Making Chair Cushions Pt. 1

Now that my rattan sectional was refinished I needed to address the issue of cushions. I needed six new pieces, three seats and three backs. I knew this project was going to be a lot of work so I wanted to be sure I used a good density foam that wouldn't get flattened and out of shape over time. I don't want to have to redo this a few years down the line. I chose a furniture grade foam, 5-inch thickness for the seats and 4-inch for the back cushions. I ordered mine online from eBay (sorry I can't remember the source, it was a few years ago.) The foam is the most expensive part of the project. Try to find it on sale or look for a discount online source like I did. Mine cost about $80 if I recall correctly. It came in big slabs that were rolled up and wrapped many times with plastic. I made the mistake of opening one of them, even though I wasn't ready to use it yet. The foam had been quite compressed and upon opening it the thing sprang out like a jack-in-the-box! It also had a fairly strong odor since it's a polyurethane foam. If I ever need to purchase foam for cushions in the future I'll seek out a greener soy based foam. It took a long time for the odor to dissipate. I ended up leaving the stuff on my porch for several weeks, where I could have the windows open, instead of bringing it into the house.

After calculating the size each cushion would have to be I was ready to do the cutting. In the fabric stores I've seen them use an electric knife. I had enough extra foam to experiment with so I tried that first. I didn't like the result. It left a jagged cut that was less than desirable. Next I tried a serrated knife and I found that tended to catch and also leave a very uneven edge. Finally I took a very sharp boning knife. I found I could carefully drag it across my cutting line in one smooth motion, cutting about an inch deep per swipe. Being careful to hold the knife exactly vertical I made several passes until I was all the way through. I ended up with a nice smooth cut that was much preferable to the other methods.

The next step in making cushions is to wrap them in a Dacron batting. Batting helps round out the edges of the foam and makes the covers fit nicer. I used a 1/2-inch thick batting. You'll need a spray adhesive that is made specifically for foam. I used a product called Camie 313 fast tack upholstery adhesive which I found in the upholstery section of my fabric store. You'll want to use it outdoors or in a well ventilated area like a garage. Don't overlap the batting or you'll end up with big lumpy areas on your cushion. Caution: If you get the stuff on your fingers anything you touch will stick to you. My fingertips looked like little fluffy balls of batting when I finished.

You could, at this point, just go on to make your finished covers. Since I knew I wasn't going to be making mine right away I wanted to protect the batting with a muslin undercover. I also knew my final cushion covers were going to be zippered so that I could remove them for occasional cleaning. I was afraid the batting would be too fragile to hold up if it wasn't covered.

I used a simple box construction to make the muslin liners, much the way you would sew a tote bag, using one piece of muslin per cushion. Here is a basic tutorial for a tote bag that shows how to do that. I calculated the finished cover to be exactly an inch smaller than the actual cushion because I wanted a nice tight fit to avoid wrinkling. I used my serger to sew the seams to ensure there would be no raveling. After squeezing it onto the cushion I then just folded and hand-stitched the open end closed using a simple overcast stitch. As you can see the muslin is nice and tight and the cushion edges are smoothly rounded from the batting.

My cushion is just slightly wider than the seat of the chair because when the three sections are together I wanted them to fit without any gap. As you can see in the picture below I could have sized to fit inside the rim of rattan but chose not to. You'll also see that I've covered the sinuous springs with a piece of canvas that I stapled on. The old springs are a bit rusty and it also helps protect the finished cushions from impression marks. I've noticed that one of the seats sags more than the others so I may be replacing the springs on that one eventually. The last photo is a pretty accurate depiction of the actual nice golden color of the restored rattan.


I've brought you up to date on where I now am with this project. I've been narrowing down fabric choices for the outer covers. I'm leaning towards a natural color, much like the muslin. When I get that figured out I'll be ready to start sewing. I have a feeling it's going to be a slow process. But, like I've said before, I'm so ready to get this checked off my long overdue project list. If anyone has any helpful tips they've learned sewing zippered covers, or links to tutorials, I'd love to hear from you. Have a great weekend!

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