Monday, August 1, 2011


A Femme's Guide to Improvement: Sprung Seating

You know those sofas and armchairs that have amazing bodies or upholstery and you can’t understand why someone put them on Craigslist for free or why Goodwill is selling them for $20 instead of the $80 they should really be? (It’s Goodwill. It should never be more than $80.) And then you take a closer look, and everything looks fine, and then you sit, and suddenly realize that everything is not fine, and the reason this otherwise-awesome specimen of design is dirt cheap is that there’s a spring poking into your ass, and that’s why they can’t give it away, much less sell it?

Fear not! You, too, can re-tie springs.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Heavy twine/string (use spring twine, if you can find it; thick kitchen string will do if you can’t)
  • A large, curved upholstery needle
  • Decking (this is what that thick fabric that goes under sofa cushions is called; if you can’t find it, canvas or denim will do. Burlap won’t substitute well due to the loose weave, so don’t even try)
  • Upholstery thread or button twine

You might also need:

  • Additional horsehair/cotton padding
  • Burlap
  • Springs (8 or 9 gauge, matching whatever length is already in the furniture)
  • Spring clips
  • A hammer
  • Nails/upholstery tacks

Most of these things are available at hardware, upholstery, and/or fabric stores. If you’re having trouble sourcing anything, guess what? Internets. There are whole sites dedicated to this, as well as things you can score on the cheap via eBay.

Your sofa or armchair may already have a big gaping hole in it from the spring poking through, in which case hey! Skip this step. If not, you'll need to do one of two things. For a seat that has removable cushions, you'll want to cut the stitches holding together the seat deck (this is what the actual seat is called) from the upholstery fabric, using either scissors or a seam ripper. For a piece with a fixed seat — no cushions, padding inserted between the seat deck and the upholstery — you'll want to either tear all the fabric off, if you're planning on reupholstering, or, to save the fabric, go into the crack between the seat and the back and, using a staple remover or flat-head screwdriver, separate the fabric from the furniture frame, leaving it attached at the front of the seat. Next, just peel back the padding and assess the situation.

If you need to put in a new spring (i.e. if one is missing or broken), you’ll fasten it where the old one used to be by nailing down two or three spring clips, and then inserting the coil. Easy peasy. Next, you’ll need to anchor your spring twine: Nail two tacks into the frame, then wrap the twine around them in a figure eight, knotting it in place. You’ll either need to repeat this on the other side of the frame, or use the old twine, which should still be there. Now take a look at the old springs to see how the tying works: It’s basically single knots holding the coils together and a little compressed. Look! Here’s an old picture with very neatly-tied OCD professional-type springs to make you feel inadequate.

And here’s my version.

As long as your springs are tied together and anchored to the frame so that they stay perpendicular to the base of the frame, you’ll be fine. No one’s gonna see this anyway, so whatever. Our little secret. Take advantage of this moment to vacuum all the interesting stuff that’s accumulated inside the base of your chair or sofa. (Mine had dog hair, dust, and two bones.)

Next step: Replace any missing horsehair or stuffing, if you need to. The burlap goes down first, then the horsehair or cotton stuffing, and another layer of burlap. This is what will keep the springs from poking your ass again, assuming your knots hold. (Shhh, they will, don’t fret.)

Now thread up your needle because you’re almost done! Stitch the new decking in place over the old one, like a big patch, using a basic overhand stitch. You might even get away with using the old decking, like I did.

Toss your cushions back in place, or go crazy and, um, install a fixed seat. (Spray adhesive! Seat foam! Batting! Half a cowhide! Staples! Tack strips! More on this later!) Invite people over, watch as they freak out, and be impressed by yourself.

Previously: Overhead Lights.

Lucia Martinez reads too many old poems and tries to be a lady.

43 Comments / Post A Comment




@Clare his name is boswell


I am totally in awe of your skills.


Oh my god, I'm drooling over that last shot of the living room with the couch. The slate blue! The egg and dart molding! Fuck, I wish I had money/could move/had design sense.


@Riff Randell

Where do you see egg-and-dart molding?!?


crotch knots?


@amusedgirl exactly.


@Lucia Martinez Those kegels will get ya!

Tuna Surprise

Are you in Manhattan? If so, where are you getting your supplies?


@Tuna Surprise I'm in brooklyn, but I usually get my supplies by wandering around the fabric district. most of these came from an upholstery joint on Fabric Row in south philly. I'd walk around in the area from 38th-40th sts between 7th and 9th aves and look for signs.


I want to know how to make a fixed seat! My awesome gold velvet sofa needs one.


@QuiteAimable on deck (pun intended!)


I've always wondered how to do this -- thank you.

(and my dog has that same pornographic West Paw chew toy!)

Lily Rowan

WOW. Can we be friends?


@Lily Rowan I am always on board for more friends.

Lily Rowan

@Lucia Martinez I promise it's only partly so you can show me how to do shit.


This reminded me of one of my favorite shows...




@kitten_witawip holy effing shit these are hilare

Sunny Marie@twitter

I remember the first time I tied springs…. Wanted to punch babies. But the good news is that once the spring tying is done the rest of it's (usually) smooth sailing. Looking forward to more of these!


Ah! So excited. Boyfriend and I have several chairs to reupholster/repair.

Tragically Ludicrous

Oh man! This makes me wish I didn't live in weird Dutch student housing and had a place to put a couch.


Yes! I am prepared to view all the lovely/crummy couches at the junk shops through new eyes.


"You know those sofas and armchairs that have amazing bodies or upholstery and you can’t understand why someone put them on Craigslist for free..."

yes, they're filled with bed bugs.


@becky@twitter Yeah, I was just thinking that. Someone was getting rid of an (apparently) beautiful rug a few blocks from me yesterday and I thought "Oooh! Free rug!" And then I thought "Eww. Free rug."


@becky@twitter I won't even take books of the street anymore. Sometimes I'll see massive reference books and my heart goes zing! zing! zing! and then I remember that everything on the street is full of dirty dirty bedbugs.


@Ophelia @leon.saintjean remember when we could all go to the movies without fear of bringing something home with us?


@becky@twitter @Ophelia @leon.saintjean well obvi don't take things off the curb. and no, no used books because I know too many people who've gotten bedbugs from books. however, having put my own stuff on craigslist for free many times, and never having had bedbugs to give to the people who took them...use your gut.


@becky@twitter One of my neighbors had a bunch of furniture outside his/her walkup with a sign that said "FREE FURNITURE--HAS BEDBUGS". Uh? (also hoooboy do I need to stop using this account)


@Lucia Martinez i believe that there are honest people out there, but the bed bug thing scares me too much to take their free crate & barrel items.


@Lucia Martinez Wait, you can get bed bugs from buying used books!!!?? dksoidkd this is not okay. I didn't even know to be afraid of this. I have a serious amazon/half-price books addiction.

But maybe I'm still okay because I live in the midwest? I feel like the bedbugs aren't yet that bad here (I don't know anyone in real life who has ever seen/been plagued by them). Can bedbugs survive the mail? What about in the winter.

helen pearson@twitter

@becky@twitter Your fear of bedbugs is understandable, but I think the point is DIY projects like this require some work and research if you're working with a vintage piece of furniture. I wouldn't waste time on a beat up POS from crate & barrel, bed bugs or not.


you are like a gorgeous macguyver. you have upholstery needled my heart.

wait...that's gross, huh? damn.


@brad true story: as a teenager, I wanted to be a surgeon.


Hello. My friend


Dedi cated service, the new style, believing you will love it!!!



thank you!

This whole post is amazing and I want to lick it like ice cream. I wish I had a big enough apartment/budget to do stuff like this, because it seems SO satisfying.

(It's not like I've ever had dreams of quitting law school to learn how to reupholster furniture)


@S. Elizabeth fun fact: the whole project was $350, including the new leather for the seat. the sofa was 250 on ebay, so...you never know!


@S. Elizabeth I'm not quitting law school, but I'm seriously considering not being a lawyer. dfgjkhdkajadkjk

@automaticdoor We should finish law school and start reupholstering stuff. Who needs to pass the Bar when you can make old couches look amazing?

(I'm kidding, I swear. I would need to redo a lot of couches to pay off the loans)


@S. Elizabeth At this point, I think I might take the couches.

happy go lucky scamp

I have one half of a couch which has a broken slat on it. (bestie and I may have been standing on said couch singing karaoke)
Is it lost forever?


@sparkles hm...would have to see a pic (ineedamakeover at gmail dot com). you're talking to a girl who thinks nothing is ever irrevocably lost, as far as furniture's concerned.

Judith Slutler

Damn, damn, DAMN. If only you had written this column back when I had an awesome old burgundy chaise lounge that started to go downhill in the springs department. I left it on the street and probably some femme lesbian who knows how to do this shit picked it up and fixed it and made it into the centerpiece of her perfect living room.


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