I recently completed a one-of-a-kind upholstery project for Socorro, a women's retail clothing boutique in Santa Barbara, California. Socorro happens to be my mom, so this upholstery project was especially dear to me. When I asked my mom if she had a piece of furniture I could upholster with African indigo, she brought me this large bench seat. Originally the chair was covered with floral tapestry and had a floor-length skirt that hid the blonde wood legs.
As design often goes, there were some changes to the project from the original plan. When I draped the chair with vintage African indigo, I decided African indigo would not be neutral enough for the boutique. Socorro needed something that had earth-tones rather than a crisp blue and white textile for her Santa Barbara shop. The shape of the chair and the legs informed me that this mid-century piece was perfectly suited for mid-century African kuba cloth textiles. My mom agreed.
I'm not an upholsterer, but I decided to prep the fabric for the fellow I work with on upholstery projects. To prepare the African kuba cloth textiles, I opted to remove the hemmed edges on the pieces that had them. In the photo above you can see how I removed the kuba cloth hem from one side and pressed it open to lay flat. My upholsterer was concerned about ironing or steaming the kuba cloth, but since it is made with palm leaf fibers, I knew it should steam into shape like raffia does when hats are made. As you can see, steam-ironing the African kuba cloth worked beautifully.
After I removed all the hems from the African kuba cloth pieces, each one was ironed flat. I then put the kuba cloth textiles on the cutting board and straightened out the edges for sewing. I should mention that this particular African kuba cloth is nick-named kasai velvet. This term came about because the pile of the organic fibers is cut short to resemble velvet.
Since the chair was going to be placed within an active retail store environment, I took the extra step of reinforcing the cut edges of the kuba cloth textiles. I used a heavy, fusible interlining along each of the cut pieces of kuba cloth. The gray backing seen in the photos is the fusible interlining. I then overlocked the edges to help prevent unraveling of the kuba cloth textiles over time. I should also mention that this project required nine small kuba cloth textiles.
In the photos above you can see what the reverse-side and the face of the kuba cloth textiles looked like prior to upholstering. The three pieces of kuba cloth that were joined became the front of the chair where your back would rest. The solid color fabric sewn to the kuba cloth was used for "seam-allowance" for my upholster. I wanted to make sure he had plenty of fabric to tuck under the seat back. If I had more African kuba cloth textiles available at the time I would have used more kuba cloth instead of solid-color upholstery fabric.
For the back of the chair, I had one large kasai velvet kuba cloth that had fringe. Rather than trim the fringe off, I used this decorative detail from the kuba cloth as a novelty way to finish the back of the chair. Both my mom and I were very pleased with the results.
My upholstery man probably could have done the work I did to prep the kuba cloth textiles. But since the chair was for my mom, I did not mind taking on the extra work. If you want to see this kuba cloth chair in person, feel free to stop by Socorro in Santa Barbara to check it out. While you are there you might find something beautiful to wear too. And if you are looking for kuba cloth textiles, please visit the Morrissey Fabric on line store here or MorrisseyFabric.Etsy.com