So about five months ago, a friend from high school posted a comment on Facebook. Holly said that she was finally going to finish her “sofa-tub.” This of course begged the question, what is a sofa-tub?
Holly very kindly wrote back with pictures and an explanation. Apparently, the idea stems from a scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audrey Hepburn sits in a claw-foot tub that has been refashioned into a sofa. I was totally enamored with the idea and decided right then that I must have one. A quick review of Etsy assured me that one would need to be made, as finished sofa-tubs run around $2000.00.
Like with everything I do, I thought, no problem. Once again, I took no note of my inability to sew upholstery, make pillows, or cut a cast iron tub. Whatever. Those things would work themselves out. The first order of business was to convince everyone around me that it was a good idea.
This was harder then I had anticipated. My husband presumed I was joking and ignored my threats to make the sofa-tub until it was too late to stop me. By the time he realized that I was serious I had searched Craigslist, and emailed a man in Carlisle about a tub that would fit my purposes. I even talked him down to $75. The next thing Ben knew he had been enlisted to go pick the thing up.
I then called my father-in-law, who should also be used to my crazy ideas by now, and asked if we could borrow the shop and his grinder for a couple of days to cut the thing. At first he was resistant to the idea, but quickly adapted and started googling “how to cut cast iron tubs” on his computer while Ben, Zach, and Daniel got the thing unloaded.
Ben and I stood in the shop in front of the sad little tub with our arms crossed. Its outside had been painted several times and was now the color of a pukey sort of pink. Flakes of paint were peeling as we watched. “So, how am I cutting this thing again?” Ben asked. We debated the practicality and aesthetics of cut marks for several minutes. Then I drew a line with a pencil and said that that would do.
Ben, then fully resigned to the fact that we were actually doing this, put on his respirator and cut a large portion of the front of the tub off. He looked a little like the main character from the Fallout video games, which was slightly terrifying, but much preferred to inhaling lead paint, porcelain, and cast iron dust.
When he was done, the tub looked like this:
He then spent the next two days working on getting the paint off the outside. Otherwise known as the “fun with toxic chemicals” portion of the project. He wore his Fallout mask for that as well. While he was busy doing hard manual labor, I was at Lowes picking out primer and paint for the tub. (Sometimes relationships aren’t fair, people.) I got a really great primer that was rated for outdoors and for metal. I’m told it’s important to pay attention to these details when picking a primer. Then I picked this great deep purple color called “blackberry.” This paint was also rated for outdoors and metal. This means that the paint should never ever come off. I got a spray primer for the feet and a slick looking silver spray paint to finish the look.
Cast iron oxidizes and rusts very quickly, so we had to get the tub home to Ben’s shop and start the priming portion of the project right away. I put three coats of primer down and four coats of purple on the outside of the tub before I was satisfied with the look.
Ben painted the feet, but first had to repair one. The length of the piece that holds the tub up had snapped. He solved this by threading holes (tapping for you more mechanically inclined folks) into both pieces and bolting a custom made plate to reinforce where the split had occurred. Then he cut and ground the protruding pieces of bolt off so that the original piece, now repaired, would slide into place under the tub without difficulty.
I then spent several months trying to find fabric and upholstery foam that was both affordable and fit the color combination that I had envisioned. If I were to do it again, I think I would have purchased the fabric first before I decided on a paint color. Although I am very happy with the final result, it was not an easy task. I lucked out when I found 4 inch foam at Ollie’s for only $32.50. This might seem like a lot for foam, but the same stuff is on sale right now at Joann’s for $79.99. Tip for cutting upholstery foam: use an electric meat knife! It works wonders and makes quick work of an otherwise messy project.
It also turned out that it is cheaper to go buy pillows then it is to make them, as pillow forms or stuffing is very expensive. Who knew? Still, I had this idea in my head, and I refused to be diverted. My mother-in-law (who is the sewing expert in my life) suggested that I refashion old pillows that I was no longer using. I happened to have some so-so throw pillows that were a good size, so I used them as my base. I also had extra foam after the large bottom cushion was cut, so I utilized that as well. Finally, I broke down and purchased two pillows forms for $6.00 a piece because I really wanted cylindrical pillows for the sofa.
I made a date with my mother-in-law to purchase fabric and start sewing. I finally landed on this upholstery fabric, which I got for 40% off at Joann’s (the discount was the only thing that made it affordable). I also purchased a satin gold fabric, a rich purple velvet material, and a contrasting canvas print fabric for the pillows. I got these cool make-your-own fabric buttons (more on that later) and yards of piping.
The first thing that I learned about pillow and upholstery making is that you can’t just cut straight strips of fabric to wrap your piping cord in. You have to do something called “cutting on the bias.” This allows the cord to bend without bunching. For those of you who don’t know what piping is, go look at just about any sofa or cushioned chair. The structured ridge that runs around the top of the cushion is piping. It is four pieces of fabric sewn together with a piece of cord inside. In order to get your sewing machine to accommodate that much fabric and to sew along the piping, it helps to have a special foot. On most machines it’s fairly easy to change the feet. Click here to see an example of a piping foot.
So back to bias cutting: I was on a limited budget, and cutting on the bias has the potential to waste a lot of fabric. Luckily, we found this great little instructional video on Youtube with a shortcut for cutting the material. It worked great, and as an added bonus, the pieces were already sewn in the proper diagonal into one continuous length. I used this technique both on the bottom cushion and on the cylindrical ones.
For the sake of simplicity, the bottom cushion is not reversible or zippered. We traced the cut pieces of foam and added approximately an extra inch of fabric around the entire circumference. Another neat trick for adding the extra inch is to use a large spool of thread as a guide around the foam. Make your marks with a chalk pencil using the outside of the thread spool. This leaves a consistent one inch space between your tracing object and the drawn line. We also traced, measured, and cut several strips of fabric for the side, and one large piece for the bottom.
Once everything was cut, we began pinning. We pinned the piping in between the top and side pieces and sewed that first. Refitting and checking the fit throughout the process. Then, once we were satisfied we fit the bottom piece on and sewed three quarters of it with the machine. We then fit the foam into the case, and hand-sewed the foam in, hiding the stitch as we went.
In order to make the sofa-tub look like it belonged with our other furniture, I measured and cut the same upholstery fabric into squares and recovered the original throw pillows that came with our sofas. These cases were machine sewn approximately 5/7ths around the edge and then stuffed with the old pillows. The last length was then hand sewn into placed with a hidden stitch. I did four pillows this way. The large back pillows on the sofa-tub were done the same way, but with the purple velvet fabric I had purchased.
The small round pillow’s fabric was cut into a circle, machine sewn, stuffed with left over foam, and hand sewn with a hidden stitch. The buttons are handmade. In order to make the buttons, I purchased a kit. Each kit comes with the materials needed to make two 1 ½ inch buttons. Each button has two metal parts that clips together. There is a cutout template on the back that you use to cut the material to the appropriate shape and size. I used the material I chose for the cylindrical pillows so that the pillows seemed “related.” I thought this was especially necessary because the canvas print I had chosen, although complementary in color, seemed a little detached from the rest of the aesthetic.
Once I cut the fabric for the button according to the template, I stretched the material around the front of the one metal piece and hooked it to the teeth at the back. There were many teeth around the back of the piece and the fabric needed to be meticulously stretched and hooked to each tooth to keep the front of the button looking smooth. Once the fabric was stretched evenly and hooked, the second half of the button snapped into place on the back, hiding the teeth and excess fabric. Wallah! Instant custom button. Each round pillow has two buttons: one centered on the front and one centered on the back. I used a very long upholstery needle and the two buttons are actually attached in placed by each other. They are pulled tightly together to give the puckering look at the center of the pillow.
Finally, I worked on my cylindrical pillows. I measured the circumference and the length of the cylinder pillow form and cut a large rectangular piece to size. I used my trick of making a continuous bias with my gold fabric and cut and pinned piping to run the length of the diameter of the cylinder. These pieces were pinned on both sides of the cut rectangle. Then I measured the radius of the cylinder and cut two rectangular pieces to pin on either side of the piping. I sewed the four pieces of fabric together on both sides of the original rectangle. So I was left with: skinny rectangle, piping, large rectangle, piping, skinny rectangle – all sewn into one piece. Then I folded it in half, long ways, and sewed the length together leaving an opening in the center to stuff the pillow form later. I then hand sewed the end pieces with a loose stitch that I pulled together like a drawstring. This left a nice ruching on either end. I secured the tightened stitch in place from the inside of the case and sewed one of my handmade buttons into the center, which added a nice decorative touch and also served to hide the center stitching. I did this on both ends. Then I stuffed the pillow form into the case and hand sewed the remaining seam, hiding the stitch.
When all of this was done, I put the pillows in place and declared this project a success!