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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 Stuffing Materials

( Originally Published 1961 )


Although one can't classify webbing as a stuffing material I've included it in this chapter because it is upon the soundness and quality of webbing that any upholstered job depends. That is, of course, if it is not a spring-unit job.

Upholstery webbing is made in various qualities. The best-known and the highest grade is known in the trade as `English Webbing' or `Black and White Webbing'. It is made of pure flax in a herring-bone design of black and white. Lesser qualities have a percentage of jute, cotton or hemp and often a linen thread is woven to improve the selvedge strength. The widths run from 2 in., 2 1/8 in. and 2 1/4 in. and are bought in pieces. English webbing pieces are 18 yds. in length whilst the cheaper forms run to 36 yds. a piece. The lesser-grade webbing is plain brown in colour and striped. Made of jute throughout and imported from India comes a plain weave in widths from 1 I in. to 3 in. This is possibly the cheapest of all webbings. Naturally the prices of these webbings are much below our webs.

In the United States jute webbing seems to be the usual foundation material and it is graded according to weave. The sizes are wider than ours and run from 3 to 4 in. A piece is 72 yds. in length.

For the webbing of any sprung seat the English web has no equal and when it is strained and tacked properly it will retain its strength and resilience for years. So it will be seen that careful consideration should be given to this part of the job if one is thinking of economies in any way. The jute variety can be quite adequate for inside arms and backs that are not to be sprung.

Burlap (Hessian)

The lightest or most-open weave of this material is known as `scrim', and the heaviest or most closely woven is called `tarpaulin' or `spring canvas'. They are made in various weights and are all made from jute. The uses of burlap in the upholstery trade are many, and taking them more or less in their order we begin with the covering of the springs or webbing (if not sprung), for which the heavier grade is used, namely spring canvas. Then we come to the first stuffing, for which we use scrim. A medium-weight burlap is used for covering the bottoms of chairs, etc., and this can also be in black burlap. This covers the webbing and keeps the dust from falling on to carpets as well as putting a finishing touch to the job.

In England the popular width of hessians is 72 in., although many other widths are made. The U.S.A. seems to favour 40 in. as an average width. Also the name given to hessian is `burlap' and referred to as eight to ten and a half, and twelve ounce weights.


These are numerous and varied and are obtained from animals, birds and fruit and even the sea. A sample list reads like this: hair, fibres, linsey wool, feathers, kapok and foam rubber. To the upholsterer, horse-hair, or hair as it is generally known, is the favourite and as yet there has not been another stuffing to equal it. It is the most resilient of stuffings, the best quality lasting for many years. It may instantly come to the mind that today foam rubber has surely displaced it. But this would not be right to assume. The finest-quality upholstered furniture still depends upon the great feel and skill of the craftsman. And it is the judgement very often, when stuffing, to know just how thick or dense to make `first stuffings' and `second stuffings' that gives the right firmness and shape. There are a number of qualities of hair, and also differentcoloured hair. It is washed and sterilized and then spun into rope form. This twists the hair and gives to it the springiness that is its chief attribute. The longer the hair the more twist and resilience. A great proportion of this is dyed black. The rest is left in its natural colour and is known as `grey hair'. Cheaper grades of hair are of the shorter length and are mixed with hog-hair and others not from horses.

The ideal stuffing is an all-hair stuffing but in many jobs hair is used for second stuffing only. Fibres of one sort or another are used for the first stuffings. The `fibre' group is also greatly varied, the most widely used is probably black fibre. This comes from a process involving a North African dwarf palm tree. The leaves are split and dyed, but some left in their natural colour, green. An approximate price for this stuffing today is $18 a hundredweight bag.

Another vegetable fibre is the lining of the coconut husk. This has quite a curl in it which of course makes for more resilience. This is known as `ginger fibre'. Both these fibres make a very good first stuffing and stitched rolls or edges. The ginger fibre will make a firmer edge but tends to disintegrate more quickly with age. There is also a sisal fibre and a synthetic fibre but the latter does not seem to be manufactured these days. All the foregoing stuffings are now manufactured on stuffing pads, the stuffing being woven on to a hessian and obtainable by the roll or made to specially shaped templates. Another form of prefabricated pads uses latex rubber for binding the stuffings. Rubberized hair or fibre make for quick production. The less-expensive form of stuffing is black wool or flock and is manufactured from rags. This costs about $18 a hundredweight. The best is an excellent smooth and soft stuffing but of course without much resilience. The worst is really not worth buying and although the manufacturers have to meet a standard of cleanliness and quality to conform to the law, the lowergraded products leave much to be desired.


Another form of stuffing is made from hessian jute scraps. Cotton flock is, as its name implies, made from cotton, and from cotton waste a useful material known as cotton linters. It is a felt made from linters in several qualities and widths and packed in bales of about twenty pounds weight. It is used as an alternative to wadding over the second stuffing and also as a lining around the spring units in cushions and mattresses. These then are the more robust stuffing materials.

At the beginning of this chapter I mentioned stuffing material coming from the sea. This was called, I believe. `alva' and I can remember using it when an apprentice,a repair job would often reveal the first stuffing was of alva. It was made from dried seaweed and made a very hard edge. Of course it is not used today but I can't help feeling that seaweed and many other things from the sea will in the future be processed for many things.

It looked at one time as though moulded rubber would supersede the fibres, but the manufacturing costs of this rubber seem to have safeguarded this. For as I mentioned previously the hand-teased hair stuffing is still supreme.


Here again we have many qualities. Those plucked from the breasts of eider ducks are most expensive and are used mainly in quilts or eiderdowns. Duck and poultry feathers are washed and purified and are used for upholstery and they are nearly all imported.


This is a popular stuffing or filling for smaller cushions, and is a vegetable from Java and the Dutch East Indies. This down is also used for life jackets.


Made in sheet form of about 36 ft. long, wadding costs anything from 80 to $1.50 a piece. It is available also in 1 lb. packets. This is used to cover a second stuffing of hair or even over a calico covering. This gives a softness that is needed, particularly if a silk cover or something equally delicate is to be the final cover material. It also prevents the sharp ends of the hair stuffing from sticking through the covers.


The sundries of almost every trade seem to be neverending. The upholstery trade, being no exception, can catalogue numerous and well-assorted sundries. However, only the most important will be dealt with here. Two of the most important are tacks and twine.

Dealing with the Twines first, it might be as well to say now that there are usually at least three or four different qualities used in the making of a fully upholstered piece of furniture. Made from flax and hemp, it is often imported from Denmark and Ireland. The majority of hemp twine is Italian. Various thicknesses of twine are required to meet the needs of different jobs. We first use twine when sewing in the springs to the webbing. A medium thickness is wanted for this job and, as for all upholstery twines, one that doesn't twist too much. This is usually called `spring twine'. A thicker quality is used when the springs are laced together and this is called `lacing twine' or `laid cord'. The twine or yarns are `laid' together in a certain way which prevents stretch in the finished cord. This is most important as springs are laced to a set position and are under tension.

The twines for `bridling' and `stitching' are of a much finer variety. The stitching twine is pulled continually in the stitching process and is very strong. `Piping' cords are used to insert in material to form a piped edging around such places as facings (the front uprights of the arm rail). These cords can be made from cotton or paper. Flax twines cost from $15 to $20 a dozen pounds, and hemp twine is a little cheaper. The first-grade hemp twine, however, can go to as much as $30 per dozen pounds weight. Laid cord is from $4.50 to $12.

Tacks. Fine or `improved' tacks come in sizes from 4 in. to $ in. for upholstery work and are supplied in 281b. bags to the trade. They are also sold in 71b. packets. Gimp pins and round-headed nails with various finishes are also used for finishing off furniture. The former for gimp edging and the latter for leather bandings. The finishes for the nails are oxidized, brass, chromium and so on to coloured enamels. Studs can also be leathercovered. Upholstery buttons are used extensively. These have a metal backing with either a small ring or a cloth `bos' and can be covered with any material required.

These then are the main sundries but of course from time to time extra sundries are called for.

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