In the past few weeks I’ve had a few customers with the same problem. They loved a vintage fabric I had, but ti wasn’t quite enough yardage for the reupholstery project they had in mind.
It’s not the first time I’ve run across this. But rather than give up in despair, let me share two ways to make your upholstery project work even when you don’t have enough yardage.
Upholster 18th Century Style
When I say to upholster 18th century style, I don’t necessarily mean with chinoiseries, elaborate damasks, or trimmed off in gimp — though I LOVE those looks.
What I really mean is to embrace limits and still get the job done, especially when it comes to period restoration pieces. There will ALWAYS be limits when it comes to authentic vintage fabrics.
But trust Lady Virginia when I say that across the board, from fiber, to weave, to inks, to printing, to finish, the fabrics of the past are of such a superior quality compared to today’s short chain fiber growth, cheap inks, and flat digital printing. If you can use a vintage fabric, even in limited quantities, do so.
And here’s how.
In the 18th century, when world trade and consumer goods were expanding at a mass scale, “middling” class and wealthier consumers sought out fine fabrics — silks, wools, linens, and printed cottons. But proportionate to today, those fabrics were astronomically expensive.
To save cash, even in the wealthiest households, furniture was often only “faced” — that is, they put fashion fabric on the front of the furniture, and cushion tops, while upholstering the backs, cushion undersides, and even legs, in a plain weave linen in an undyed color or a matching color.
In our time of cheap abundant fossil fuels and underpaid, outsourced labor, while fabric can still feel expensive, it is proportionately so much cheaper than in the past. So while cost might be less of a factor today, access to authentic period fabrics is the bigger challenge.
Next time you eye that Mid Century chair re-do, 1970s flower power explosion for your teen’s headboard, or floral chintz for a grandmillennial comfy chair, fear not if there’s not enough fabric. Simply plan to cover the front and cushion tops and do the rest in a plain or matching linen, wool, or cotton.
In the 18th century they didn’t only do this if the furniture was against the wall. They were perfectly wiling to let the plain back be the plain back, even in the middle of a room. It was 100% culturally acceptable and not a faux pas at all.
With that in mind, if faced with limited vintage fabric stock of a fabric you simply must have for your project, now you too can say that your upholstery project was done “in the 18th century style…” and tell your little nugget of decorative arts history to those curious about your two-tiered upholstery choice. Tell them Lady Virginia said so!
Here’s a chair I had reupholstered in my beautiful 1950s French Gladiola fabric by Brunschwig and Fils. There’s more of that stunning piece available here on my Etsy shop.
Eclectic Vintage Fabric Combos
Wendy Conklin of Chair Whimsy is famous for this. Though she doesn’t specialize in the more sustainable and authentic look of vintage fabrics, Conklin still sets the standard for daring and style! I’m a big fan! Her stuff is great, she’s being wildly creative, and she shows that mix and match works both in the same chair, and in unmatching upholstery in matching chair sets!
This guide from Southern Living can help get you started with pattern matching so that when you dive in to that upholstery project with limited quantities of fabrics, you can make it work and come out with a finished piece that’s one-of-a-kind and a heirloom for your family!
Personally I still recommend reupholstering period pieces in fabrics from their era. In other words, a Mid Century chair or couch getting actual Mid Century Modern vintage fabrics. But other designers and makers disagree and do whatever suits them, and who am I to say no?! I stick to period, but I also encourage personal style and creativity.
Even Anthropologie agrees with new pieces, like this chair:
Same Goes for Pillows
My taste in pillows has always been for there to be a different fabric on the back than on the front. I save the front for the money shot fabric — something bold, unique, exciting, or special. On the back I use a complimentary color in a much more low key look. So I’ll do the front in a fun barkcloth, the back in a linen. Or the front in a colorful Indienne and the back in a tone-on-tone damask. I also LOVE trim!
Again, this stretches both my fabric budget in terms of quantity, but also in terms of expense. A pricier fabric out front, a cheaper one playing the background notes. That way I can also make more pillows to sell from the fashion fabric, and switch up a variety of backs, to build a fun upcycled vintage fabric pillow collection that’s not the same both coming and going.
(Same concept for totes and bags — mix and match!)
If you’ve got a furniture restoration and reupholstery project on your mind, or pillows or bags you’re making for your upcycling business or for gifts, here are a few of my vintage fabric collections that can help you do it in authentic period style using real vintage fabrics and stretching them to get the most bang for your buck.
- Mid Century Modern Fabrics
- Flower Power Fabrics
- Traditional Fabrics
- Grandmillennial Style
- Geometric Fabrics
I hope this helps you get that upholstery job done more strategically and creatively and gives you a story to tell to boot!
— Lindsay Curren, Lady Virginia Vintage Fabrics