Sew a Beach Chair Cover

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It's beach season, but my old beach chair was on its last legs, the webbing split and shredding (photo 2). It was not going to make it through even one more summer.

The easiest repair would be to buy a roll of replacement webbing and weave another seat and back, but this seemed like a good opportunity to add a couple of features: simple backpack straps that would leave hands free for other things, and perhaps a hanging pouch for keeping things close by.

I also had an old patio umbrella that was on its last legs (photo 3) and thought I could make use of the canopy fabric—thus, it quickly went from a webbing project to a sewing project (photo 4).

Of course, not everyone has a patio umbrella that is ready to be recycled, so feel free to substitute the material of your choice. Canvas, duck, upholstery fabric, or mattress ticking would all work well. Even a tarp or cheap laminated vinyl picnic tablecloth could be used. As with so many projects, the joy is in customizing and making it work for you and your situation. Consider this a rough template, best used as a jumping-off point for your own improvisation.

Supplies:

In addition to reusing the chair frame and screws, you will need:

    • paper for drawing the pattern
    • 1-1/4 yard of fabric (more or less, depending on your chair—see suggestions above)
    • thread
    • 1 pack extra wide, double fold bias tape (photo 5)
    • a 1/4" eyelet kit (photo 6)
    • 2 x 1" wide strap adjusters (photo 7)
    • roughly 2 yards of 1" webbed strapping
    • a sport zipper, at least 12" long

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    Step 1: Prepare the Chair and Materials

    The old polypropylene webbing was held on with short screws fitted through a metal eyelet for strength (photo 1). The screws are simply removed and set aside for reuse (photo 2)—discard the webbing.

    Now is a good time to clean and buff the aluminum chair frame—I used a paste made from cream of tartar that worked quite well (photo 3).

    Reusing the old sunbleached umbrella fabric meant that it needed to be dyed (photo 4). Most likely you will not need to do this, unless you are painting or dying for decorative purposes. For this particular umbrella nylon, I used a full bottle of dye formulated for synthetics (photo 5) and kept it boiling for 2 hours in order to reach the desired saturation (photo 6)

    Step 2: Draw and Cut Out Pattern

    The covering will slip over the top of the chair like a pillowcase, so draw around the outside of the back of the chair first (photos 2&3), bringing the line inside to run down the remainder of the back and seat. You'll also need to allow for the tabs that wrap around the seat edges and are screwed in.

    Note 1: after drawing the pattern, fold it in half along the vertical axis before cutting (photo 5). This will make the pattern more symmetrical. It also saves time when cutting the fabric, since you can also fold the fabric in half and cut one side through two layers (photo 6)

    You'll need to make a second (back-of-the-pillowcase) pattern by tracing the top half of the chair back. This is an easy place to add a seam allowance (1/2" for me, as the umbrella nylon frayed easily). When cutting, you can lay the two pattern pieces together to give the front piece a seam allowance (photo 7), then cut a separate back (photo 8).

    Note 2: align the length of the pattern parallel to the selvedge or warp threads. Since fabric often comes in 45" widths, it might be tempting to buy less fabric and cut the pattern sideways. I would recommend against this: the chair needs strength along its length, and the weaker weft threads will not hold as well.

    Note 3: fraying nylon can be handled in two ways. The classic method is to run the tip of a flame very quickly along the edge, searing and sealing it. You could also run an overlock or zigzag stitch around the edge to stabilize it. You will also want to seal the backpack strapping, again either with a flame or by turning the edges under and stitching.

    You will end up with two pieces, looking approximately like photo 9, depending on your chair dimensions.

    Step 3: Sew

    Hem the raw bottom edge of the back piece: fold it under 1/4" two times and double stitch in place (photo 2).

    Sew the bias tape around the edges (photo 1). I first tried to be excessively neat and folded the end of the bias tape under (see right side of the upper edge of the chair in photo 3). This turned out to be unnecessary--it is easier and more practical to just cut the ends off.

    When your edging is complete, pin the right sides of the chair top together. To add the backpack straps, tuck two pieces of strapping, approximately 20-24" each (photo 4), into the top center of the seam (photo 5). Stitch around the upper edge of the chair back, forming the slipcase. Clip curves if necessary, and turn right side out.

    Next is the trickiest part—so hard that it required both my hands and some clamps, and I was unable to photograph the process. Slip the cased back, right sides out, over the top of the chair, pull the seat tabs out as firmly as you can, and clamp them in place. Now pull the backpack straps over your shoulders to the front and mark or pin them where they reach your chest. This is where you want to sew your backpack hardware clip to the strap. Slip it through and stitch it closed, preferably with a reinforced X-pattern for strength (photo 6).

    The seat part is nearly complete—you just need to finish off the ends of the chair tabs. Turn each tab under about an inch to stiffen and accommodate the eyelets and screws that will hold the tabs in place. Mark the hem, removed the chair cover, and sew the raw edges under.

    Step 4: Add Hardware

    Measure or mark where you place the eyelets for screws. Making pencil marks along an envelope works just fine (photo 2). For every eyelet, you'll need to make a hole in the fabric (photo 3—I used a leather hole punch, but you can also use an awl and widen it with sharp scissors or work a pencil through).

    Place the bottom part of the eyelet underneath, with the shank popping upward through the fabric hole (photo 3). Next, position the domed cap on top (photo 4), tap with with the set and hammer once or twice, and the eyelet should be set securely (photo 5).

    Make eyelets for every place you intend to screw the fabric to the chair base. I used 4 eyelets for each tab.

    Next, thread the lower part of your backpack straps through the strap hardware and mark the length. I made mine about 12" long. Additional eyelets were added to the strap ends, allowing them to be screwed into unused holes on the chair back (photo 6).

    Step 5: Make and Attach the Pouch

    Now your chair with backpack straps is finished (photo 1). It is possible to end the project here, but a pouch seemed like a practical addition, keeping small items literally at your feet. Unlike the backpack straps, which have to be planned for during the sewing process, the pouch can be added later at any time.

    My chair has a seat height of about 8" (photo 2) so I set the zipper at 7-1/2" from the bottom. I wanted it to open right to left: I am left-handed, and this is the most comfortable direction for me. If you prefer to have it oriented differently, line the zipper up appropriately. I cut my pouch fabric 13" wide (to make a 12" finished pouch) and about 18" long for both front and back pieces.

    Open the zipper up, and sew it to the pouch fabric right side to right side. A zipper foot is helpful in getting the seam right up next to the teeth.

    After the zipper is sewn in, flip your pouch and top stitch it in place. Do this for both sides of the zipper—see sequence in photo 3.

    Note 4: it is possible to work around zipper length to some extent. If a zipper is longer than the desired length, sew it in place and trim the excess zipper to match your fabric width. If your zipper is a little shorter than the desired length, sew tabs on the ends to match your fabric width.

    Fold the pouch lengthwise to the size you want (in this case, so that the zipper is 7-1/2" from the bottom) and sew right sides together (photo 4). Turn it right side out through the top and lay against the chair (photo 5). Trim and fold top edge under (photo 6), then center and mark position with chalk or pins.

    If the top or your folded-over pouch is thick and awkward as mine was, painter's tape can be substituted for pins to hold it in place (photo 7). Then just stitch it to the seat base, and the beach chair is complete and ready to take to the water!

    Note 5: be sure to erase the chalk marks on either side of the pouch! (photo 8)

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