Alabama Chanin DIY Series: Heart Chair
We’ve teamed up with the DIY experts of Alabama Chanin to bring you a series of homegrown projects. Over the next six weeks you’ll learn how to make some of our favorite Alabama Chanin pieces—from bath mats to totes.
If you are familiar with Southerner Natalie Chanin, designer of Alabama Chanin, you know that her intricate garments are not only beautiful but hand-sewn by Alabama locals. What you might not know is that she offers workshops to teach experienced and aspirational sewers alike the same techniques she uses in her own work. This past summer, I had the pleasure of participating in one of those workshops. What I found was not only the sharing of sewing techniques but the sharing of ideas and stories among an eclectic group of women—a high (yet slow) fashion sewing circle. Undeniably, gathering women, all with threads-in-hand, makes for good story-telling, and camaraderie. Maybe you’ll use this series for just that.
While on an extended visit to my home in Florence, my dear friend and colleague Eva Whitechapel spotted a few old chairs with broken seats and decided to repair them using cotton-jersey pulls made from fabric scraps. Later, my partner, folk artist Butch Antony, expanded upon Eva’s idea, reweaving the seats and also decorating the chairs in different ways, such as painting, stenciling, or carving inspiration words and sayings or important dates into the wood. And now they are a part of our home collection. Because two friends brought this project to life, I like to call these Friendship chairs.
This Heart Chair was the very first chair made by my friend Eva. Found on my Grandfather Perk’s back porch, the chair is a much loved part of my family and home today. The chair seat was stenciled using our Hearts pattern with dark red spray paint while the back was woven with white cotton jersey pulls.
Follow instructions for the Woven Farm Chairs (or Friendship Chairs) below to make your own chair with our Hearts stencil.
Pull, weave, and sit.
- Ladder-back chair, with seat removed
- About 44 yards of cotton-jersey pulls, each pull at least 1 ½” wide before pulling and 8” longer than chair seat’s width
- Large crochet hook (size D or larger)
- Garment scissors, for cutting pulls and trimming after weaving
Note: Additional supplies needed will depend on the condition of your chair and what kind of decoration you want to add. Following are some possibilities:
- VOC-free paint (without volatile organic chemicals)
- Paintbrush Stencil
- Metal wire (we use 17-gauge electric-fence aluminum wire)
- Wood carving tool (such as craft knife, utility knife, pocket knife, or Dremel)
- Needle-nose pliers with wire cutter
- 4-penny finishing nails
- Jute twine
- Leather shoe string or ropes
- Choose Chair and Repair If Needed
If you’re handy, it’s fine to choose chairs that need repair. If you’re not, start with stable chairs.
We gather our chairs from thrift and antique stores, friends, neighbors, and even the side of the road, so they are often old, delicate, and unstable. Butch takes them apart and, using wood glue, metal wire, and sometimes leather shoe strings or ropes, puts them back together again. If the chair we’ve chosen is rickety, he stabilizes it by cross-wiring the legs using wire, cotton-jersey pulls, or twine.
- Decorate Chair
To decorate the chair’s back, seat, legs, or arms, we favor painting, stenciling, and carving. When painting, we use standard VOC-free house paint applied with a paintbrush. Sometimes we paint a stencil on the chair back and/or carve words or special dates in to the back of the chair.
- Prepare Cotton-Jersey Pulls
So that your woven chair seat will be strong and durable for generations, we recommend cutting your cotton-jersey strips at least 1 ½” wide (measure before pulling them). Usually we just mix up the cotton-jersey scraps on hand, selecting colors to create a pleasing pattern. But I also like to cut pulls in one color family and then add on startlingly different color as an accent.
- Prepare Seat’s Warp
In weaving, a series of warp threads is first attached to the loom from front to back, and then weft threads are woven side to side through the warp threads to create the fabric. In this project, the chair’s seat frame serves as your loom, and a warp is made out of cotton-jersey pulls, as follows: Starting at the front rung of the chair on the far left or right, make a double knot, leaving a tail. Position this and all knots on the bottom of the chair rail. Working from one side of the chair to the other, wrap a cotton-jersey pull tautly (but not tightly) around the front and back rails to create parallel rows, leaving about ½” to ¾” between each row. Continue until you reach the opposite side of the chair, attaching new cotton-jersey pulls and using a double knot as necessary on the front or back rails. Our double-knot method calls for leaving approximately 6” at the beginning or end of each cotton-jersey pull, which creates “fringe.” If you want a fringe in a spot on the rail that’s wrapped but not knotted, simply tie on a short cotton-jersey pull at that point.
- Weave Seat’s Weft
To complete the chair seat, weave cotton-jersey-pull weft threads under and over the warp threads that you just attached as follows: Double-knot your first cotton jersey pull at one end of a warp rail (that is, one of the chair’s two side rails), then weave the weft strip over one warp strip and under the next, repeating this process until you’ve crossed the entire seat. Knot off at the end of the warp row, or, if your cotton-jersey pull is long enough to weave back across the seat, do so and knot off on the warp rung where you started, leaving extra length for fringe, as in Step 4. Once you’ve woven the first two rows, the rest will be easy.
If necessary, use a crochet hook large enough for your cotton-jersey pulls to pull the warp strips through the tight places and for packing the strips into the warp. Follow the directions in Step 4 for ending your pull strips and double-knotting them to finish.
- Tie Knots at End of Fringe and Trim Fringe
I like to tie knots on the ends of my fringe warp and weft strips, and I vary the pattern in every chair. After tying a simple overhand knot at a uniform point on each strip, I trim the fringe just below the knot.