2012 Spoonflower Staff Challenge Pt 10: Making A Sofa Using Recycled Cardboard Tubes

MAR 13, 2012

This is the tenth in a series of posts describing the projects that are part of our 2012 Spoonflower Staff Challenge. Voting begins on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

Chad’s Intro: This year’s staff contest has to be the most ambitious month-long project I’ve undertaken since graduating from college.  A wide open format for this project had Melodie and I (Chad) thinking of all sorts of fun things to do.  Ranging from the small (bow-ties), to the abstract (I’ve always wanted to make a fabric tree), to the functional (the couch we finally decided on), we found it really hard to decide on the best project to tackle.  When we finally sat down to do some sketches of the eventual end products, we realized that the couch was just crazily ambitious enough to possibly win the contest. Plus we had the universe on our side – on the last night we were sewing the cushions and had Chinese takeout on our break, I got this fortune:


One of the major reasons we decided to do the couch was that I’m driven to find ways to reuse the things we tend to throw away here at Spoonflower. Besides using some of our ink waste to create prints on t-shirts, I’ve been speculating about a way to reuse the large number of cardboard tubes that we recycle each day. Making a couch out of them seemed really interesting and possibly dangerous. Who would think that cardboard could really hold up the weight of two grown adults?


So we had our general idea, but we had to think of what kind of fabric design we wanted to use.

Melodie on fabric design: Both Chad and I are avid music lovers, so it was no surprise that we chose a project that centered around it. I really love the concept of visually representing something that you would normally only be able to enjoy aurally. I decided to create a sound wave design that would be able to span the length of our couch, creating visual movement.

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I used a few photos for reference and with the help of one of our more Illustrator savvy coworkers, I drew the design using the pen tool. It was actually a lot easier than I expected it to be, and I definitely plan on tinkering with more fabric designs in the future.

Chad on fabric design: After Melodie created the design, we both sat down and tried to color match against the Spoonflower color map.  Since we’re both printers, we understand that though we had a design we both loved, the colors we loved might not turn out exactly as we wanted.  Using the color map and Photoshop, we tweaked the colors of the design until we got the shades of blue, gray and white that we found ideal.  In the end, I’m really glad we took the extra time to pinpoint those colors as it pulled the entire design together.


 At this point I have to mention that Melodie and I work two completely different shifts. The time we see each other at Spoonflower is usually centered around the bi-monthly meeting where we stuff our faces and discuss the happenings of the Spoonflower community.  When the contest and partners were announced at one of these meetings we quickly pulled together our idea but afterwards, we tended to work in parallel until it became crunch time. My main job was to put together the cardboard couch, whereas Melodie was largely responsible for the design, printing and sewing the couch cushions together.

Chad on making the couch: Let me preface this with one thing:  I’d never built a couch before.  My uncle made the now-famous Spoonflower color chip chair and has his own reupholstering business called Select Furniture in High Point, NC, and my father manufactures and sells large runs of fabric out of New Jersey. Both were channeled in the creation of this couch. Though I have no experience in furniture, I like to think that it’s in my blood, both from them and just from being a North Carolina native.
That being said, I did a fair amount of research on how I wanted to put this couch together. I started out by thinking of this basically as a piece of bamboo furniture, tough tubes of material pieced together with steel rods. With a kind of patio furniture feel, I felt like that was a pretty cool idea. I’d already been thinking about doing a project like this for some time and with the help of Melodie and some other friends, I really started to piece it together around the time that this project got announced.  That was pretty good timing.






After collecting approximately forty cardboard tubes, I began to assemble the couch. At first, using tape to hold the pieces together, I created the legs and crossbeams to assemble the general frame. I added the beams that run along the bottom of the couch and figured out how I wanted the back of the couch to look. After feeling my way through how big the couch should be, I purchased some threaded rods to run through the support beams.  


I’ll say right now that having the right tools for the job was critical for this project.  Unfortunately I didn’t really have the right tools.  Using a skill saw and a hack saw, I cut each cardboard tube to size as well as every steel rod.  If I make another couch, it’s definitely going to be after I buy some new tools.  I’m pretty sure I destroyed every hacksaw blade I had.


I pre-drilled all the holes for the steel rods to run through the tubes and once I got the basic frame together, it really started to look like it might work out.  At this point I was still unsure if the tubes themselves would hold the weight of people sitting on it. The added support of the steel rods helped hold the couch together.


When the frame was done I added a layer of cut down tubes to the middle of the couch, then added another layer of support beams on top to create a place for the cushions to rest. This allows the cushion to be supported evenly across the entire couch and gave it a nice secure fit. I did the same thing for the back of the couch, using smaller carriage bolts to attach the beams to the back of the couch.  Eventually I realized that I needed a middle leg to prevent the couch from sagging.  I added these and the arms in a similar fashion, cutting larger tubes with holes in the middle to slide them along the supports and fixing them with carriage bolts. I did all of this over the course of about a week and a half.  When I finally got the whole thing assembled, I took the whole couch apart, threw it in the back of my car and drove it up to Spoonflower to fit the cushions.  
Chad on Sewing and Creating the Cushions: Like I mentioned earlier, my uncle has an upholstery business so I was fortunate to have access to his pillow and cushion maker. This definitely helped the project along, but we still had to create the cushion covers from our design.


Melodie on Sewing It All Up: This project was one of the largest I have ever tackled.  Accuracy was of paramount importance, both in pattern placement and overall fit. Because of the large scale of the design, proper centering was a must.  Additionally, accurate measurements were very important, as I wanted a crisp, clean look. To ensure accuracy, I placed the fabric over the cushion, and marked the corners of each side. Then, I measured each side of the cushion, adding an inch for seam allowance, and cut the fabric.


After all of the pieces were measured and cut, I lined up the right sides together, taking care to ensure that each pattern piece lined up with the design. I pinned them together, and then sewed each piece with a ½ inch seam. I double stitched each seam to prevent unravelling, but a serger would have been helpful on this step.




After all of the patterned pieces were sewn together, I took a plain white piece of linen the same size as the front of the cushion, and sewed it to the rest of the cushion cover on three sides. Then I put the cushion into the cover. With such a close fit, it took a bit of wriggling to get it on. Then, I whip-stitched the remaining side onto the cushion backs.  We also plan to add some additional throw pillows and to install speakers into the couch arms in the near future.

Chad’s Closing: Well, that basically takes us to the end of the couch.  I think the entire project turned out a lot better than either of us anticipated.  Hopefully you’ll all think the same thing, and please, please vote as such.  I know it’s not a unicorn but I think it’s just as magical, and a lot more practical


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