amanda browndiy projectstextilesUpholstery Basics

Upholstery Inspiration: Crewel Chair

by Amanda Brown

If you meet me here every month, or have upholstered furniture before, you know that even the smallest project can turn into a labor of love, requiring hours of time and producing blisters and callouses. So what is it about upholstery that drives us to spend our wee hours of free time stripping, hammering and stapling away on a piece we pulled out of a dumpster? For me, history, textiles and restyling often pave the way for a spectacular transformation, turning a piece of trash into a useable, personal and handmade artifact. Starting today, we’ll sprinkle some upholstery inspiration into the Upholstery Basics series to see how textiles and styling choices can work hand-in-hand with craftsmanship to produce heirloom pieces. — Amanda

Photography by Mel Cole

The full post continues after the jump . . .

This story begins with a handmade crewel bouquet. In the summer of 1973, my mom spent every day for three months stitching each petal and leaf by hand. Her father had been hospitalized with cancer, and her handiwork became busywork for the hours spent near his bedside. She also told me that those three months of looking down turned into a nasty neck crick that nearly landed her in the emergency room!

I’ve been eyeing this piece for years, contemplating a connection between my craft and my mother’s. Meanwhile, I’ve been collecting other crewel art to upholster a set of chairs at my dining room table. When the set is complete, I imagine dinner parties with my guests and the ladies who created these art pieces in spirit.

The artiste in 1973, age 17.

The chair came from an interesting fellow whose warehouse (and my treasure chest) outside Austin City Limits is stacked 3-high and 100-deep with antique furniture. Unearthing this chair was like playing furniture Jenga. For over a year, I’ve been saving this chair for a special project, so it took some finagling to get it out of the Spruce storage shed. I love how Spruce has become my personal scapegoat for furniture hoarding!

And then the labor of love: spring tying.


Edge roll.


Fabric and my sign of concentration revealed: my tongue.

I chose a neutral chevron weave by Robert Allen to add texture without distracting from the main attraction.

Disassembling the artwork.

The construction of the chair makes it the perfect time capsule. The outside back is framed and protected by chocolate mahogany.

Building the structure.

And padding the inside back.

Double welt cord as the cherry on top.

Design Tips

  • Use an old quilt, your favorite childhood t-shirt or a canvas painting to make your own upholstery time capsule.
  • Line fragile textiles with a sturdy fabric for added durability.
  • This treatment is perfect for chairs whose backs face the audience, but not so perfect for those that sit against a wall.


Want the full step-by-step? Check out these Upholstery Basics posts:


Coordinating fabric: Peaking Out by Robert Allen

Suggested For You


  • It must have been tough to cut your mother’s embroidery, but the result is so lovely. What a beautiful and touching way to incorporate your mother’s art into yours. Stunning!

  • beautiful and so special. I love that you honored this piece in such an original and artistic way!

  • That chair is STUNNING. I would buy a set in a heartbeat. It’s a gorgeous piece and what a beautiful way to honor your mother’s work.

  • Really lovely! I often see needlework in second hand stores and have wondered how to appreciate them in a modern way. This is a respectful reuse.

  • I was also 17 in 1973. By great coincidence, I embroidered a very similar project as part of my junior year Fine Arts display in a downtown vendor’s front window. I placed the floral design on a long sleeved, cuffed tunic in linen, all across the bodice. I still have it, just can’t part with it, remembering the hours of work and the window display that made me Queen for a Day. You’ve given me a great idea for reusing it. Thanks so much.


  • I so love this story. I have rescued these crewel pieces for years, sometimes sadly letting them sit in the thrift store, hoping they get sold. But the beauty, the time! And to see one used so beautifully and appropriately here on a gorgeous chair and to honor your mothers work.. geez, it gives me goosebumps!

  • Great Idea! Lovely chair! Have you thought about writing up the story that goes with the chair and attaching it to the bottom in a fabric envelope? Or the fabric envelope could be a giant “hangtag” that hangs off the chair so guests can read the special story.

    Or you could typeset the story on the computer, then print it to printer fabric, then attach to bottom of the chair.

    I have a lot of counted cross stitch items that never got made into anything. Maybe I could patchwork them together and do something like this.

  • I have an identical, and I mean literally identical crewel work on a stretcher that I found in a thrift shop on Cape Cod. Same colors, knots, and design.

  • I decided to become a creweler a few years back. That lasted for about, oh, one project. I’ll give it to you for one of your chairs. : )

  • Rhonda,
    What great ideas! I think I will use one of them!

    I have the other half of the artwork saved for the matching mate to this chair. So yes! No piece will go wasted.

    Thanks so much for the lovely comments!


  • Amanda is such a gifted young woman who eagerly shares her passion for design and structure–a true visionary!
    I highly recommend her fun and engaging classes!

  • Who better to give a treasure to than my daughter, she can take something that has been a certain way for say…40 years and look at it, examine it, dismantle it, and turn it into a piece of magic that generations before and after will touch there chins, look at each other, and shake their heads at the amazing transformation. I am so proud of you and so blessed that now you are not only my daughter, but my friend !

  • Thank you for sharing this. I have a number of things like this from my family. Some almost 100 years old. Such a nice way to share a treasure

  • Frankly, It’s the first time I saw a crewelwork being made as upholstery on the furniture. I’m impressed. Wonderful!

  • It is lovely. I never knew how those high seats were done. I have upholstered several chairs and a couch but none had the high seat area like that. It’s very interesting how that is done.

  • This is so freakin beautiful I can’t stop looking at it. The personal history is icing on the cake.

  • so brave of you to take something so sentimental and personal to your mum, but with such a beautifull result, it proparbly means even more now….like an ever evolving heirloom!! love the idea of a timecapsule upholstery!!!

  • You have a great talent. I would love to do the reupholstering of a old chair. I love the fact that you were able to find just the right chair for that wonderful work of love your mother made, and that you kept, and remembered. My only comment is that I would have loved to see a bit of the color reflected in the trim on the front of the chair, it just is so plain jane, and just a touch of red, blue, purple, any of the wonderful colors would do. Just my idea.

  • This is Beautiful! We are on the same thought process!
    I upholstered a “story’ chair. I took all the different fabrics used through out my home and patched them together to form my chair fabric. On the back of my chair I incorporated a cross-stitch pattern my mother made me years ago,( after we moved from our home state of Wisconsin). It sits in my foyer and I always receive tons of complements! Would love to show you a photo!

  • This is amazing– I have my grandmother’s lacework; you’ve inspired me to use those– thank you.

  • It really is cheating to use the needlework of another person, whether it’s your mother’s or not. As a needle work crafter, I would not be pleased to have my work cut up and ruined. My aunt did the needle work on 12 dining room chairs ,all by herself. They turned out beautifully.

  • Tam, Have a heart. How better to honor her mother and her work of art than to add it to something she enjoys doing. I must add, it is beautiful! It gives me inspiration to attempt to recover 2 antique chairs I picked up at a moving sale. Thanks for sharing your beautiful and treasured artwork.

  • This is so beautiful it made me gasp – and your story makes it all the more beautiful. I feel that if your mother had known that years down the line she’d have a daughter that would share her artistic point of view and would cherish her beautiful work, it would certainly have lifted her spirits at a hard time in her life. Thank you so very much for sharing this.

  • Love this chair and the hours of work that went into it, in 1973 and again now!!!
    years ago I sent you great folks an email asking for some info..I remember the wonderful response and the great help you were..you deserve my respect and admiration and best of luck for your future!!