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Brief History Of Upholstery
Tools And Workshop Requirements
Types And Styles Of Frames
Springs And Spring Units
Stuffing Materials
Cover Materials
Measuring, Cutting, And Preparing Covers
Basic Principles Of
Types Of Stitched Edges And Fronts
Making An Easy Chair With Cushion Seat
The Arm
The Back
The Seat
Second Stuffing-Calico Covers
Pin-Cushion Seat-Stools
Dining-Chairs-Loose Seats
Cable Springing And Latex Cushions
Occasional Chair-Cable Sprung
A Bedroom Chair
Modern Tensile-Sprung Easy-Chair
Adaptable Settee Unit
Upholstery Repairs
Upholstery Terminology

Upholstery Repairs

( Originally Published 1961 )

The basic operations for repairing any part of a suite, or any of the pieces that have already been written about, of course remain the same, depending on what has to be done. There is always some ripping-out to be done and if it is a complete re-upholstering job then the whole of the frame is laid bare. If it is only for the covers to be replaced then only the covers, including the outside covers, will have to come off.

The majority of repair jobs only need new seats putting in, and again many seats that only require new webbing and perhaps a spring or two. The need for re-webbing is usually the result of heavy punishment or faulty webbing technique, including the use of inferior-grade webbing. However, it is policy to examine the frame carefully and make sure that there is no other reason for the failure of the seat foundation, such as sharp edges of the frame or rough wire knots on the springs. A close examination of the old webbing will show either of these faults.

Salvaging as much material as possible is a common practice in workshops but it is carefully done and materials are not used again merely for the sake of saving money. Each piece of canvas or hessian and each spring is only re-used if it is considered that the soundness of such components is unimpaired.

Before the details are discussed there is the importance of ripping-out to be stressed-that is, the importance of ripping-out correctly. This is done with a `ripping chisel' and a wooden mallet. The chisel being held at an angle, with the blade edge pointing under the edge of the tack head. The top of the chisel handle is then struck one or two sharp blows by the mallet, which will remove the tack. This becomes a continuous and easy operation after very short practice. Always rip out along the grain of the wood and not across it. This will mean that when you reach the junction of rails you must change your position and knock out the few remaining tacks in the opposite direction from which you have been working. If attempts are made to knock out corner tacks outwards then certainly pieces of the frame will be chipped off. This can cause extra work in repairs, particularly with small chairs such as dining-chairs where it is necessary to have an evenstitched edge.

The carding of stuffings if they are to be re-used can be a very dusty task unless some type of carding machine is available. The decision as to the re-use of stuflings is of course governed by its condition and age. If there is a lot of dust caused purely by the disintegration of the stuffing through age, then the best policy is to scrap it and use new fibres or hairs. If, however, the stuffing materials are still strong and springy they are probably quite good for many more years and after being carded can be used with confidence. The larger workshop will most likely have a power machine which serves the bedding section mainly as well as the upholstery workshop. It usually has a slatted wooden conveyor belt that carries the caked stuffing underneath a pair of heavy rollers embedded with spikes at regular intervals. These rollers card the stuffing and at the same time the dust is extracted through an air vent. Sometimes, if the stuffing is very hard, it may require a double journey through the machine. It is returned underneath the conveyor belt into a bin. A smaller type of machine and manually operated is also used. It is on the same principle but the roller is turned by a handle similar to that used on an old-fashioned wringing machine. If neither of these machines is available old stuffing is broken up into pieces and then beaten with a stick. This needs to be carried out in an airy place so that the dust can freely disperse. It is finished off when actually being put under the bridles, by hand teasing; in other words, pulling out any further `tats' and evening out the stuffing.


In all repair jobs that are to have the same cover replaced, care must be taken when removing the cover. This applies particularly to the small chair such as a dining-chair as the whole of the cover is seen and therefore it is not possible to add pieces if it is tight. In the case of easy-chairs, etc., where flys are sewn on, very often a new canvas fly is machined on for strength and to give that extra inch for pulling the cover into position. With the dining-chair the cover is net all around and particularly where the back rails and the seat rails meet. The cover has been cut at this point in order to fall round the rail, and the apex of this cut is likely to be a weak point. The trestles usually have the board bench over them for small chairs. Turn over the chair and commence to rip off the black hessian cover on the bottom, and the webbings. The webbings, incidentally, are never any use for replacing on the same area as there is not enough length to stretch them properly. But if they are in good condition they can be kept for other jobs such as spring edges, tacking over supporting rails, etc. When the canvas bottom is off and the webs freed from tacks, cut off the webs from the springs and then cut out the springs from the canvas. Retain any good springs and dispose of the remainder. An old spring is sometimes straightened out to obtain a long piece of wire to act as a substitute for a cane edge, but it is not a very satisfactory substitute. In testing old springs for further service, place them upright on the bench and put the palm of the hand over the top coil. Press down quickly and firmly and if they break away quickly from a straight downwards movement they should be discarded. However, if they go down fairly straight and return with a good spring they will probably be good enough to use again. Still with the chair upside down on the bench continue to rip out the tacks holding the cover and gimp. This is where extra care should be taken in order not to damage any show-wood there may be. As soon as the cover and any calico is removed, stand the chair up on the bench to complete the rippingout. This will be the first-stuffing hessian and the spring canvas covering. The twine bridles are snipped in order to remove the second stuffings and also the holding ties and bridles to remove the first stuffing from the spring canvas. The spring canvas is examined to see if it can be used again and also the first and second stuffings. If it is decided to use the stuffing then the scrim is removed. This can be done by just pulling away the fibre or first cutting all the stitches before removing it. You may decide to do the latter if it is a very good scrim which might be used again, if not for the chair then for some smaller job.

To strip the chair in this manner and deal with each piece of material is a tidier way than ripping out everything first and then separating them after the innards are away from the frame. However, it may save time if, for instance, the cabinet maker is waiting to do some repair to the frame before it can be re-stuffed. This brings us now to the frame which should be examined to see if everything is sound. Joints and dowels should be tested and, if found to be loose, they should be opened a little, glued and cramped afresh. It may also be that the legs and show-wood of the frame require polishing before one can again start on them. Whilst these jobs are going on it is just as well to have the stuffing carded ready for use when required.

When the frame is ready, lay upside down on the bench and commence webbing in the usual way, three or four webs interlaced and the ends folded over. The springs are then placed and sewn in. If any old springs are being used they should be put in whatever corner they had a tendency to lean towards. Even if all the springs are good it is the practice to put in one new spring in the centre of the seat. Lace them together and tack over the spring canvas, not pulling it too tightly. Next sew the canvas to the top coils of the springs. Bridle and fill in the stuffing, using any extra new that may be needed. The holding ties are put in and the edge formed and stitched. This is a point in the renovation that should be checked for dimensions, for remember that the old cover may be going back. The newly stuffed seat doesn't want to be an inch wider for example-or for that matter an inch longer. This same consideration is given when filling in the second stuffing. When re-upholstering and using the same cover it is always a help to cover with calico, for the greater strain of the bulk of stuffing is contained within the calico covering. This makes it easier to adjust the cover and consequently less strain is put upon it. A new piece of black burlap~ is put on the bottom, and new gimp or banding pinned around the edging. If the stuffing and the stitched edge are in good order then of course the whole of the stuffing can be replaced en bloc on top of the springs or on top of the canvas if it is not sprung. Holding ties are put in and the tacked burlap is strengthened by making a stitch right round and looping the twine round a tack and driving home. This of course saves a lot of time in stitching and stuffing. There are also times when the stitched stuffing is in excellent condition but the hessian is not. In this case the entire stuffing is covered with a fresh piece of hessian and tacked closely right round. An additional top stitch is usually put in to prevent the burlap moving too much.

Now and again one may be required to re-upholster one of these occasional chairs that are close studded right around. The ripping chisel should be used very carefully with this type of furniture, and it is best to lift out these studs or nails rather than knock them out, as damage to the show-wood will invariably happen. It is a long and tedious task lifting out these round-headed nails but it can have an advantage inasmuch as perhaps three-quarters of the nails can be salvaged and used again.

Loose seats have to be set against a fixed edge or block to prevent them moving when being ripped out. When once the cover is off, however, the canvas and webbings can be knocked off by standing the seat on edge and using the claw end of the hammer to knock out the tacks. After new webs and canvas, the stuffing of a loose seat can always be used, using some new to bolster it out. Where new covers are to be used the cutting of them can be taken from the old covers. However, allow at least an inch extra all round, for remember the old cover has been stretched and you do want at least a fingerhold to tack on the new.


If the chair or chairs are to have new covers then all the tacks holding the old covers should be ripped out but the cover left on until each part of the chair is ready to receive the new cover. The outside back and the outside arms, however, can be taken off, and of course if it is a complete job of re-stuffing then the complete frame should be stripped of all stuffing and material and examined for any repairs, as in the case of the small dining type of chair. Most chairs come into the workshop for a new seat only, the old cover going back on. The procedure is to turn over the chair and commence ripping off the black hessian bottom, the webbings and any tacks holding the covers. The outside covers are released as far up as the tacking rails, lifted up and kept in position with a couple of tacks. You now have access to releasing the flys in order to take out the seat. In the case of an easy-chair with a spring edge many upholsterers prefer to knock out the whole seat before stripping off the webs, springs, etc. This is because the spring edge can't be removed anyway, before the canvas and burlap are removed.

Separate the stuffings and hessians and salvage any springs to be used again. It is never worth while retaining an old stitched roll for it entails just as much time in restitching it beneath the cane edge as it would forming a new one. Examine the main joints of the frame to see if they have any play in them. If so knock them apart slightly, glue and cramp them. The old fibre and hair, or whatever stuffing was used, should be carded in readiness and any extra springs needed are selected to match up with the old ones. New flys are nearly always wanted and in any case it makes it easier to work with new flys sewn on.

Once the chair is ready and the preparations completed, turn the chair upside down and start to web the seat, interlacing four or five webs each way in the same manner as described earlier. Set out the springs with the new ones in the centre of the seat. Some of the old springs may be leaning a certain way; try to place them towards the corners but not with the wire knots on the outside. Lace them with a laid cord and proceed to form the spring edge, remembering to tack a piece of webbing along the front rail to stop any sound of the coils striking the wood. A new piece of spring canvas is always needed for a platform seat and this is duly tacked on, making the necessary guttering and then sewing the canvas to the top coils of the springs and the cane edge looped with twine. The bridles are inserted to take the stuffing and covered with scrim. Holding ties and the stitched roll along the front will complete the scrim stuffing. The second stuffing is put on and the cover with the new flys sewn on is pulled over. The older type of easy-chair may well have a single (or double) border put on separately from the main platform seat; i.e. a lining seat with approximately 5 in. cover along the edge. The cover is attached to the seat by sewing along the seam of the `lining and cover' and the main part of the seat tacked off in the normal way. The small piece of cover going over the roll, however, is slightly different. It is brought over the edge and skewered to hold, and the ends are brought down the outside of the end springs of the spring edge. A neat small pleat is put at the corners and the extension pieces down the sides are stuffed out until they are against the sides of the facings. The edge is sewn on to the border spring canvas with twine. Bridles are then put in the border ready for the stuffing. The front edge of the cover (which was skewered, remember) is now slip-stitched with twine along the underside of the roll. After the border is stuffed, a layer of wadding is put over and the single or double border is skewered at the top and tacked under the base rail. The border is then slip-stitched under the roll and the sides, with fine twine or linen thread and finished off with a furniture cord, this too being sewn on. Any remaining flys of the arms or back which may have been removed from their tacks are now retacked into position again and the outside covers dropped and refixed. A new piece of black hessian is tacked on to complete the installation of a new seat. It may be that a spring-unit interior cushion may need attention or perhaps a feather cushion requires additional feathers to set up the easy-chair for many more years of service.

Very often an easy-chair might only require one or two new seat springs and a re-web. Only the burlap base and the webs need to be ripped out. When this is done cut the lacing cords very carefully where they cross over each other on the centre springs. Undo the knots on as many of the springs that have to be replaced and then cut the springs from the canvas. When cutting through the ties holding them be careful not to cut the canvas. Replace with new springs of the same height and gauge. These are put in one at a time and are sewn in with a half-circular needle over the old mark made by the original spring. This is rather a fiddly and tedious task but if it is worth while it must be done thoroughly. After the springs are attached firmly another awkward job is to lace the old laid cord back on as far as it will go. An extra piece of cord will have to be knotted on. The two ends will meet approximately near the point of where they were cut. Next start webbing the seat again. Do not worry about pushing the springs under the webs and in place until all the webbing is completed. The springs are then worked under the webs and pushed into position to be sewn into the webs by the half-circular needle and fine twine. Fine twine is usually used double as the eye of the half-circular needle is not as big as that of the spring needle and won't easily take the medium twine. It also makes the sewing of the springs easier when using this type of needle. The sewing of the springs follows the same pattern as normally followed; that is, three ties to each coil and knotted separately. A new black ' -burlap bottom completes the renovation. This repair is usually brought about by the use of inferior-grade webbing and this is apparent when ripping out. Nothing but the best-quality webbing is worth putting on when repairing.

Deep-buttoned Chesterfield or Davenport

I am including these in the re-upholstery section as they are pieces that last many years and for some are the last word in comfort and style. And indeed when a good specimen is covered with a good material it presents an elegant example of traditional English furniture. Before entering on the working details it might be as well to remind the reader of the two types of buttoning. `Float' buttoning is when the upholstery buttons just make a slight indentation to the cover whilst deep buttoning can vary from 1 in. to 2 in. deep into the stuffed back or seat. It is with this latter style that the detail of re-upholstering such a Chesterfield deals.

The Chesterfield settee, or Davenport as it is usually called in America, has a fairly deep, well-sprung seat with a spring edge. The back and arms are in one, and form a continuous line around the Chesterfield at a constant height. Sometimes they are stuffed level in the normal way but many are deep-buttoned. The re-upholstering of the seat or back, which is also sprung, is very little different from any other type of re-upholstery. It is certainly much larger and of course entails many manhours as far as labour goes. The basic principles are the same but extra care and patience are required on the longer spring edge and also on the back springing particularly. The springing of the back is carried out with a light-gauge spring which comes up from the seat level right over to the outside edge of the frame, making the top of the back and arms as wide as 9 to 12 in. These back springs are laced loosely in order to retain softness. A shallow but firm scrim stuffing is in hair and the second, and more voluminous stuffing is always in the bestquality hair. The time-taking work of this type of settee is naturally the deep-buttoning on of the cover. This also varies according to the kind of cover chosen. There are Chesterfields covered in cowhide and this certainly takes many hours and lasts for years, but hardly seems the right choice for such furniture. Another difficult cover is velour which must be placed just right to get the folds even and not twisted.

We will mainly deal with the attaching of the cover. The back and arms are done first in three separate pieces of cover, the centre part and two arm parts. If the job is only a re-cover with new material, the buttoning depressions in the second stuffing will already be there to guide you, but if it has been restuffed then of course the buttoning plan or design should be marked out on the scrim stuffing. After the second stuffing and wadding is on, the plan is followed by hollowing the hair and making a hole in the wadding over the button points. This gives a guidance when sewing in the buttons. A similar guide must be marked on the cover if a satisfactory result is to be achieved. It soon becomes obvious that a length of cover from A to B must have a liberal allowance if it is to be deep-buttoned. How much that allowance has to be can depend upon the depth of the buttons but is usually anything from a third to a half extra fullness. So, for example, if the nett measurement from the two extreme points on the back is 6 ft., then the required length would need to be from 8 to 9 ft. long and of course a proportionate allowance for the size, from over the top of the back, to the point where it meets the seat and the flys are sewn on. On the back of each piece of cover the plan for buttoning is marked, but although the design may correspond with the one on the scrim stuffing it will be larger because it is done a third to a half bigger. When the second stuffing has been put on and the wadding covered (with the holes put in), the centre part of the cover is laid on in position and the buttoning started from the centre to work away from in both directions. It is usually a diamond pattern and the folds of the material are turned inwards or facing towards the shallower part of the design. This art of buttoning requires infinite patience, the ability to visualize the completed design and plenty of good `regulating' of the hair stuffing to the right places. When the mitres at the junction of back and arms are reached the cover is allowed to overlap on to the arms a little and the join is made naturally by the diamond pattern when the arm pieces are put on. Pleats are formed from each button along the bottom row as the cover is taken under the tacking rail and tacked off. The same thing also applies to the top row of buttons. Starting from the centre keep the pleats facing opposite ways as they continue around the back and arms to the facings. If the seat is also deep-buttoned then the same procedure is adopted with the buttoning; in this instance the pleats go from each button on the outside rows down to the back base rail for tacking, and over the front edge for sewing under the roll. A complete buttoned Chesterfield also includes the border, but this is a single row of buttons placed centrally along the length with vertical pleats. Not many of these fully buttoned Chesterfields are found but quite a number with the buttoned back and plain balloontype seat are about still, and also the plain Chesterfield with plain seat and back. In this example the three parts of the back cover are mitred at 45 degrees and the mitre sewn with a piping if fancied, as also are the outside edges of the facings. To mitre the cover, lay the material in position on the back. This piece of cover will probably consist of a width of 48 in. material with a fill-out on either side of a quarter or half width. Remember the length has to stretch from the extreme corner rails around at the back of the Chesterfield. It should be mentioned that this preparation is done either at the scrim stuffing stage or over a calico covering. A line is marked or a piece of twine fixed to show the line of the mitre and when the covers are skewered or temporary-tacked in position they are cut to this line with an allowance of 2 in. for seaming together. The outside cover is also done in this way making the mitre down the centre of the corner rails and in line with the inside cover mitre.

Folding screens

Although this is not strictly a piece of upholstered furniture it is a job that is done by the upholsterer, and it is not uncommon to get them into the workshop for recovering. There are many varieties of screen from the elaborate show-wood frames with mirror top panels to the ordinary three- or four-panel screen covered in coloured jute material. The commonest kind are of four sections joined by hinges folding one way only. These are about 5 ft. 9 in. high and each section about 15 in. wide and made up of timber 2 in. x 4 in. The first thing to do when having to re-cover is to separate the sections by unscrewing the hinges. The cover is then ripped off, not torn off, of course, but every tack and gimp pin removed by use of the ripping chisel and mallet. Depending on the quality of the old cover you may have quite a number of gimp pins to remove. A pair of pincers will also be wanted to remove some of these. Extra care is always required when ripping out these screens for the edges can be easily damaged and this will mean more repairs. There is no stuffing and as the cover goes directly against the frame any discrepancy does show up. Once all the tacks are cleared, inspect the frame for loose joints and any pieces that may have come off. Repair and glue where needed before proceeding. Sandpaper down any rough or sharp edges that may have been caused when ripping out. Each section has now what might be described as three square windows. Cover these windows on both sides of the frame with brown paper. Cut out the pieces for each window or opening, making them about two inches bigger all round. Next, glue around the opening about two inches in, using hot glue and stick on the brown paper. Immediately it is on, damp the centre of the paper. As this dries it will give a taut and sound covering for these openings. Treat each section in the same way. The extent of the next stage of work largely depends on the quality of the covering to go on. But even for the lesser grade of cover the frame is covered with a hessian on both sides. This is stretched hand-tight and each side tacked separately on the outside edge of the frame with three-eighths tacks. Do not cover the recessed part where the hinges are screwed. In place of hessian, interlining, commonly known as Bump in the curtain section of upholstery, can be used. The panels of cover material are now cut off and if patterned they must be carefully matched so that each section shows the main motif evenly. The cover can be put on in the same way as the hessian or interlining, i.e. tacked on to the outside edge of the frame and then a banding or wide gimp put round to cover the tacked edge. An alternative method is to put on one panel of the cover by tacking on the edge and the facing panel to come right over the edge and be either gimp-pinned round or temporary-tacked until slipstitched right round with thread. The latter way certainly makes for the better-class finish. In both methods the hinge plates are covered with either the material or banding, so it is better to leave finishing the hinged sides until the screen has been assembled again. With the betterquality screen or cover even the hinge joint is covered. This is usually done with a strip of the cover or a strip of lining. Fold the screen closed and along the two edges where the hinge joint shows sew the strip of covering. One or two gimp pins down the inside edges will ensure that this strip will fold inwards when the screen is opened out. As mentioned at the start of this chapter, a very elaborate screen can call for a lot of hand-sewing by the upholstress. Except in the smaller workshop the upholstress now deals only with curtain work and in some cases loose cover work. Her work in the stuffing shop has been curtailed greatly with the changing styles of furniture and the advent of `jacketed' covers. This has done away with, for example, all cording work. After a suite had been finished or repaired it was put on trestles ready for the upholstress to sew furniture cord around the facings, along the borders, etc., as a finish. The popularity of the cleaner machined piped edge did away with all this hand work. Of course the amount of machining is greater but it is not unusual to find a youth doing this job nowadays whilst the greater skill and patience usually found in any seamstress is utilized on drapery work and loose covers.

It is always surprising when one comes across a piece of furniture not known of or not seen before. It is not long ago that I saw for the first time a type of foot-rest and legrest combined. It was T shaped, the top part of the T about 18 in. long by 9 in. wide and about 1 in. thick. The two ends were slightly curved inwards. Rising from the centre the stalk of the T was of similar dimensions but each side was padded. The whole stool was covered in a material and had a leather carrying handle tacked on to the end of the padded part. What was it for? The answer, a `gout stool'. As the afflicted person sat in the easy chair the heel of the foot rested in the curved part whilst the calf of the leg rested upon the padded section, the great advantage being that by moving the leg slightly a new restful angle could be found for the leg or gouty foot.

Although style and design have changed much in the last ten years and manufacturers have adopted readily the new materials for the manufacture of upholstered furniture, there is now a tendency for the older design to become popular again. In many stores one sees a smaller deepbuttoned suite, but with a curved line both in the back and the seat. Another good seller is the heavily rouched suite with a rouched piping around `down' cushions on both seats and backs. One thing is quite clear, the public are catered for on all levels and are given a better-quality job and better value for money than ever before.

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