to buckle and cause a lumpy texture.

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Then I hand stitched the open edge, again using upholstery thread.  The piping was finished by tucking the ends into the seam.

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Once the fabric is properly in place and sewn up, it was time to attach the covered buttons.  I had to buy a special, extra long upholstery needle for that.  I needed one that was long enough to reach all the way through my foam so that I could tie my thread nice and tight.  Adding some tension to the buttons gave it that minimally tufted mid-century look.

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Next I flipped the whole thing over again and attached a dust cover using my staple gun.  I stretched this in a similar fashion to stretching canvas as well. Even though it is unlikely that anyone would ever look at the bottom side of the ottoman, adding the dust cover hides the messy look of the springs and just gives the piece that professional touch.

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OK, so here is where more mistakes happened.  Originally I had planned on using vintage mid century wooden legs that I bought from ebay.  I had re-finished them and added brass caps and they were beautiful!  They came with hanger bolts and were to be attached with T-nuts that I had installed when I made the frame.

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It worked just fine before I added the fabric, but there were a bunch of problems with this when I finished.  The hanger bolt / T-nut combo was a little too thin and slight of a guage for an ottoman of this size, it just didn’t support the weight of a person all that well and probably would have been more well suited for an end table. Also I placed it much too close to the edge and the staples and fabric got in the way.  It did not allow for very even attachment and made the legs very wobbly. So scrap that idea.

Instead I decided to go with a plate mounted chrome leg.  They were much stronger and still had that clean modern look – and they were affordable.  I had to cut away some of the upholstery to screw it in properly, but you don’t even see it when it’s attached.  I don’t love this look quite as much, but it works for now.  In the mean time I’ll keep my eyes open for more vintage legs on ebay.  Maybe I’ll find a nice plate mounted gem that will have the look I originally wanted.  Fortunately this is easy to swap out at any time.

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And here’s how it looks in our livingroom!  I was mad at my mistakes and my perfectionist self was not totally happy with it, but I like it more and more as time goes on.  Joe is also just amazed that I made any sort of furniture at all. I guess it’s not too bad for my first try.

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Fiddle Leaf Fig Update

Other posts in this series: Part 1

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of requests for updates to last year’s fiddle leaf fig tree post.  So I’m happy to say, the tree is still doing quite well!

To sum up, here’s a quick look at the growth from last year.

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It was extremely gratifying to see it thrive under my care!

So what has happened since then? Not a whole lot actually, but there are still some fun things to share about.

September marked the last of the growth for 2013. Pretty much as soon as Fall arrived, it had entered into Winter dormancy.  At this point I already felt that it had outgrown its pot, but decided to wait until the next growing season to subject it to the trauma of re-potting.

When March rolled around, the days were getting longer, and the growing season was fast upon us.  I decided this was the perfect timing for re-potting.  As you can see from the photo below, my little tree had not changed at all since September.

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So how did I know it needed to be re-potted?  Honestly, I would have re-potted it whether it needed it or not, but there were a few possible clues.  First, proportionately the plant just seemed way too big for the pot. Secondly, whenever I watered it, very little water seemed to absorb into the soil and tended to drain right through into the dish.  That was a clue that there might not be much soil left – most of it was probably taken over by roots.  This hunch was supported when I took a peek at the bottom of the pot.  Tons of roots were growing through the bottom of the drainage hole.

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Anyway, I went ahead with the re-potting. The root situation that I saw confirmed that it had become root-bound.

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Look at all those roots!  I think if I had left it much longer, it would have choked itself to death.  When re-potting, its important to loosen up the roots a bit before transferring to the new pot.  Even with more space, it will continue the habit of growing in this tight knot and choke itself.  Loosening up the ball a bit will help it to grow outward again.

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Also, a note on the new pot I used.  I bought this gold metallic glazed terracotta pot from Anthropologie. Unfortunately it didn’t come with a drainage hole which is a big problem for fiddle leaf figs (they don’t like soggy roots.)  So I simply used my power drill with a masonry bit to drill a hole into the bottom.  Worked like a charm!

Less than a month after repotting, rapid leaf growth began again. It may have already started in earlier in March, but the buds were covered by flaky brown husks so I didn’t notice.

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I let it grow happily for about a month longer, but decided to do some pruning again in late April – once again, in order to encourage branching.  Here’s a photo of the poor thing after I chopped its head off.

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I decided to propagate the severed top again.  This time I gave it a longer stem than I did in my last post so I was able to fill the rooting cup with more water. This is way better because I don’t have to check on it and refill the water quite as often.

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Today it’s been about a half a month since I pruned.  The cutting still does not have any roots, but that always takes at least a whole month.  The main plant is doing great though!  It already has 3 new leaf buds! One growing from the main stalk, and two growing out of leaf armpits which will eventually grow into two new branches! Hmm, I’m sure there must be a more technical term than “leaf armpits”…

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Keep checking in for more updates!  I plan to keep adding photos to this post throughout the summer =)