Learning About Upholstery

6 refinished stools
Finished work

Upholstery is expensive. I’ve learned a few things on my journey – how to refinish teak, how to walk into someone’s place of business and try to sell them stuff, how to get awkwardly shaped large objects into a car without scratching anything – but the advice I’ve heard most is, stay away from projects that need upholstery. It is too expensive.

I like to try things myself, though. Central Middle School had a junk sale a couple weekends ago, and I went to see if I could find something interesting. A flirtatious 70-year-old man wearing a fur coat sold me these 6 stools for $20. A new friend that I dragged along for the day loaded them into the hatchback, and I hauled them home to see what I could make of them.

They started in rotten shape. All of the seats were ripped. All the chrome was rusty. All the feet were loose, scratched or missing. 

I unscrewed the legs and started pulling staples out of the bottom. The staple remover broke immediately. A flathead screwdriver and pliers worked after that.

The first one was easy, but then there were five more. I set up my workstation properly.

Then I got to ripping out staples at high speed. It didn’t take as long as I thought – there was time to grind off the rust as well before I turned in that night. For that I used coarse steel wool. It didn’t take as much sweat as I expected. Most of the rust was just dirt.

So much for prep work. Now I started thinking about what to recover them with. The black vinyl that they came with was a bit boring. Maybe red vinyl? White? 

I had the bright idea of using a grey wool army surplus blanket. That would look cool for sure. It turns out, though, I’m not the first person who ever had that idea. Wool army blankets aren’t available in huge stacks for 5 bucks at army surplus stores anymore.

A, there aren’t any army surplus stores left. B, even if there’s one, they don’t have any wool blankets, and C, even if they do, they’re not 5 bucks, they’re 40. Damn hipsters ruin everything cool.

My next idea was to use canvas. They have canvas dropsheets for catching paint drips at Home Depot for $20, and that’s what I got.

For foam, I expected to pay $10 for a meter or two and cut it myself. Instead, the woman at the foam store insisted on cutting them for me, which was awesome, but the rounds were $5 each. $30 for foam.

Finally, they needed new feet. I thought chunky white rubber ones would look cool, like these. 

I didn’t expect them to cost $5 for each set of 4 though. It didn’t matter anyway because I couldn’t find six white ones in all of Victoria, Langford and Sidney. There were black ones, but they cost just as much, and somehow they didn’t look right. I ended up with vinyl tips that are identical to the old ones that I removed.

The first cushion came out looking messy. I borrowed my dad’s staple gun, which he uses to put up targets at the shooting range. He uses long staples since smaller ones just fall out. For my purpose, they were too long. They won’t sink into the plywood.

It came out looking kinda messy.

I left the extra fabric loose like that and got shorter staples. The next set worked better. With the next five looking good, I redid the first one.

The paper bottom of the stools proudly states that these stools are made in Canada, from all new material. Of course I wanted to keep that. I carefully stapled the paper back on, and screwed on the legs.

Then I stood them up and tried sitting on one. It did an excellent job of keeping me off the ground. Success! Now to check – is upholstery really expensive, or no?

Here’s the cost breakdown. 
Stools – $20
Canvas – $20
Foam – $30
Leg tips – $15
My own precious time – about 7 hours total, if you include driving around to places.

My time is worth about $25/hour when I’m having a good time, so let’s say $175.

That means each stool cost $12.50 in materials, and $29.50 in time. To make that back, I have to sell them for at least $42 each. There’s nothing to do except be bold, and post them up for a price that makes the work seem worth it! Even if I don’t get my price, I learned a lot and I’ll be able to do much cleaner work if I try this again.

The result is a set of slick-looking bar stools that are stackable and have a small footprint – they’re perfect for a tight apartment where there normally isn’t enough chairs for a party. And yeah, I’d say upholstery is expensive! But it may be worthwhile, in the right circumstances.


Blank Walls Stare Back At You

Have you ever looked at a blank wall and thought, there needs to be a punk rock elephant there?

The first page of google images gave me exactly what I was after.


Colour choice was probably the toughest part. Hot pink and lime green were considered, and black with blood red. I settled on the same theme as my bike, Kindergarten Style – blue and yellow.

The exact shade is worth noting. Colours are defined by their hue and saturation. If you’re a web designer, this is something you deal with constantly. If not, think back to middle school art class when you had to make a colour wheel, showing the primary colours, red, blue, yellow, and all the intermediate colours that you get when you mix them up (lots of different types of brown, as I recall). The background of this website, for example, is #424242 – equal parts red, green and blue, fairly saturated, chosen mainly because the number is easy to remember.



You can have blue with red overtones or yellow overtones, and it’ll end up looking either a bit purple or a bit green in bright light. Or you can have a yellow with no overtones at all, and no subtlety either.

Saturation is the other thing – intensity of colour. A lightly saturated (20%) pale pink is good for a baby’s bedroom. An unthreatening, cool shade of blue (50%) for a website header, to promote a feeling of trust from your users.

I chose 100% saturated yellow, and 100% saturated blue, cause I feel that you should do it hard or don’t bother.


  • Paint, 40 bucks
  • Paint tray, found in a cupboard
  • Rollers, 9 bucks
  • Masking tape, 4 bucks
  • Poster printing, 15 bucks



First step: wash the wall. How many years of bacon grease have baked into this paint?

Then, masking tape and three coats of yellow.


The next step took a while. How to get the image onto the wall? My first idea was steal an overhead projector from school for a day and use it to make pencil outlines. That was scrapped when my boyfriend sold his car.

The next idea was to print the image, all 5 by 7 feet of it, on many sheets of 8×11 paper. Then… I don’t know… I guess the plan broke down at that point.

Luckily I have a friend at the Camosun print shop. She pointed out that they have a large format printer. That meant I could print 4 big sheets of paper instead of 56 small ones.

So then it was a matter of getting the file to the printer. For some reason I had the idea in my head that I should Photoshop a massive, 5×7 foot .png version of the drawing. Since my laptop has an excessive 16gb of ram, I could do that.But every other computer I tried choked on it, including the printer’s.

Eventually I made it a .pdf and learned to my shock that .pdf file sizes are way, way smaller. So we’re talking about 2 weeks of hum and haw for me to figure this out. Finally I had these 4 huge chunks of paper that I rolled up and left in the corner of my dining room for a couple months.

I was blocked. I had gone as far as I could on my own and was terrified to take the next step, in case I screwed it up. So I called a friend to come over and help me – at least that way I would be forced to actually work on it.


The friend was more talented than I. We cut the stencils in half an hour. Arranging oddly-shaped ribbons of paper to lie flat on a wall is the sort of task that brings me to tears of frustration. But Suzanne managed it without much trouble – I just passed tape as we placed and replaced the stencils about 4 times.


Then we traced them in pencil, which also took a surprisingly short time. I didn’t expect to do any painting that day. I thought there were months of work still ahead. But no, we finished tracing and wandered up to Home Depot for sponge brushes (93 cents each), and finished painting in another hour. Shocking.

Here’s the result. Better than I imagined I was capable of. You can see that it’s adjacent to another mural – my brother’s work, from a couple years ago. Now I’ve left my mark in the house as well. When I move out in a few months, some more students will move in and marvel at living in a house where you can paint any silly thing you want on the walls.


I Would Have Sold The Land Years Ago

The landlady will probably sell the place and knock it down pretty soon, but I don’t mind too much.