DIY… Banana leaf chair: My first upcycling project

At a flea market, I fell in love with a little yellow chair. It was dirty and worn down, but the frame was in good condition. It had this cool midcentury vibe and elegant legs to it. The Swedish seller, with chewing tobacco in her mouth, was a hard one to bargain with, but I managed to get her to drop 40% in price. This way I could afford to buy new fabric to replace that nasty yellow cloth (we are on a budget here!).

The week before that, my 4-yo daughter had been on a play date with a new friend, and the new friend had her own lounge chair in front of the television. I could see by the look in my girl’s eyes, that all she’d ever wanted from now on was such a chair of her own. Isn’t it funny how children from one second to the next can have the deepest desire for something they didn’t even know existed a few seconds ago?

As a mom, I aim to please (most of the time), so I bought the yellow chair for my kid, hoping she would like it.

At home, I got worried that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. How on earth was I going to refurbish the thing? I’d never taken on a project like this and I only had my common sense to go with. Also, our baby was 6 months old at the time, so I had to work around her needs and naps, which meant that I had to take a lot of breaks during the process.

Step one was finding a suited fabric to cover the chair with. I found a lovely fabric by chance at H&M Home. It actually were curtains, with the most lush banana leaf print on it. Despite it being curtain fabric, it was very sturdy and not stretchy, which made it suited for a chair, I reasoned. One has to keep in mind that small butts slide up and down chairs at a sickening pace, so an enduring material is needed, if you don’t want it hanging below the seat after two weeks.

And then I just decided to wing it. I took the chair outside to take that disgusting yellow fabric off. It was filled with cat hairs, and I was a bit paranoid that it also could be filled with fleas (which would have given the term ‘bought at a flea market’ its original meaning back). Fortunately, it was not riddled with tiny creatures, but a lot of dust did come off.

Then, I cleaned the seat and removed the many fabric nails. I kept the ones that were not crooked, so I could reuse them. Pretty nifty, right? I also screwed the back from the seat, which was the most nerve wracking thing during the process, because what would happen, if I could not get it back on?

From our baby’s used baby nest, that she’d grown out of, I cut a cushion for the seat. Then it was a matter of hammering all the nails back in the chair, while trying to keep the banana leaf fabric tightly pulled over the seat. It was easier than I thought, but I admit that I suck at hammering nails in straight. In the beginning I had a failure rate of 50%, but it got better towards the end.

For the back I used the old yellow fabric as a sample to cut the fabric. The back is round, so I had to do a lot of measuring. I sewed the cover for the round back on my sewing machine. I am a relatively poor seamstress. I don’t have the patience or skills to sit in front of the machine for ages. So I had to tell myself many times to take my time, to measure things properly and try to get it right the first time. And mind you, all this time while entertaining a baby too.

But it turned out great! Beginners luck, I think. I had to ask for my man’s help when screwing on the back again (I wish I had three hands, sometimes), and then I could hammer in the last parts of the fabric as well (the fabric from the back had to be sealed at the bottom).

And then it was finished! I am so proud of the result. Not only does it look great, my daughter was very enthusiastic about it as well. That makes it all worth while.

To top things off, I have made a little video about the process. It is also my first produced video, so a lot of new things have gone into this chair-upcycling-process. But it was a very positive experience and it gave me the courage to take on more projects, that I will share with you guys on the blog.