DIY Chair Upholstery: Mid Century Modern + Mud Cloth

Awhile ago, I shared how bold, graphic mud cloth from Mali can work really well as upholstery on sleek mid century modern furniture.

Mud Cloth

Last year I got a few pieces of mud cloth (above), at Randolph Street Market in Chicago and at Mustapha Blaoui, a global style shopper’s treasure trove in Marrakech. See my photos from Mustapha Blaoui for a peek at creative furniture upholstered with African textiles.

For my own creative combo, I decided to reupholster an old mid century modern chair with the mud cloth souvenir from Marrakech. Here’s the old, sad, sorry, peeling chair:

Mid Century Modern Chair

The chair had been buried in the back of our garage for a decade. But no more! Here’s a peek at the finished result, seen in a recent post about how I painted that metallic copper wall in the background:

Mud Cloth Upholstery

Mud Cloth Upholstered Chair

This chair is super comfortable for sitting. I’ve always loved it. I got it for $25 (maybe $50? forget now) about 25 years ago at a big garage sale in Royal Oak, Michigan. I’ve always wondered about the chair’s background. Who made it? The style seems inspired by very famous names in MCM style. When I took the chair apart to reupholster it, the clues were hand-written on the foam:

  • Written on the foam pieces: “Overman Apollo ABS” and “Apella ABS”
  • Vinyl cushion cover tags say “Made by Overman U.S.A., Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee”

When you Google “Overman USA,” many mid century modern chairs show up in Google Images, but none quite like mine. I did find that “Overman International” in Tennessee is the same company as “Overman USA.” Their furniture was produced in Sweden and Germany before moving to Tennessee. At the Overman International web site, they share their original lines of chairs with names like Astro, Comet, Jupiter and Mercury. Apollo would fit right in there, right? So we found the maker. It’s not Saarinen provenance, but I’m glad to know where it was made. I wanted to be assured that I wasn’t wrecking value by disassembling the chair.

Reupholstering Pattern Tips

The chair’s original upholstery was fake leather — “pleather” — that was sticky and squeaky. I thought the mud cloth fabric would look great on the chair, make it more comfortable and less squeaky.

Before removing the old upholstery, here’s some tips that will help you reassemble the pieces later:

  1. Mark the pieces with numbers
  2. Photograph the chair with the numbers, to make a visual map for later reference

Marking Pattern Pieces

After carefully documenting the pattern pieces in photos, I cut the upholstery off the foam. I cut along all the stitching lines, and later when I cut new pattern pieces, I added 1/2″ around all stitching lines for a seam allowance.

There were some strange shapes and pretzel-like configurations, which revealed themselves as I removed the upholstery and the foam. So, marking the pieces with numbers was a smart idea. Don’t ever assume that reassembling the pieces will be intuitive and easy!

You may want to replace old foam with new foam, instead of reinstalling half-century old foam. I re-used the old foam because I wanted to avoid the expense of custom cut foam. My chair is not made of simple rectangle or oval shapes, so all the foam would need to be custom cut.

I took a break to play with pattern mixes – here’s the Mali mud cloth, a Fortuny fabric and Jim Thompson silk from Thailand:

Pattern Mix

If you are using a fabric with lines or a non-random pattern (as I am using with the mud cloth), when you lay out the pattern pieces, be mindful of how the pattern will look on the chair. For example, you want the lines to continue from the back of the chair to the seat cushion. So be careful about how you lay out your pattern pieces on the fabric. Here you can see I laid out the crescent-shaped back pattern piece so it is aligned with the seat piece, so the lines would continue from the back to the seat. Uh, the cat is sitting on the seat. (Of course!)

Mud Cloth Upholstery Layout

Here’s a better view of how to lay out patterns so the stripes continue from the back to the seat:

Mud Cloth Upholstery Pattern Layout

The same pattern of lines also needs to continue on the front edge of the chair cushion that will be visible, around to the bottom of the cushion. Here’s the pieces cut out, so you see how the pattern flows across parts of the chair:

Seat Cushion

Here’s how the pieces will fit together when sewn. The mud cloth pattern is perfectly matched:

Mud Cloth Seat Cushion

For the unseen upholstery on the bottom, I used a plain heavy beige fabric. Yes, you should iron fabric before cutting pattern pieces, but I didn’t, I figured measurements didn’t need to be super precise for this project:

Mid Century Modern Chair Reupholstery Pieces

Here’s all the fabric and foam pieces. I had buttons but decided to not use them:

Mid Century Modern Chair and Mud Cloth Reupholstery


Also, years ago I sprayed faux stone spray paint all over the chair, to cover up scratches. Now I had to scrape off all this fake stone paint, making a huge mess:

Scraping Off Faux Stone Spray Point

Mid Century Modern Makeover

I tell ya, that faux stone spray paint is powerful. It was sprayed on about 20 years ago and was a bear to scrape off! After all this scraping, the plastic chair base was in bad shape. So I spray painted it again. This time, with a simple plain beige spray paint. No more fake stone!

After the reupholstery with mud cloth and a fresh coat of simple beige spray paint, here’s the final result:

Mid Century Modern and Mud Cloth Chair Makeover

Mud Cloth Upholstery Before After

It’s a bold blend of style from around the world, mixed together:

Global Style

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