Saturday, January 30, 2016
A Step Upwards
This little footstool is what's known as a juice can footstool. They're a Depression-era contrivance. As the name suggests, they're made from empty juice cans and a small amount of upholstery fabric. Pinterest has some examples of vintage and contemporary juice can stools, some of which are rather hilarious-looking to my mind. (Ball fringe? Decorative crosses? Really?) My Grandmother Swan made the one you see pictured above for me back in 1973, when I was born. Grandma made a stool like this one for each of her many grandchildren, as well as for a number of other children of her acquaintance. I remember her delightedly telling me how much her minister's little daughter liked hers. The juice can stools are perfect for small children to sit on or to stand on to reach something, and the stools are so light that even a toddler can easily carry one about. At our house my four siblings and I used to use our stools to hold our bedroom doors open in the summer when the airflow from the open windows would otherwise have violently slammed the doors shut.
I wonder how many of Grandma's footstools still exist. I know my sister still has hers, but I don't know if any of my brothers or cousins do. Unfortunately the fabric Grandma used to cover the stools didn't tend to be particularly attractive. One of my brothers had one in a groovy flocked gold and turquoise fabric. My grandmother wasn't one to care very much about aesthetics, and she was never one to waste anything. Grandma was a woman who would patch the seat of her dresses, and when it came to purchasing materials for her foot stools, she would buy bundles of upholstery remnants for very little at the flea market in the town where we lived and put the stools together without a thought to what the upholstery looked like or how dated it might be or whether it matched anyone's decor, and she definitely never added any frippery trim or ball fringe.
I am not my grandmother. I do care quite a lot about how things look. I never have liked the upholstery that covered my stool, and then when I stupidly used the stool as a step stool during a number of painting sessions without covering it up, and got paint on it, I decided the stool really had to be recovered if I wanted to keep it. I did want to keep it. Besides its sentimental value, this stool is quite a useful little thing. I decided I wanted to place it in my bedroom closet, where I could use it to reach the upper shelves, and where I could easily fetch it if I needed a step stool in any other room.
The first step in the project was to take the footstool apart. As I ripped away at it, I wondered if my grandmother thought about me as she made it, and envisioned the life I was going to have. I'm pretty sure that, whatever future she imagined for me, it didn't include me sitting down with a stitch ripper 42 years later and going to town on her hard work. For making these stools is quite a bit of hard work, all of which is done by hand. I doubt I could get one made in a day, and I managed to jab myself with the darning needle I was using quite a few times in the process.
Grandma always covered the cans once with old stockings or socks and then again with the upholstery fabric -- I saw her make more than a few stools. I decided to save myself some ripping time and not remove the old upholstery from the cans. The extra coverage would be a good idea anyway, keeping the can's edges from damaging the chenille I was using, and from being quite so hard to the touch. I also reused the old pieces of fabric that were tacked on the top and bottom to hold the cans together before the stool's top and bottom pieces are sewn in place.
Amusingly, the "wrong" side of the old upholstery fabric was actually more attractive than the right side.
The finished stool. I used a very pale foam green chenille upholstery fabric that I had left over from redoing an upholstered rocker for one of the bedrooms of my house. I don't think there's a room in my house that this fabric wouldn't look right in. I had a square of foam lying around that I used to pad the top. My stool hadn't been padded. Grandma only padded some of the footstools she made, and then only very lightly. Grandma also laid the top and bottom pieces flat on the stool and stitched them with what looked like black darning thread. I cut my top and bottom pieces larger than hers so as to have a seam allowance I could tuck underneath, as the chenille's edges were messy looking and prone to fraying, even once I'd overcast them. I used a matching sewing thread, and took every stitch twice.
And there I have it, a presentable little step stool I can use for years to come. I am not sure my grandmother would have agreed that it needed redoing, but I do think she would have been pleased that I cared to take the time to do so.