A Make-do-Chair for the Hearth

This blog will, from time to time, stray from the food prepared for a meal, and dabble in items that might be found in the kitchen.

Around the colonial table one needs chairs, a stool or a bench.  In cold drafty kitchens it must have been nice for those who could afford a comfy wingback chair to sit by the hearth and keep warm. If you could not afford this luxury perhaps you made a Make-do-Chair.  

To build your own you might use an old ladder back chair or other wooden chair. First you would add a high enough back and then perhaps some sides from scrapes of wood that were available. Then cover it with an old whole cloth quilt that is well used or a piece of linsley-woolsey from an old curtain or counterpane you had around the house.  I’m sure that there were many ingenious men around who could construct a make-do-chair and women behind them cheering them on.

While off antiquing with a friend one day she came across a great chair, in original red paint, just crying to become a make-do-chair.  Barbara already had a make do-chair, and after a bit of discussion I bought it. I brought it home and like many of my finds, my husband rolled his eyes and shook his head.  Another project! 

What he did not know was just how easy this was going to be. Some make-do-chairs have lots of wooden parts.

Mine would not have sides so it should be easier to make. The chaining was in ruff shape and needed to be removed first, so we could get a good look at the project before us.

Once it was removed it was webbed tightly for a firm seat. As you can see the turnings are lovely and such a nice color and the arms much too graceful to hide with large sides wood panels.

In my closet sitting for the last five years, has been some old curtain I loved, but did not fit the window in my new house. This seemed like the perfect way to reuse them. I first covered the seat with foam and cotton batting. Then cut the material for the seat and a piece of canvas for the bottom. This I sewed together to make a tight fit.

My husband bought some pine and cut out two wooden forms for the inside of the arms.. He put two screws underneath the arms, and cut two wooden uprights in the form to receive the screw heads. With this and two screws put in from the bottom of the chair the side cannot fall out.  

I took time figuring out just how I wanted to apply the covering to the back of the chair.  I did not want to hide the back post. Unlike the chair seat, I covered the rungs with cotton batting and pulled the back batting through to the front after the second rung. This gave the lower chair back more loft. Then I folder a large piece of foam over the top and covered the front and back. I then covered that with the fabric and sewed down the edges between the rungs. When I got to the bottom I pulled the fabric tight and stitched it down under the seat.

 I made a double sided pillow to put on the seat. First I made an inside cover for the feathers . The sun was warm and the temperature about 70 degrees, so outdoors I went. I had a new down pillow that was too big for my couch and I took it outdoors and cut into it. The feather went flying everywhere. But I managed to stuff the new pillow seat and a back pillow too.

So here is my make-do-chair, ready for the hearth, or to pull up to the table as a comfortable seat to offer to one of my Easter guests.  

Happy Easter


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About Sandie

Since I was a small child I have loved early fireplaces and the smell of smoke in an old house. However it was not until about Fifteen years ago that my journey into hearth cooking began. It all started at the Hurd House Museum in Woodbury Ct. I was the director of the Junior Docent program and among the programs each week we cooked. At about the same time a group of us started the Culinary Historians of Connecticut meeting once a month to discuss equipment used, receipt (18th century term for recipe), and anything between the late 1600 to late 1700 that had to do with hearth cooking. We were fortunate to try our hand at cooking at several Museums throughout Ct and many more private homes. We made cheese; we held a late 1600 dinner and shared our knowledge with others. Our group designrd our own tours such as the Kitchens of Old Wethersfield. In 2000 we were delighted to host the Historic Foodways group of ALFAM at the Hurd House during their conference at Mystic Seaport. We put together a great workshop of Puddings, Sausages, Brown Bread, Beverages you name it we offered it. I am now a member of the ALFAM foodways group. Then it was off to Colonial Williamsburg for the seminar The Art of 18th-Century Cooking: Farm to Hearth to Table. During the years I joined many workshops in Sturbridge Village plus their Dinner in a Country Village and breakfast at the Freeman Farm. So I was pretty much hooked on heart cooking and the 18th century way of life. I joined a wonderful group of ladies and we started the “Hive” a place to improve and grow your 18th century impression and offer research about material culture in 17070’s New England. We also travel with friends and have displays of clothing and teas at Museums in Massachusetts. Many events are held at the Hartwell Tavern at Minute Man National Park. They have been gracious enough to let us play there and entertain and share our knowledge with their visitors. Please visit our “Hive” site if the 1700 interest you. Then the move to New Hampshire and a job at Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth as the co-coordinator of the Junior Role Playing workshop and eventually cooking in front of the hearth at the Wheelwright house. Not only did I enjoy making my evening meals at the hearth to take home but also talking with the visitors. I am an entertainer after all, check out my program page. Most recently I am working at the Museum of Old York in Maine as an educator, hearth cook and organizer of the Junior Docent cooking program in the summer. See some photos in the archive file Because I do make food with the docents and serve food to the public at our Tavern Dinners I took the National Restaurant Association tests called ServSafe and now have my Certification as a Restaurant Manager. I look forward to the Museum of Old York opening again this March 2012 and getting back to the hearth and teaching, however for now I’m cooking at home and enjoying doing so.

3 thoughts on “A Make-do-Chair for the Hearth

  1. THAT is truly wonderful!!!! Now, I’ll be looking for a chair to do for myself. Since I interpret a sharecroppers’ cabin, I’ll make mine from rougher material, perhaps canvas, but it will keep the heat from the fire on my cold bones in the winter!!!

  2. Just love having the feathers fly. Seems your projects are many and they come out so well. What a hobby.What a girl.

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