I was definitely off my rocker … (part 1)

Sometimes, my ‘Pfft. I can do that’ blinkers get me into a whole lot of trouble, which leads to a whole lot of work to get myself out of it again. I was definitely off my rocker taking this project on, and many many times I wondered who would win out, the project or me. This was one that resisted transformation the whole way through, and what follows is an upcycling saga of monstrous proportions. So monstrous I have divided into three parts …

My Estate Sale find, and my next project

A couple of months ago, I went to an estate sale. Ah, estate sales, how I relish them them. First round you cast your eye broadly over the whole jumbled mishmash of miscellaneous stuff to see if anything leaps out. If it does you zoom in and check out the price. If nothing immediately catches your eye, you walk slowly around the sale, once, twice, three times (at least) looking carefully for anything you might have missed. At each pass, you make your gaze linger for longer. On. Each. Object. You usually find something eventually. As it happens the platform rocker got me on the first broad eye sweep. I hurried over to see what it cost, and was delighted to see it had $35 on it. Excitement and blind estate sale lust overtook me, and before I knew it I was the proud owner of a very delapidated old platform rocker (or glider to the Americans out there).

What is it about rocking chairs? There is something about that soothing motion of to and fro, it inspires reverie and serenity. The mind wanders, and ideas form and morph. This is exactly the kind of feeling that I get looking at this painting of Edvard Munch’s Aunt Karen in a Rocking Chair:

Edvard Munch ‘Aunt Karen in a Rocking Chair’ 1883

I love the sense of peace and introspection in this work. The way she is sitting with her head down makes you wonder what she is thinking about. Unlike most portraits, she is not looking out at the viewer, engaging them with her gaze. She is not staring out the window, but rather down towards the folds of her dress. We are peering, uninvited, into her private world, like voyeurs. Her hands tucked into her stomach make her seem self contained, lost in a world of her own contemplation.

Munch has painted her separated out from anything else: apart from the gray drapes that frame the window, there is no other decor, forcing the focus onto her and emphasizing her detachment. She sits there, bathed in the soft warm light from the window. Munch teases her to life using gentle smudgy brushstrokes. The background blurs into abstract simplified shapes, but she is more detailed: the white lace at her neck, the black frills on the bottom of her dress, her feet poking out beneath her skirts. The black of her dress merges into the black of the chair and makes them seem one. She is that rocking chair, which gives the painting a sense of timelessness. She will be there rocking gently away, lost in her thoughts, forever.

I owned a rocking chair when my two youngest were tiny. I spent many hours in it rocking them to sleep. It was one of those bentwood ones which look amazing, but take up heaps of room.

Traditional bentwood rocker.

In Sydney’s crazy real estate market, where the only house you can by-the-skin-of-your-teeth afford is extremely tiny, it was hard to justify a space-hogger once the need had passed. So it moved on to another half-crazed sleep-deprived parent of a new born and I have been rocker-less ever since. Given the space over-consumption of my old rocker, I always thought if I did happen to get another, I would go for a platform rocker. Which is why I grabbed this one when I saw it at the estate sale.


It was only when I got it home that I began to get some inkling of what I had taken on. The webbing was gone underneath, and the frame was coming apart in several places.

One of the many places the frame was coming apart

Then there was the small insignificant fact-ette that I had never actually upholstered anything before in my entire life. But I always wanted to try it, so I fixed those ‘how hard can it be?’ blinkers firmly on my face, ordered a couple of books from Amazon, googled ‘how to upholster a chair’ like crazy, and then set to work.

First step was to strip the old upholstery off the chair, right back to the frame.

Starting to strip

Now this sounds easy, right? I mean how hard can it be to rip fabric off a chair? WRONG! You have to carefully remove each individual tack, making sure not to rip anything, so you have a pattern to work from when you cut the new stuff. You have to move carefully so you don’t damage the frame further (although in the case of the upper rail in the above image it is hard to know exactly how much more you could damage it). You have to stop and photograph each layer, so you know how to put it all back together. And it is incredibly extremely dirty. About the dirtiest thing you will ever do. Ever. Which is saying a lot if you are me.

You wear a dust mask and safety goggles and gloves. You are removing who-knows-how-many layers of dust, old skin cells and dirt. It is ‘EWWW!’ enough reading about it, let alone doing it.

Imagine you didn’t bath for a week, then you had to try and catch a bird that had got under your bed, so you rolled around among all the dust balls under there. When you finally catch the bird, it defecates on you out of fright. Reeling, as you stagger outside to let it go,  you trip over and land in the cat litter tray. That just about comes close to how disgusting this stage is. If you have dust mite issues, don’t even attempt this. Just picking the leftovers up and moving them made me sneeze. And I dont have dust mite allergy.

So, up until this point I assumed that the chair was covered in brown fabric. Brown velvet, how very 70s I thought to myself. It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that this was an entirely erroneous assumption!

I thought it was brown, but actually it was blue

After this, the process of stripping becomes even more disgusting, and you start to wonder what diseases you might be catching along the way. You wouldn’t believe what was inside …

Umm … ancient horse hair and straw anyone?

Eventually after a lot of swearing and hair pulling, stomping around and gnashing of teeth, and many many showers with a scrubbing brush and disinfectant, I got it back to the bare frame. The next stage was repairing, so out came the sash clamps (bar clamps if you are American) the PVA glue and the wood filler.

This stage is kinda fun. You don’t have to do a lot to get maximum return. Just apply some glue and tighten some clamps, and when you come back the next day, it is fixed. Note the cardboard between the clamps and the frame. This is so you dont damage the wood. There is enough to fix already without making more. You scrape some wood putty into some holes, come back the next day, and it is hard and fixed. Magic.

Repairing in progress

Next comes the worst part. My most disliked part of any project. Sanding.

Read more:


3 responses to “I was definitely off my rocker … (part 1)

  1. loved it so far–getting ready to reupholster my very own platform rocker! But where’s the rest of the tutorial??

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