A Femme’s Guide to Improvement: Sprung Seating

by L M

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.