In July of 2017, one of my regular clients challenged me with a new project. “Tatiana, can you make me a window seat?”
Of COURSE, I said yes…and I panicked…and I researched…and I paused to explain to my parents what Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube could teach me (did I mention I was sitting at their kitchen table in Eastern Pennsylvania on the eve of my mom’s successful back surgery?). I digress…
I grew up helping my parents recover their dining room chairs, sewing sheers for the windows, and even making my own curtains. As a high school art major, I discovered a love of Claes Oldenberg and soft sculpture, so have enjoyed playing with textiles, foams, and sewing. But a window seat? With a zipper? This was a great challenge and one I felt I could master with enough education.
Anyway, I was glad I had recently invested in a new iPhone as a flurry of text, pins, sketches, and research occurred before I returned to the North Hills of the Steel City. My client lined up her contractor and we agreed to reconvene once I had some foam samples in hand.
My background in Industrial Design gave me enough knowledge to be dangerous, but I needed to explain densities to my client in a tangible way. Our local textile store is a JO-ANN Store, so I read every label on every foam on the floor, then cross checked on several upholstery and foam sites. The best foam for an upholstery project seems to be determined by the use and the preference of the user. As this was a wooden window seat, and my client envisioned a comfortable spot to meditate and enjoy her music, we needed a durable cushion that would provide and maintain its shape. I steered her in the direction of “HD” or High Density Polyurethane Foam. This is the familiar “green” foam used in many upholstery applications, and in the case of JO-ANN’s, it is made by Airtex and conformed to the California Bureau of Home Furnishings Fire Retardant Code 117-2013. I went foam shopping and we regrouped in my living room for a session of “let’s learn about foam!”
My client has a musical family and envisioned this room being used by all of them. So she brought her daughters with her to “test” the foam. We made a circle on the floor and tried the 3”, 4” and 5” foam samples I had purchased, while acutely aware that foam is priced by length x width x height. Compared to fabric, this means that you pay more for thickness, so while some projects are a function of space, some are a function of price. As comfort is subjective, I wanted to choose the most comfortable cushion for their needs, despite a recommendation of 3” on many websites. While we all had a blast with the 5” foam, we realized that it was not needed and settled on the 4” foam piece. It compressed nicely for everyone without them sinking to the floor, and it worked well with the space available between the wooden seat and lower edge of the window sill.
Now that the “guts” were decided, we needed to create the look of the room. She had fell in love with a pillow she had found at Target featuring a medallion, and had selected a palette of white, beige and Wedgewood blue to complement the pillow. We both searched in stores and online for a few weeks, then she stumbled on a great find: several matching Threshhold brand tablecloths on sale at Target. She bought the entire assortment, as we were both unsure of how far we wanted to go with the décor in this room.
At this point, my “soft sculpture” experience had me excited for the project, but I knew I needed to go back to basics to construct the base and a removable cover for the window seat. I had envisioned a cover that would be removable, with the possibility of maintenance with a hand wash or dry cleaning. I knew that eating was unlikely on this perch, but I would hate for this to be ruined by a spilled mug of tea. This lead me away from stapling and hard base bottoms, and lead me to many Pinterest sites! The jewel I ultimately found was a family-owned company called Sailrite and their informative YouTube videos. They even have a Sailrite Fabric Calculator that I continue to use on many projects to estimate the yardage required for these bigger projects. The other resources I found to be useful were several books on upholstery by the Singer Corporation. The books taught me the terminology, so I was able to communicate better for online searches and when asking questions on Facebook forums.
I waited for a dry, sunny day and took my giant slab of foam out to the garage. As you can see in the photo, my rectangle had to be cut to a point on one side, and I had to attach the remainder to the other side to create a long trapezoid – longer than any slab available. When you attach foam like this, there is a process of gluing it together, as well as wrapping it with a layer of quilt batting to keep it all tied together. This would allow the shape to exist even when the cover was removed for maintenance.
Once I had my shape, I double-checked it in the space and then used the measurements of it to construct the cover. The tablecloths were a great resource as I was able to find one long enough without any seams, and I had plenty to create the bias tape needed to create the “welting” (or cording, please see photo) around the perimeter of the top and bottom plates. The plates and welting came together quite easily, especially once I realized I could use my zipper foot to get a snug seam.
My next challenge was the zipper construction. I had been feeling pretty confident about zippers lately, as I had replaced and repaired quite a few in the first months of my business. I could almost do a pair of jeans in my sleep and while I realized this zipper would be the longest I had ever dealt with, I assumed it would come together easily. Luckily, I realized I wasn’t visualizing it correctly before I started cutting anything, and I ended up watching the Sailrite video about 3 times! As any visual learner can attest, you have to have it “click” for you, then you wonder what the drama was about! I had my “A HA!” moment and proceeded to create the zipper in the boxing strip with little issue – what a great video!
As the window seat came together, my client called in a panic – her oldest offspring had offered their home for photographs before the Homecoming Dance, and she also determined she needed more pillows and a piano bench upholstered! The “watch and learn” project intensified with a real deadline, and I blew through the rest of it with the deadline looming. We opted not to make the pillow cases removable, selected pillow forms the same size as the existing medallion pillows, and I reupholstered the piano bench in less than an hour.I also ended up with alterations of her offspring’s dress and we pulled it ALL off with time to spare!
So, can I make a window seat? The answer was YES! I learned a LOT. I solved it. And the best part? My client still sends me photos every time she rearranged her pillows. I have a whole series of photos! It’s her favorite spot in her new home and she LOVES it! I think we can mark this project as…