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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

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 - Measuring-Cutting And Preparing Covers

( Originally Published 1961 )

Modern upholstery factories carry out this part of the job on a very methodical scale. For each model of settee or chair, templates are made for every piece of cover, and several dozen pieces of cover are cut off with a machine. The number of cover pieces to a settee or chair is about ten. They are made up as follows: Seat-Inside BackOutside Back-two Inside Arms and two Outside Arms -one or two Borders and two Facings.

In most workshops however the upholsterer cuts his own covers and as this is the most expensive material in the making of a suite, great care and thought should be given to this task before putting scissors to the cloth. The measurements should be written down against the parts concerned; e.g. Seat .... feet .... inches, LB. . . . .feet .... inches, etc. Note the abbreviations which will continually crop up, amongst the cover parts. List vertically i.e. T.B.=Top Border. LB.=Inside Back etc. Seat, LB., O.B., LA., O.A., Border, Facings. These symbols are chalked on the back of the pieces of cover for easy recognition. In the case of the LA.s and the O.A.s it is as well to also mark them R and L (Right and Left). Some suites may well have a top border around the back and sometimes side facings on the back. Wings are yet other pieces that come with the winged armchair or settee.

The measuring should take place at the stage where either the first or second stuffing has been completed. If the second stuffing has a calico covering it is best to leave your measuring until this stage is reached. Depending on the type of weave the cover has, 4 in. to 1 in. can be allowed for turns and seams, etc. This applies to the area that can be seen. However the seat, inside back and inside arms have the addition of `flys' sewn on. This is the term given to pieces of canvas or old material which are sewn on to the edges of the cover that tuck down into the seat to reach the tacking rails. The upholsterer's American colleague refers to them as `denim pullthroughs'.

These `flys' or `pullthroughs' serve two purposes, that of saving material and of giving better control of the material particularly when it is under strain. This applies more so when it is a patterned or an open-weave material. Any twist set up by pulling the material taut will finish where the fly meets the cover.

If the upholsterer has only one chair or settee he can by experience judge if he can get the material out of the yardage available, and usually he has estimated the job himself. However, if there are a number of pieces to be cut it is just as well to plan it out.

Take a large piece of paper and draw two parallel lines to a scale to represent a 50 in. wide material. The length of the lines should represent the length of material available, on the same scale. For example, if one works to the scale of 1 in. to 1 ft., then the lines will be just over 4 in. apart. And if the length of material is 12 ft. long, then the lines will be drawn 12 in. in length.

Once you have this rectangle set out you can refer to the sizes of each piece of cover and using the same scale draw them into the rectangle thus planning the most economical way of cutting. This way one also has the whole pattern before one which is useful when considering pattern or the brushing of pile. Another way is by cutting paper templates to the scale and this enables you to move them around within the rectangle plan. Remember 50 in. material includes the selvedges which can account for nearly 2 in. A more practical way is by cutting out to actual size using some old calico or hessian.

These templates are then placed directly on to the cloth and planned and cut out that way.

It is as well to mention again at this stage the direction of pile or pattern. This invariably runs from the top of the piece of furniture towards the floor, i.e. down the inside back over the edge of the seat and down to floor level. Inside arms brush down into the seat, whilst all outside coverings and facings again sweep down to the floor. Furniture that has a separate long flat arm has the pattern or pile running from the back of the arm and over the front.

There are two parts of a settee or chair that should be paired exactly when covering with a patterned material.

These are the `inside arms' and the `facings'. Whether the cover has a frequent repeat pattern or a focal motif, care should be taken to assure the design appearing in the same place on both arms and facings. After deciding just how to place the pattern motif on these pieces, cut one and using this as a template place it on the appropriate part of the cover and cut the second one. But make sure that you cut these second pieces either `face to face' or `back to back' otherwise you will find that you have two righthanded or left-handed pieces. Another point to note when cutting the seat (or top panel of the cushion) and the inside back: if the material has a large motif see that it is centred on the back and seat pieces, and sometimes this needs to be noted even when cutting the front border. This gives a line of continuity of pattern from the top to the floor level. The same principle applies of course to the outside cover but can be ignored if it means a considerable saving of material. The average chair seat and inside back can be done with half a width of 50 in. material, so one can see that a material chosen with a large design in the centre can mean a lot of waste. Settee seats, inside backs and outside backs usually take one and a half to two widths to cover. A width is centred and side pieces are sewn on to obtain the required width. In the case of a two-pillow or three-pillow settee where the inside back is divided into separate sections, then of course any pattern must be centred on each section.

Another economy in cover material is the substitution of a lining material for the main part of a cushion seat, known as a `platform seat'. This is a seat that is made to carry a cushion when finished. The cover material in this case only covers the edge of the seat extending for 5 in. or 6 in. under the cushions, whilst the remaining area under

the cushions has the lining material. Of course this seat lining is a necessity for hide suites otherwise the cushions would slide. A word here about cutting the cushion covers. A template is cut of one panel and the remaining panel cut from it. Here again it is cut `back to back' or `face to face'.


Furniture cords as a finish to the edges of a suite are no longer seen. Instead we have the `piped finish'. This means usually that the arms and facings are sewn together in one with a `piped' seam. Piping being a cord covered with the material. Similar treatment is given to the inside back and the top border and the seat and front border. They are generally termed `jackets'. These `jackets' are pulled on and adjusted to their correct positions and tacked. This calls for strong wrists and sensitive hands. All hide or morocco jobs are done in this way, the facings usually being wood, with the hide tacked on before fixing. They are temporarily fixed in position and a hole bored through the facing and frame which is countersunk to take the head of a `bolt'. The facing is removed and the bolt inserted in the hole, and then the hide, which has already been piped, tacked on to the facing. Before the outside arm is tacked the facing is replaced and the nut screwed to the bolt, thus securing it in position.

When cutting hides and moroccos the full-size template method is much better. Joins can be made on the outside covers by `skiving' the leather. This is done by a sharp thin knife. A chamfered cut is made, about 4 in. in, on the back of both pieces of hide, ending the cut wafer thin. These two pieces are then glued together and layed upon a flat surface and weights placed on until firmly stuck. This is the method also for joining pieces of hide together for piping.

Piping with soft materials calls for strips an inch wide and cut on the bias. Cutting the material on the cross like this prevents any fullness when making up. A piping cord is layed inside, the material folded over the cord and machined along, using an attachment called a `piping foot'. Occasionally when the cover is not `jacketed' fullness around the `scroll' (the circular shape in front of the arm) is dispersed by evenly placed pleats tacked against the facing. Or in the case of hide covering, tight folds are preferable. In either case no fullness should show on the top side of the scroll.


Half an inch is the standard allowance for joining and a double stitching row is advisable. When a 'deepbuttoned' job or a fluted method of covering is adopted, extra allowances must be made when measuring and cutting. Be generous, for a skimped cover looks conspicuous.

It will be seen that careful preparation is well worth while and can save a lot of time and prevent mistakes. When it comes to preparing the cover material it is a personal choice whether one prepares the whole number of pieces at one time or does each piece as one is ready for it. The former is advisable as the continuity of different physical actions makes for speed and perfection. However, as soon as staleness develops it is as well to leave off and switch to another task.

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