Arts & Crafts Magazine

Upholstery: Should You Tackle It Yourself?

By Alison_wood @midnight_eden

footstool_dreweatRegular auction goers will know the self-discipline required to resist buying an upholstered item in a distressed state.  You can see past the tattered material, ignore the woodworm holes and be deaf to the alarming creak as you handle it.  Alternatively, you may want to return a cherished item which is now ‘tired’, to its former glory.  Re-upholstering an item is the sustainable and environmentally friendly solution but there is a fine line between “shabby chic” and fire wood.

Those in the know will be suspicious of upholstered items which have seen better days.  It may be only the upholstery holding an unstable piece together.  Difficult decisions will have to be made but you proceed with little thought of the cost of the inevitable restoration work required.

The relationship between the value of the item and the costs of restoration are by no means clear cut.  Restoration does not guarantee an increase in value; poor restoration will certainly reduce it.   Despite this, sentimental value will trump any market valuation and so you launch into restoration.

To keep costs down you may decide to do the restoration yourself, after all how hard can it be?  You remember seeing a magazine article describing recovering a dining chair as an ‘afternoon’s project’.  At this point step back and reconsider.  Stop and think seriously about contracting this work out to a professional.  Unless you have basic carpentry and sewing skills and the item is small and simple, go no further.  If you insist on progressing, then here are a few of the stages you will have to go through:

Ripping off: This is where you discover some of the hidden secrets of the furniture’s construction – some good, some not so good.  The old material and upholstery is removed to reveal the frame.  This is a dusty process which requires the use of pliers and ripping chisel.  Be careful not to damage the ‘show wood’ and always wear a face mask.  At this point you can repair a weak or damaged frame.

Webbing:  Interweave webbing to form a structure on which to build the seat.

Tarpaulin Hessian:  Tack hessian into place over the webbing.

Bridle Ties:  Bridle ties (loops of twine stitched onto the hessian platform using a curved needle) will hold the stuffing in place.

First Stuffing:  Horse (in reality often a fire-retardant fibre) hair is tucked under the bridle loops and ‘knitted’ by hand to form a nicely shaped pad.

Scrim Hessian:  Hessian is placed over the pad and temporarily tacked in place.

Stuffing ties:  Stuffing ties help prevent the hair from moving.   You can sit on the chair at this point to check pad shape and density and the scrim can be re-tensioned and tacked down permanently.

Regulating the hair: The hair is redistributed within the pad using a regulator needle.

Edge Stitching:  The edge of the seat is stitched to form a robust structure. The regulator is used throughout the stitching process to tease the hair into the edge.

Second stuffing:  More bridle ties are added for the second stuffing.

Cotton Wadding:   Cotton wadding is placed over the second stuffing hair to provide additional comfort. It also prevents the ends of curled hair protruding through to the top layers.

Calico: Calico is attached over the cotton wadding.

Skin wadding:  A skin wadding is placed over the calico to cushion and ease the application of the top fabric – this will extend the life of the top fabric.

Top covering and trim: The seat is finally covered with an upholstery fabric of your choice and trimmed with braid.

Bottom covering:  A bottoming cloth is tacked beneath the seat to hide the construction.

That’s all there is to it.


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