My parent's beach condo came with a plethora of white wicker furniture and pastel floral cushions. We are in the process of redecorating, in a neutral modern theme, so mom gave me the go ahead to try and tone down the sofa. I couldn't make things much worse and I know they plan to replace the old couches eventually so I channeled our gray theme and experimented a bit.
I decided I would dye the cushions, since the covers are removable, and cover the rest of the fabric with something neutral from the fabric store. The first step was to remove all the cushion covers and put them through a hot wash.
I then used a handy tip from Threads Magazine ID fabrics with a burn test for determining the type of material, since the tags were long gone, I pulled some loose threads from an inside seam and held them to a lit match. Using the handy chart which describes how different materials will react to the flame I was able to determine that the fabric was most likely cotton, rather than a synthetic. This is important because the dye bath requires differing additives depending on the fabric type to help the dye set, in this case, salt.
I've dyed clothing before so I felt pretty comfortable choosing black dye with the aim of reaching a dark gray. I had over 16 lbs of fabric to dye in a stock pot on the stove (I didn't want to risk ruining the washing machine) so it took all afternoon.
After soaking in the dye bath the covers got another wash to remove any traces of loose dye, don't want that rubbing off when we nap on it, and then I spent about an hour repairing some split seams and little holes. They actually weren't in bad shape for their age, and we suspect they are from the 80's when the condo was built.
The dye worked out as a dark gray, mottled over the pattern, so the pastels were toned down a bit and I'm trying to spin it as a positive... the pattern showing through means any stains will be easily disguised.
For the parts of the sofa I couldn't remove and dye I decided to recover them, I headed to Jo-Ann fabrics with a few of the dyed covers to find a simple fabric to match. I ended up buying 15 yards of a very plain neutral gray cotton, it was on sale too! I rounded up on all my measurements and purchased a bit extra too, figuring that what I didn't use would go to other projects around the condo, working towards some continuity in the space.
The back, sides, and footer portions of the sofa all had that same tropical pastel fabric which had been stapled on, I decided to run with that and just stapled my gray fabric over the original. The large backrest section was simple, just cutting to size, pulling strait and staple to the frame underneath and out of sight. for the sides and footer there was a bit more finagling because the fabric was originally attached before the sofas were assembled and I wasn't able to take them a part in this case. In order to get a clean look I used a flat Spackle edge tool to wedge the edge of the fabric in to the gap very tight, and stapled where I could, I wanted to avoid visible staples as much as possible, to mimic a professional look.
The fabric seems to be wedged tightly enough that it will stay in place, but if it does come loose I'll just wedge it back in and secure it with a line of glue.
This project was bigger than I had expected it to be, but the result is an improvement in my opinion, not great... but better and I learned some lessons. In the future If I am thinking about reupholstering something I'll see if the arms are removable or something, that would have gone a ways towards speeding up this project, rather than trying to slide and thread pieces of fabric through the wicker.
Against the new light gray walls I think this is a definite improvement over the pastels. The whole project cost about $70, including all the dye and fabric and took about 10 hours (and I have lots of extra cloth!) I would definitely attempt this sort of thing again. Depending on the piece I'd be willing to shell out for a higher quality fabric as well, proper upholstery, something more durable and dynamic.
Plus I got a free trip to the beach out of it!