How not to shop for fabric

Remember this chair?

striped chair

Sadly, it looked like this through all of winter.

Back in February when I finished Will’s desk and tasted the sweet victory of a small finished project, I was all on fire to tackle this chair.

Although the blanket solution for a truly horrible chair cushion (ugly, stained, and ripped) is a little too starving-college-student for us, we actually kinda liked the look of the blanket on it. We became enamored with the idea of finding a thrift store Grandma-afghan to make into a proper cover for it.  We’ve seen it done all over the place for pillows, and we thought it would make a warm, cozy covering for the chair.

sweater pillows from Katy Elliot

(pillows from katy elliot; you can click on image to see her post on making them)

We loved the idea of bringing some vintage handmade goodness into the room, and the cost of those blankets (we’ve found them from about $6-$12) is much less per yard than most fabric.

I also thought it would be a much easier DIY solution that reupholstering the cushion. I could make the cover with some simple straight seams, avoiding piping, zippers, and all that jazz.

We had a great time hunting for the right blankets, and we have quite a nice collection of Grandma-afghans now…

vintage blankets

…but we ran into a little problem with that idea. After months of looking (and buying blankets on speculation), we never found one big enough to make covers for both cushions. I’ll spare you all the possible variations on the idea we entertained over the months; the bottom line is that we decided it was a no-go.

Then we finished painting the living room and re-arranged the furniture, and it was suddenly spring, and we just couldn’t stand the blanket thing one minute longer.

At Ikea for something else, I found some cushion covers. A good-enough temporary solution, I thought, and I scooped them up. So now, the chair looks like this:

rocker with cushion slipcovers

With a carefully positioned pillow, it looks OK. But move that pillow, and you see this:

rocker with too-short slipcover, front view

And from the back, it’s even worse:

rocker with too-short slipcover, back view

I told you that cushion is truly horrible.

The Ikea cover is just a tad bit too short. However, I really like the idea of the covers. They are simply pillow cases with ties, and even I can sew something like that. We like the look of slipcovers; they are just fine for our informal space.

Sewing cushion slipcovers reignited my fire for this project (which had dwindled to embers), and last weekend was the time I’d planned to find the perfect fabric.

The best laid plans…

Long story short, I couldn’t get to the fabric store this weekend. Kids, Easter, gorgeous and rare spring weather. It just didn’t happen.

football with will and rita

We took the kids to Portland for the day on Saturday. We explored a cool old cemetery, hit the food carts for an afternoon snack, and played football in the park.

easter egg tree

Early-morning Easter sun shining on our ficus, decorated with eggs my Grandma made back in the '70s.

I was OK with that. Everyone else had school on Monday, but I had the day off. I was going to give myself a good couple hours to go someplace I’ve long wanted to visit:  Fabric Depot.

Others have told me about the goodness contained within this warehouse-sized fabric store. (Most recently fellow-Portlander Sarah Tetrault at Go Gingham, one of my new blog reads.) According to their website, they are the largest fabric store in America. And their motto is “respect for the home sewer.”

fabric depot

This is just the quilting section!

And this is where this week’s Wednesday post falls all apart.

No cool solutions. No easy tutorial. No great photos.

If you caught our new About page on Monday, you might be thinking we’ve got things pretty together. That even though we’re still learning and growing, we’ve got a lot of things figured out.

I mean, those beliefs we listed sure make it sound like we we’ve got solid principles to guide us, even if we don’t know everything we want and need to know right now.

But having beliefs and acting from them? Two different things. 

That whole day off?  It’s not as long as it seems, and there was that About page post to finish, and taxes to figure (still not done!), and some housework we didn’t finish because of that gorgeous weather, and…pretty soon I was almost entirely out of time.

computer screen

And that’s where I left all my principles behind and did everything I knew was wrong.

Even though I knew I didn’t really have enough time to do what I wanted to do there, I went anyway. I didn’t accept the choices I’d made earlier in the day and I chose to cram in more than was possible. I did this even though I knew it would likely leave me feeling frustrated and unhappy with how I’d spent my time off.

Because I was late, I rushed there. I knew I’d only have about an hour in the store, but I wanted to get started on that chair. I needed it done, right now!

I rushed around the store, trying to see everything. It was overwhelming, even though I confined myself to the home decor section. There was so much to look at.

The more I looked, the more I realized I didn’t really know what I wanted. There were about five different possibilities I liked, all of them wildly different.

I snapped photos of them all, knowing I might want them for this post. (In my rush out the door, I did remember my camera.)

I told myself that if all those different possibilities were viable, it meant I wasn’t ready to buy.

But I wanted to buy, dammit! I want my chair done! Yesterday! And this store is a fairly good drive from our home, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back there this week.

The clock was ticking…

I finally decided to buy a solid-color fabric. Not nearly as fun as the prints I was considering, but our living room is already a bit of a riot of color. A solid chair cover would allow us to have more fun with blankets, pillows, and art.

living room toward stairs

And I wouldn’t have to wait and come back later. But which color? A beautiful burnt orange? A deep grey? Maybe teal?

In the end, I settled on a gorgeous gold fabric that I really loved.

gold fabric

Bummer about that? It wasn’t on sale. I’d found lots of other things on sale, but this one was spendy. (Too embarrassed about how this ends to tell you how much.  Haven’t even told Cane. Just, a lot.)

I told myself that I could splurge on the fabric, because the chair itself was only $5. That kind of rationalizing is always a sign that I’m going off the path I know is right.

But off I went because I wanted my chair done! And anyway, I only needed a yard, because upholstery fabric comes on those long tubes and has more width than the usual bolts.

So, in violation of several of our beliefs, I grabbled that bolt, had my yard cut, and sprinted out the door with about 30 seconds to spare before I’d be late picking Will up from school.

But, wait a minute…

Driving, I had my first big forehead smack.

I didn’t buy enough fabric.

I bought enough to do one cushion, but I have two cushions. That would double the price of this already too-expensive fabric–putting it in a range that I, even in my warped mental state, couldn’t rationalize.


(I try to keep my language clean here, but that was really the only word running through my head at that point.)

I knew I shouldn’t have bought in a hurry. I knew–from hard experience–that buying on impulse, from a place of fear that I won’t get what I want, never works. I’ve even written about it. More than once.

And then I got home and draped it over the chair.

gold fabric on chair


I didn’t like it. It’s beautiful fabric, but it’s just not right for our space. If anything, it’s too beautiful, and it will be too beautiful even after I paint that chair. It just doesn’t work with our style and the other furniture we’ve got.

Well, that made one decision easy:  I wasn’t going to go back and buy another yard of fabric that costs way more than I want to spend.

And, it made another one easy, too: I had been thinking about a simple, dark denim for the cushion covers. I was able to see that would be a great choice–even though it’s not a particularly fun or exciting one. That I could get at our local (and much less fun) Jo-Ann store, and for a price well within my preferred price range.

I sighed. Hard.

And then I decided to look in my camera for the pictures I’d taken, glad I could at least salvage a decent blog post out of this frustrating experience.

Of course there was no card in the camera.

In my rush out the door, I’d grabbed the camera but forgotten that I’d removed the card to work on the About page post.

And then I said a word I’m not going to print, but it rhymes with “duck.”

Many opportunities to learn

Apparently I still need to learn some things about time management and buying on impulse–otherwise the universe wouldn’t keep presenting me with opportunities to learn the same damn lessons. (OK, fine:  No language filter for this post.)

I did go back to the local store, and I found a great lightweight, dark denim. On sale. Spent about $12 for fabric that will do just what I want it to do.

denim on chair

I can return the gold fabric, but only for 50% of what I paid for it. I thought about returning it, but I think I’ll keep it and make some pillows with it. I do love that fabric. Somehow, a little bit of luxe seems OK. Just not a whole chair of it. And the visual reminder of my folly will probably be good for me, too.

I guess we can file this post in the category of Do What I Say, Not What I Do.

I’m taking some comfort in the fact that such experiences are happening on a smaller scale than they used to. Not much more than a year ago I made a similar decision on a whole house. (Luckily, it was a contingency offer and my house didn’t sell, so I was able to walk away from that one unscathed.) I’m glad this particular slip didn’t cost me much in the big picture of things.

How about you?

Got any tales of impulse buyer’s remorse to share? (You know misery loves company!)

Or any great tips on how to sew these covers? It’s been a while since I’ve busted out the sewing machine.

Or how to paint that chair? While we love wood pieces, this one is getting paint.

What color do you think we should go with? I’ve got some ideas, but I’m very undecided.

Your input would be much appreciated!

Until next time, enjoy a beautiful little spring daisy on us, courtesy of the aforementioned cemetery…


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