Tack strip, and pli grip and hand stitching, oh my!

This week on YouTube, we’re starting the outsides on Aunt Bea, HOORAY!!!!!!

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In the months leading up to this section, I gave considerable thought to what we should include. I weighed options, and consulted with Amy Oh.

In the end, we settled on one simple, versatile technique: hand stitching.

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Hand stitching is such a beautiful option. So often, as hobbyists, we’re handicapped by lack of access to expensive tools and supplies. In order to do quality work, you need quality goods.

But hand stitching is one of those rare instances where a quality option overlaps with an inexpensive one. NICE.

The main drawback to hand stitching is that it is slow. So if you have more time than money in your DIY upholstery budget, you’re going to be very excited about this video.

(Interesting aside, the first Craftsy class I took was “Sewing Custom Curtains & Draperies.”  with Susan Woodcock.

I remember her saying the same thing about hand stitching curtain panels. How delightful to find that certain high end professional techniques were theoretically available to me at home!!!!! Turns out I kind of despise making curtains – WHY IS THERE SO MUCH FABRIC ON THIS TABLE???????  But taking that class made me a Craftsy fan AND a Susan fan. )

 

BACK TO UPHOLSTERY!!!!!

So hand stitching it is. And I hope you’ll enjoy. . .

But it raises an interesting discussion about how up-for-debate upholstery really is.

It makes learning it an ongoing challenge.

So let’s tease this apart a bit. If there are multiple ways to close up an outside arm/wing/back, how do you decide what to use???

A few factors to weigh and consider . . .

#1. How was it done last time? All other things being equal, this is a solid place to find your answer. If it worked once, chances are pretty good that it will work again, right???? Most of us can figure this option out, and it’s a fairly sure bet, though not necessarily the best bet. Read on for reasons why you might choose not to duplicate what you see.

#2. What does your fabric feel like doing? This is a HUGE consideration – you have to follow your fabric’s lead. Are you trying to line up a big pattern? Is it something that will mar easily if you hit it with a hammer? Is it exceptionally heavy? Light? Slippery? The more skills you have in your tool kit, the more equipped you are to adapt.

#3 What’s the shape and the substrate? Some techniques are better for straight edges, and others for curves. Are you working into lots of wood? Not much wood at all? a screwy, uneven frame?

#4. Your own fluency. I learned metal tack strips and pli grip before I learned hand stitching. As such, I believe I employ them more that an upholsterer who learned hand stitching first. Naturally, I hand stitch as well, but looking at any situation, I’m going to seriously consider what “feels” right. You don’t want to be a one trick pony, but there’s nothing wrong with leaning into your strengths. OR if the situation allows, take the time to explore something new!

Many of our advanced class days in the workshop involve weighing the pros and cons of various equally-acceptable plans-of-attack.

For example, I recently had a familiar Tuesday conversation with Gabrielle from Cotton Seed Designs. She was starting in on an outside arm/wing very much like that on Aunt Bea . . .

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Gabrielle Lindberg, Cotton Seed Designs, finishing up her first attached cushion chairs.

Gabe: I waited to do this part so you could show me again how to do that thing with cardboard tack strip around the corner when the arm and wing are one piece.

Me: Hmmmmmmmm, yeah, you could could do that, but your last project was very square and this one actually has a little bit of curve through the arm.

Gabe. So do you think I should just use cardboard tack strip for the arm, and then pli grip for the wing?

Me: Hmmmmmm, yeah, you could do that. . . . They can be tricky where they come together, but it’s an option.

Gabe: And then what in the front?  Maybe a metal tacks trip?

Me: Hmmmmmmm yeah, you could do that. But you have a light colored velvet, I’m not sure we want to go wacking away at it with a hammer.

Gabe: So what, pli grip along the front as well?

Me: Hmmmmmmmmm, yeah, you could do that.

Gabe: But I’ll still have to hammer it.

Me: I think we can get away with it. I have some tricks.

Gabe: Do you think I should just pli grip the whole thing?

Me. Hmmmmmmmm, yeah, I think you should do that.

Gabe: What other options are there?

Me: You can always hand stitch. . . Although velvet can be really persnickety.

Gabe: I hate hand stitching.

Me: I hate velvet.

It seems that Gabe comes to class mostly to hear me say, “Hmmmmm yeah, you could do that” and so I can try to talk her out of using velvet.

But really, this is what upholstery is all about. Working without a crystal clear set of instructions. Problem solving like a boss. Learning on one project and applying to the next.

So that’s how we try to teach.

To that end, let’s take a look at the most common options for closing a frame. I hope this will help you to problem solve on your own delightfully varied projects!!!!


Cardboard tack strip:

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A 1/2″ strip of cardboard that comes on a roll, or a length. It’s attached by staples or tacks, and used to create a finished edge. Very versatile, can be used in many situations. We used it for the tack band on Aunt Bea.

Pros:

  • Fast
  • Great option for a crisp, straight edge.
  • Inexpensive
  • Relatively easy to master
  • Works well with any fabric

Practical considerations:

  • Since fabric must be flipped back, you can only use it along one edge.
  • Since fabric must be flipped back, it can be tricky to achieve precise, accurate positioning on angled edges, or pattern matching.
  • Though it may be used on gentle curves with some determination, it’s a challenge, and not appropriate for more pronounced curves.
  • Must be fastened solidly into wood frame – can’t be used  over open areas, thickly padded areas, or areas where the frame is “unreliable”

Metal Tack Strip:

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Sometimes made of heavy cardboard, this strip comes pre set with nails. It’s used to close a straight edge by popping nails through, then rolling your fabric and strip under, and hammering down through the fabric. This is one of our more modern and hotly debated closures. (Yes, we like to fight about stuff like this.)

Pros:

  • Fast.
  • Creates a very crisp, straight edge
  • Relatively inexpensive and easy to find

Practical considerations:

  • Must be solidly anchored into frame, won’t work over open areas or thickly padded areas.
  • Corners can be fussy
  • Some fabrics don’t tolerate hammering well, though most fabrics will cooperate with reasonable precautions. (I’d HIGHLY recommend that you use the plastic sleeves.)
  • They DO take practice, and are not terribly forgiving of rework. If, for example, you repeatedly hammer one spot, and your tack strip isn’t positioned squarely, it’s quite possible to wreck the tack strip AND your fabric.

Pli -grip (also called Curve Ease)

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This flexible, metal product is used on outsides to close curved, finished edges, commonly the curved outside wing of a wing chair, for example. It comes as a 1/2″ folded product on a roll. One edge has a hole for stapling to your frame. The other has teeth to grab your fabric. Once it’s stapled into place, you trim and tuck your fabric into the teeth and hammer the edge closed. (personally, I love this product)

Pros:

  • Faster than hand stitching
  • Works great around gentle curves.
  • Not terrible difficult to use, with a little practice.
  • Works well with most fabrics.

Practical considerations:

  • Can be fussy for straight edges, and slower than cardboard or metal tack strip.
  • Must be anchored solidly into frame, can’t be used over gaps or heavily padded areas.
  • Specialty upholstery product that may be a harder to find locally.
  • Doesn’t work well with extremely heavy, light or slippery fabrics. Great for “standard” upholstery fabrics.
  • Doesn’t work well in very tight curves or corners.

Hand stitching

The technique featured this week in our Aunt Bea video, this should be a staple in every upholsterer’s tool kit (no pun intended) It’s a beautifully simple way to join fabric with nothing more than a curved needle and heavy thread.

Pros:

  • Maximum control to position fabric exactly where you want it. Extremely precise.
  • Anchors to fabric, not frame, so can be used in places where other options cannot.
  • Minimal equipment requirements.
  • Depending upon fabric, relatively friendly to rework.
  • Relatively easy.

Practical considerations:

  • Slow/tedious
  • Not all fabrics hand stitch well

Okay, are you ready do see some hand stitching???? Let’s go Reupholster Aunt Bea!!!!


If you’d like to see metal tack strip in action, you can find that technique included in my Craftsy class, “Getting Started with Upholstery.” 

(Craftsy classes are always yours to keep forever – watch and rewatch as many times as you’d like from wherever you are.) Banner 300x250


Class links in this post are affiliate links and products purchased through them will help support The Funky Little Chair in a small-but-appreciated way. Enjoy!! 

2 thoughts on “Tack strip, and pli grip and hand stitching, oh my!

  1. Sharon says:

    As usual, a great read! Can I ask what way you would finish velvet on the side of a chair? I had initially thought hand stitch but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    • thefunkylittlechair says:

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed!!! With velvet, more often than not, I probably would hand sew…. but you do have to be careful because with velvet you can actually push the velvet fibers back out of the fabric, leaving a hole. So rework is potentially tricky. The velvet Gabe was working with was very slinky and springy. I was afraid it would bunch and pull, hence the pli grip decision (plus Gabe is quite confident with pli grip.) we masking taped the pli grip and tried to be very gentle with a rubber mallet. Lesser of a few evils, but it worked great 🙂

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