Tin Can Footstool Basics *Six cans (usually 46-oz juice cans) are arranged in a circular pattern around a middle can, creating a daisy shape. *They are attached together by various means and often placed on a cardboard or plywood base. *Padding is placed around and on top of the cans. *The stool is then upholstered according to the craftsperson’s creativity and available material. Fringe, cording, or other embellishments may be added.
Design Advice *Be Creative. There are almost as many ways to make the stools as there are makers. I’ve updated the process with today’s tools and materials. Have fun putting your own spin on the design. *Try adding welting, buttons, braid, ruffles, fringe or even pockets. *Contrasting colors for these embellishments emphasize the unique shape of the stool. *With the stool shown here, I used an old chenille bedspread with pom-pom fringe. The green stool in the photo above shows the top with fabric paint applied using a sponge stamp. Notice also the cording that emphasizes the indentations of the stool. *These directions call for 46 oz juice cans which make a 14” wide x 8” high stool. You can also use other can sizes. 56 oz cans make a 20” wide x 8 “ high stool.
See what you have on hand, round up some cans, and get started!
Here’s What You’ll Need Materials *7, 46 oz. juice cans, drained and clean (Do not remove bottoms.) *Heavy kraft paper like that of a grocery bag *Cardboard or a thin piece of plywood (need a jigsaw to cut), 20” x 20” for the bottom *Cotton or polyester batting to go around the stool *Foam pad 3-4” thick or “Nu-Foam” (found at Jo-Ann’s) for the top *Fabric to cover the top and sides (old jeans, upholstery, vinyl, etc. … does not have to be the same) 9”-10” high and about 50” wide for the side, 20” x 20” for the top *Fabric to cover the bottom. (See Step Twelve) *Matching thread for sewing the cover together *Heavy thread and curved upholstery needle if sewing on the bottom by hand (see directions) *Decorative trim (optional), 50” long *3 furniture gliders (optional)
Equipment *Sewing machine *Hot glue gun and glue *Staple gun and staples *Scissors to cut fabric *Scissors and/or mat knife to cut cardboard *Hammer (to set gliders) *Electric knife (for foam pad) *Iron and board *Jigsaw (if cutting a wood bottom)
A Little History I love antiques and had an old upholstered wicker chair that needed a footstool. I wanted something that would reflect the era of the chair. A childhood memory came floating back of a footstool a neighbor had made out of tin cans. I asked around, but nobody remembered seeing one, let alone, knew how to make them. So I wrote a letter to the “Can You Help Me?” section of Country magazine. I received over 200 letters giving me instructions and sharing memories of the making of these stools. I felt I’d stumbled upon the “Tin Can Stool Sisterhood,” and it warmed my heart.
“I’m 89 years old and come from a family of 12 children,” wrote one woman in a typical letter. ”I have made footstools for all 10 of my children, all 29 grandchildren, and am still working on 32 great-grand children. The grandchildren and great-grand children come in faster than the juice cans.” R.C., West. Virginia
I learned that thousands of folks, mostly women, have made these stools since the mid-1930s, about the time that tin cans came into general use. And across the U.S. these practical, sturdy, economical stools are still being crafted today.
What is the appeal? In their inception, the leading factor was probably economics. It was the time of the Great Depression when people “made do” with what they had. Juice in tin cans was becoming a staple, and to throw the cans away would be a waste. In addition, many of these stools were made and donated to help raise funds for the needy. They also made handy gifts for grandchildren. Secondly, these quintessential “do-it-yourself” stool makers recognized the stools’ many uses: stepstools, booster seats, and a place to put up one’s feet after a long, hard day. Thirdly, the stools could be decorative, expressing the crafter’s cleverness and taste.
Perhaps there was a fourth reason: the Tin Can Footstool Sisterhood. Just like quilt making, women often gathered together for stool making sessions ... sometimes called "Stool School." Today, economics might not be such a big factor, but for me, at least, there’s a fifth reason: making the stools is a tie to earlier times and the women of that era.