Overground moquette reupholstery

A Mid-century Modern armchair gets a London Transport makeover

Peter Collins

A few years ago, a local friend Clare moved house and in that process donated a chair to me as she didn’t have room for it anymore and because I might have already started nattering on about wanting to do an upholstery course.

My chair. Ripped leatherette and wood in need of repair.

So ripped and forlorn it sat in my living room for a while until I finally signed up to a daytime upholstery course at my local adult learning centre. I went along, chair in tow, to my first class thinking it was a perfectly simple project to begin with. My tutor Jan’s reaction was to look at the chair, hesitate, then tactfully ask ‘have you not got a padded seat dining chair to do instead…?’ But I didn’t, so on I went with my chair.

The cover was the original leatherette (or should that be “pleather”?) but sadly as you can see from the photo, it was badly ripped and also the ribbing around the edges of the seat were pulling in. So new fabric was definitely required. I’ve been obsessed with London Underground moquette fabrics (a mix of wool and polyester) and so decided to try my best to get hold of some to use. Somehow the 1960s/70s design of the chair matched the retro styling of the Overground line design (below, designed by Wallace Sewell) which was brand new at the time and hadn’t even been launched on the network by the time I had a few metres of it under my bed.

I had worried that getting hold of the fabric (in any design) would be an issue with licensing from TfL being a concern (they have their own range of products for sale via the London Transport Museum shop), but in the end I discovered the producers of the fabric and bought enough for the chair as well as some extra for cushion covers and received the moquette without any problem. On showing Jan the fabric in class, her doubts continued. The fabric is super thick and, on testing, actually proved too much for the standard sewing machine which just wasn’t powerful enough to punch all the way through two layers of it. Good job I wasn’t yet ready for that until the following term so could busy myself on other things and worry about it later.

The first ten sessions were taken up with the following steps: stripping the chair of the nasty and dark varnish and applying teal oil to bring out the colour of the wood veneer; making a calico cover to test out the dimensions (which I think I got right first time); and replacing the insides with new fire-resistant foam.

By the start of the next term — where I took the afternoon class which was an hour longer than the previous term which definitely made things progress faster — the learning centre had invested in an industrial-strength sewing machine so I could go ahead with stitching without many hitches. It also had a helpful diagram showing a tortoise for the slow setting and a hare for quick (I’ve accepted that I’m definitely a tortoise when it comes to sewing machines).

Found images of the same style of chair in better condition. Credit: Unknown

After only a few false starts, I completed the chair with enough time left over to also recover an old piano stool in the contrasting priority seating moquette which I’d also bought.

Annoyingly, I was prevented from continuing with the course as they began to restrict registration to people who hadn’t signed up before (as they only received funding for new, not returning, students). But it was so worth doing. I absolutely love the results of my time at the class; and sometimes just find myself staring at it fondly before snapping back to reality.

Still need to get on with making those cushion covers though. I have so much fabric to use up.

The finished chair, and my first reupholstery project.
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