Before & After: Leather Furniture Recovery

Too Distressing in this state!

Before too distressing in this state!

This is a long story (over a decade) about what I’ve done to refurbish a well made leather sofa, loveseat & chair.  My latest effort was the most dramatic improvement and cost me about $10 in materials.   Hopefully my trial and error will save you some trouble and inspire you!  My process photos are minimal because I was moving quickly to complete this transformation.

After, photo is a little darker than reality

After, photo is a little darker than reality

Over a decade ago I purchased from a thrift store an abused oversized leather sofa, loveseat and chair.  At that time I realized it was a gamble because the leather was filthy but beautifully built,  I naively believed that I could clean it up to be awesomely distressed.  This furniture was made with very high quality Brazilian leather (NOT BONDED LEATHER), lovely thick hides well sewn together.   To clean the leather and distress it, I  unzip all the cushions and washed them in a laundromat /commercial washing machine, yep I put the leather cushion covers in the soapy washing machine, the leather was too thick to wring out in the washing machine alone so I  put them into the laundromat’s big wringer, then into my home tumble dryer. I didn’t dry them completely as I knew I had to stretch the covers back over the cushions.   I scrubbed the body of the furniture, I don’t remember what I used for that.   Honestly I thought I get a least one  piece of furniture out of this project,  I wasn’t sure which pieces would survive my determination to clean them.  All the pieces survived.  My rationale was it’s heavy leather, like a baseball glove and  can take a licking.  As time ticked on all my attempts to clean our numerous abuses, made my distressed leather look TOO DISTRESSING!

Detail of arm before, stains and scratches.

Detail of arm before, stains & scratches galore!

Fast forward 12+ years, to this past winter when I began to look for new furniture but changed my mind because I still have a cat. I just won’t invest in new furniture until I’m pet free. (Kitty is getting very old so I just need to get a few more years out of this set).  I researched ways to refurb the sofas with dye.  All the products available seemed pricier than I wanted.  Somewhere on the web I read that a leather smith used ordinary wood stain to color his/her leather projects and also on the same page many people commented that wood stain wasn’t a good choice for reasons I ignored:).  I also read someone used hair dye!   I found some stain in my workroom and tried it on a small spot and thought OK wood stain is inexpensive easy to purchase dye and might work!

At the nearest home improvement center I purchased 1 quart of Rust-Oleum Ultimate Dark Walnut Oil Wood Stain, a color that was slightly darker than the original brown.  Then I tried to wash the leather with a mix of soap and water  but when it made no difference to the surfaces I decided to go big and fast with an electric rotary sander.  I made a huge mess of leather dust and quickly realized I was at the point of no return.   It took me 2 -3 hours to sand all 3 giant pieces of furniture & cushions, then a quick vacuum and wipe down to prepare for the staining.

The sofas were in my great room & it was early April in New England.  I worked with fans on windows and doors open. That night and for the next several days we shut the heat off, left fans on and windows opened. It took about 4 days for the leather and my house to stop smelling like stain.  Doing this inside the house was NOT A GOOD IDEA, we managed by closing off the rooms and sleeping in our bedroom with the windows open, but this is not a project for the living space.

Approximately $10 of materials: 1 Qaurt of stain $8.50, (rest of the materials I have on hand) 120 grit & 220 grit sandpaper & electric sander, foam brushes, rags, gloves, water, vacuum cleaner,  lemon oil or other oil, vinegar.

Step 1:  Move all the furniture to outdoors or seriously tarp/drape  & ventilate your workroom (I didn’t and that was a big mistake)

Step 2:  Remove scratches and original finish by sanding working from medium grit sandpaper to the fine sandpaper. I was aiming to even out cat scratches and also anywhere the original finish was still obvious (like the backs)

All sanded and ready to stain.

Loveseat all sanded and ready to stain.

Step 3:  Clean up the dust with a vacuum ,  use the water to dampen rags and wipe down remaining dust.

Step 4:  Put on the gloves and thoroughly mix the stain, the pigment will settle so be sure to stir often (I use a bamboo BBQ skewer).

Step 5:  Apply the stain with foam brush and rub it in with rags, keep working the stain into the leather just l like staining a piece of wood, go with the grain, get all the nooks and crannies.  Rubbing in the stain is essential to get even coverage, keep going until all the surfaces are evenly stained.  Some areas will take more than others.  This step took me about 5 – 6 hours.  The leather dried to the touch in about 2 hours.

Step 6:  Next day I was left with 3 huge pieces of renewed but dull looking furniture and plenty of stink.  I tried numerous things to bring back a little luster but ultimately I used a combination of lemon oil and vinegar.  1 part lemon oil & 2 parts of vinegar.  On the web I found a recipe for leather cleaner that was olive oil and vinegar, but I had  about 3 ounces of furniture grade lemon oil so I just added the vinegar to it, shook it like salad dressing then put it onto a clean cloth and it was perfect.  I rubbed the oil/vinegar mix into the leather and it polished  it perfectly.  (I had tried butchers wax first and all it did was stink more and turn white on the surface. The oil & vinegar cleaned up the  white places where I had tested with the butchers wax).

After a few more days of ventilating we began to really enjoy the new look.  Looking back on this project I wish I had done it all in the garage and also wish I had done this years ago because the transformation is remarkable.  For about a week I kept rubbing the surfaces to see if the stain would come off at first I would get a little stain off the surface but soon it dried completely and now it’s perfect.  As I write this I’m sitting on it in a white shift with no worries. I will continue to clean the leather with the oil and vinegar mix.  It smells good and makes the leather look great.  Though I do wish to replace these enormous pieces of furniture because I don’t love their looks or comfort I’m very pleased with my efforts to improve their appearance for now.   When the old kitty is gone these pieces will quickly resell to someone furnishing a man cave vs making them dumpster food.

fashion CONscience, thought – choice – style

FashionCONscience logo

Fashion conscious I’m not, but fashion conscience I’m becoming.   Anyone who has observed me knows that my style would be described as comfortable blah!  So why would I devote time, energy and resources to create a series of assemblages related to fashion…good question?  As an ordinary woman with an organic pear shape,  I know it takes a village to fashionably fit into contemporary society.  Creating these art pieces has caused me to reflect on just how much I adore those who balk at the idea of fitting in.

Fashions from the middle ages into the early 20th century meant men and women we were cloaked head to toe, now in the 21st century inked skin is in.  Trends what are the costs?  Who pays the price for us to reveal our personality through our wardrobes.  Examining my own closet of the ordinary, I realize how much I desire to simplify and lighten my moral footprint and so I begin by looking at a tiny bit of fashion history and making assemblages.

For these assemblages I gathered  mundane materials a dilapidated Godey’s Ladies Book 1863, old sheet music, antique scissors, old wood & cardboard boxes, sheets of roofing copper, national flags, antique mirrors and scanned images from numerous copyright free resources.  The pieces include inkjet pigment prints on paper, canvas, linen and clear film, gelatin monoprints on papers, pigment transfer prints to mirror and copper, & collaged elements from all the source materials.

Bathing Beauty

Bathing Beauty, Assemblage with pigment prints in antique clothing box. 20.5″ h x 24″ w

Fast & Shiny — a POD Altered Book Challenge

POD (Print on Demand)/Altered Book Challenge

Last winter I accepted a challenge, artists were asked to create a book for printing by a POD (Print on Demand) company of our choosing , alter the book and document the process with photos.  Great idea in concept however I doubt I will ever work this particular way again.  At least I’m certain I won’t screw up the semi-expensive paper back in quite the same way!

The final result is a drastically different book than the first rendering as a simple photo book. This rendering invites the viewer to adjust their eyes and look carefully at the slightly out of focus pages that comment on the ugly side of America’s love affair with the automobile. Fast & Shiny scanned book

Several of my original concepts never ever made it the POD stage but Fast & Shiny book did, and I chose Blurb for the POD.  The plan was to take apart the Blurb printed book alter it with transferred text and to rebind it with a woven spine.  What really happened was completely different.

Added title page and colorful end sheet.

Added title page and colorful end sheet.

Continue reading


Plaited Portrait

Playing around in my studio a while ago, I created a self portrait by combining images and collaging the print with a (another type of print) gelatin monoprint on a piece of organdy cloth, a piece of polyester film (trash) and acrylic paint.  The result  has an encaustic quality due to the depth carvings on the board and the way I combined the real bits.

In Photoshop I began with a photo of my braid and  a scan of a “distressed print” (*explanation below)  After getting the digital image to a point where I was ready to crop it and size it,  I found something to transfer the print too. (it wasn’t going to be a print on paper).  I  found a 14″ square decorative board (picked up in a tag sale) and previously painted with metallic paints.  With my iphone I took a snap shot of the board brought the board image into my Photoshop file as a new layer.  I adjusted the layers of my image to work with the board.  I linked all the layers of the figure and scaled those against the linked layers of the “distressed print” and the board.  I’m very glad I took the time to do this because I did shift things a bit to take best advantage of the carvings into the board.

Once all the layers of the digital collage were arranged the image was cropped and saved. Next I turned off the board image layer,  flattened the file, and flipped the whole file horizontally and “Saved  As” my print file.  I printed it onto a clear polyester transfer film.  Once the print was out of the printer it was time to test the placement for the pigment transfer. Pigment transfer prints work best to even smooth surfaces and  this board has a 1/2″ deep recess in it’s midst.  I  knew transferring the pigments off the film would be all but impossible unless I either cut the print into pieces and transfer the pieces individually or I leveled the surface of the board.  I chose the later, leveling the surface by gluing a the fabric print to a (6 mil) sheet of clear polyester film and glueing it over the recessed area of the board.  That important layer made a nearly flat surface out of the whole board, so now I was ready to transfer the pigment print to the whole surface.  (sorry no photo of that I was on a role)

Decorative Board

*The “distressed print” was created by dissolving the ink on a magazine page and brushing it around a bit.  In this case it was a National Geographic magazine that was spritzed with concentrated Citra Solv cleaner.  The technique is relatively simple, go outdoors, open the magazine, select a few pages with photos and text, spritz them liberally with Citra Solv concentrated cleaner and close up the magazine.  Leave it for a while….or a day.  Open the magazine and swish around the inks with a brush.  Let it dry.  Save it for future projects.

Family Closet

Family Closet

This is “Family Closet” an assemblage in an altered cigar box.  I bought the FAMILY paperweight from a thrift shop knowing I would somehow use it for the “Secrets” themed show.  I had all sorts of ideas but nothing was coming together until the wee hours before leaving on a vacation.  Around 3 am I blasted out of bed and into my studio to find just the right box for making into a closet with a shelf. That morning, I made the shelf & supports from another cigar box, the pole from a bamboo skewer and the first coat hanger from a paper clip.  The elements came together quickly but I had to wait until my return to do the real work.  When I returned it took me 2 long sessions to finish the closet.   It took me a long time to decide to take the box apart and re assembled it with a decorative marquetry paper for the outside.  I printed the skeleton and text about family secrets onto good bond weight paper and used it to wallpaper the  inside of the box.  Next the shelf, closet pole and additional paper clip hangers were installed.  To complete the piece I made the door stop iron carved from a wine bottle cork with a wire handle. It is approximately 7″ high x 5 wide and 2″ deep.

I was surprised and pleased to learn that Juror Ed Stitt, awarded me an “Honorable Mention” for  this piece.  All of Stitt’s thoughtful comments can be found on the  South Shore Art Center website.
This is what Stitt’s said about Family Closet:
The final honorable mention, and thus the one so close to winning a prize because of its excellence in production, beauty, and poignancy, is Mary Taylor’s “Family Closet.” Masterfully done, a pleasure to behold, truly makes me think and feel as one experiences it.

Bancroft Gallery, SSAC, Cohasset, MA
Jan 11–Feb 17, 2013
Opening Reception 6 pm

Your Secret Is Not Safe With Me

YSINSWM Frontview

Artist’s book in a found bottle

Perhaps this isn’t the most interesting first post for a blog but it begins what I hope will become a blog that speaks to how an ordinary woman is “havingdoingbeing” ART.  The “havingdoingbeing”  part comes from an essay my father wrote some years ago about his life in his early 80’s, where he was discussing existentialism.  I’m not the philosopher he was but do wonder often  who am I? And what are we doing here?  So in the here and now I am Mary Taylor and I’m making art and with this blog I hope to share my ART.

Recently I was frustrated by a persistent litterbug and also thinking about creating a new art piece for a show themed “Secrets”.  The piece works for me but we will see if the piece works for juror Ed Stitt.  I created another piece for the show that will appear in a next post and I’ll announce the show information too.

My litterbug neighbor has been discarding his/her trash on my street for multiple years.  2 – 3x per week I pick up a paper bag with an empty pint, 2 empty nips of Smirnoff Raspberry Vodka, plus a crumpled up Lay’s potato chip (sour cream and onion) bag.  So from one of the discarded plastic pint bottles I added ad little book.   The text borders on a rant of curiosity about the litterbug and  I hope it comes across more as a snarky jab at the alcoholic litterbug that has a need to discard the evidence on my lovely side street.  I’ve notified the local police and even inquired at local liquor stores but to no avail my litterbug continues to toss the empties and quite likely is driving while inebriated.  I’ve toyed with the idea of making a wanted poster and putting it up over a trash barrel in the proximity of the trash but this is what I decided to created instead.

Update: “Your Secret Is Not Safe With Me”, did get juried into the show and is on view along with “Family Closet”


Artist’s book in a bottle.

Bancroft Gallery, SSAC, Cohasset, MA
Jan 11–Feb 17, 2013
Opening Reception 6 pm