upholstery

Guess who’s coming to dinner..

A lovely customer recently asked me to reupholster four dining chairs for her. She had inherited them from her parents who had been given them by their neighbour – Aunty Win.

The fabric reminded me of the carpet bag that Mary Poppins pulled a standard lamp out of…. Anyway, I digress! They were lovely solid frames but they needed new seats.

Here’s some of the processes that went into rebuilding the upholstery…

Webs, springs & lashing

Hessian and stuffing

And lots of stitching

After the second stuffing and calico, I really enjoyed using the beautiful Welsh wool fabric that my client had chosen. Its made by Melin Tregwynt Wool Mill in Pembrokeshire.

Now, I really want to make my own carpet bag with that old fabric…..

Super…what?

Suparest…

Suparest were an English furniture manufacturer back in the 1930’s. They made some interesting pieces usually with some form of bentwood in the design. I found one of their chairs and upholstered it for a friend a few years ago – see previous blog ‘Silk stockings & Bed Springs’.  Last summer, I came across another rather special one…

As you can see it was in a bit of a sad state, covered in grim red vinyl and the beautiful wood had been covered up with brown paint. However, its potential was singing to me so I bought it. You know I like a challenge…

Bit of background

This chair was made around 1930 and is a great example of Art Deco furniture.  Its two bow-shaped, beech timbers are steam bent all the way round to form the legs as well as the arms and backrest – a very clever design. The two sides are connected by crossbars and the upholstered spring unit is hung on the frame.

Back to the frame

I stripped back the upholstery and took the frame to be dipped to remove the brown paint.  Even naked it looked gorgeous, so we included it in our ‘Beneath The Surface’ exhibition to illustrate the beauty of the inside of chairs.

The rebuild

The original spring unit was beautiful but quite saggy so I sent it off to Wade Springs in Nottingham where they cleverly ‘reverse engineered’ me a new one! Then I set about rebuilding it. As 90% of the upholstery is attached to the metal spring unit, each layer has to be hand sewn into place… At this point I discovered that new spring units are quite sharp – youch!

Then onto the padding, first the coir, then a layer of rubberised hair which was sewn to the spring unit again (forgot to take a photo of that stage!) and then a layer of cotton wool felt.

The fabric

Any chair with an inverted curve needs a fabric that has some stretch to it, so a wool felt seemed like the perfect option. This fabric is a hard wearing wool felt by Camira that comes in great range of colours. I’ve used it to create a hand tailored cover – basically you cut and fit fabric together with pins, take it back off the chair frame, sew it together and then fit it back on. It may sound simple, but believe me its not…

This top fabric layer and the back all had to be sewn in place again.

And here she is all finished! An unusual Art Deco chair fully restored to her former glory in some smart contemporary fabric. This chair was sold to some lovely people this May at Emily Boo & Guests Open House as part of the Brighton Artists Open Houses 

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Take me to Vancouver Island

I’ve been meaning to write a blog about this beautiful old French nursing chair for a while now. The owner was moving back to Vancouver Island and wanted to have the chair reupholstered before she left. She loved the hessian and webs exposed at the back and wanted to try and retain as much of its character and history as possible.

The frame had some woodworm which was quickly treated and its cover was a beautiful raw silk that was very frayed. When I took off the cover you could see the original colour of the silk where it had been tucked inside the frame and had not been faded by exposure to sunlight. You could also see the threads of the raw silk… Beautiful!

The back upholstery was in fairly good nick so I just rebuilt the seat. These were the beautiful old Victorian springs inside which were a bit too distorted to reuse. I’ve kept them though as you know I’m partial to spring and these are beauties.

The back was left open so that the lovely webbing and hessian could be seen – all framed with deep pink velvet and piping. I chose a piece of the brightly coloured original silk to secure to the outside back.

I like to think of this chair eventually sitting in its new home in Vancouver Island. I’m quite jealous really – lucky chair!

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Photo by Crusoe Weston

Below the surface

Traditional upholstery is about so much more than the fabric that covers a chair. Underneath the surface there is layer upon layer of work to create, build and sustain the shape of the chair. All achieved mainly using these and a few simple tools… I know, I’d never make a hand model!

People are often surprised by the cost of traditional upholstery, so I thought it would be worth showing quite how much work goes into it…

The Arms
There are over 10 stages to build traditional arms – even more if they are sprung! Here are just a few…

The Back

This is going to be a buttoned back – which is why the edges are being built up first to create a well for the buttons… Rest in peace Princess Leia.

The Seat
And at least another 15 stages to build a sprung, stitched and stuffed seat. This one has an independent sprung edge for extra comfort…

And here it is, hand built and stitched – before its top cover. I often wish I could leave them in their underwear like this…

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So why bother?

So why bother with all that palaver, when you can just use foam and get the job done much more quickly? Here’s why…

Sustainability The materials used in this chair are all natural and biodegradable, apart from the metal springs and they can be recycled. Foam is an oil-based product and will sit in land fill for hundreds of years.
Longevity A chair built with traditional materials and methods will last a long, long time, literally decades beyond the life of a modern piece of furniture made with foam.
Tradition This is how these antique chairs would have been upholstered over 100 years ago. To retain the integrity and authenticity of an antique piece of furniture its important to use methods and materials in keeping with its origins.
Celebrate and keep British craft alive! These skills will die out if we don’t keep using, sharing and teaching them…

 

Cherry red to turquoise…

Cherry red

A while ago I was approached by a lovely client who had inherited her Nan’s rocking chair. She was very fond of it but the cherry red velour and dark wood didn’t really fit into the style of her house.

img_6131The foam inside was old and crumbly so that was removed and then I set about stripping the dark varnish off the wood. Many sanding sheets later, I applied some traditional wood finishing techniques to the show wood. Now rather than dark brown – it’s a warm honey colour.

Transformation

With completely new foam and cotton wool felt, it was then covered with a gorgeous turquoise blue, fine wool fabric from Ludvig Svennson. Just a beautiful colour.

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What a transformation and incredibly comfortable to sit in!

Have a heart

Sometimes its good to have a little reminder of what was there before, particularly if it has fond memories. Just under the cushion is a hidden piece of cherry velvet.

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One woman, her Northumbrian roots and the destiny of a sofa…

So I have this friend called Linda. She is very, very lovely. You’ve probably already worked out that she comes from Northumberland, in fact from a little place called Alnwick. She’s lived down south for years now, but she still goes back ‘home’ a few times a year to visit family and friends, and the ruggedness of The Borders still have a strong hold on her heart.

She even has a Border Terrier called Hinny… Awww.

So Linda has got a good eye for a 2nd hand bargain and a few years back she found this lovely old 1930’s sofa on eBay. Only after she’d won the bid did she realise it was actually being sold from a little antiques shop in her home town of Alnwick. What are the chances of that! After a long journey, the sofa arrived.  It was very heavy because it was actually a sofabed…

 
Over the years – the seat’s got lumper and the only one sitting on it was the dog! Despite this and perhaps because of its origins, Linda was keen to hang on to the old gal. I have often admired this sofa and recently got to work on bringing it back to life…

It was made in the late 1930’s under the wartime and post war Utility furniture scheme. Times were tight but I think this spring unit could have done with a few more springs….

I forgot to take photos of the nice new webs and lovely lashed springs – sorry about that (I was engrossed in a particularly good play on Radio 4). But believe me – they’re under there and now there’s 18 rather than just 12…!

Anyway, after perking up the wood with a nitrostain and building up the seat and back with rubberised hair, it was time to apply the lovely luxurious new velvet.  I’m glad to say that having dismantled a rather complicated 70 year old sofa bed mechanism in order to upholster the panels, I was most relieved that it all fitted back together again. Phew!

Now all we need to do is convince Hinny that the sofa is no longer her bed. Although she does go rather marvellously. Hard to resist that face….

“Please…?”

It’s rude to stare but…

I’ve oooh’d and ahhh’d over Mark Hearld‘s fabric designs for a while now – they are just beautiful. So when a client asked me to help her find a chair and said she wanted to use Mark Hearld’s Harvest Hare fabric, I was very excited!!

This is the chair we found… A really lovely shaped tub chair wearing rather tattered 1970’s William Morris fabric. I’m sure we had curtains a lot like this when I was growing up…

This was a recover rather than a total upholstery rebuild, so I added some lovely cotton wool felt for extra padding. The seat has been repaired from the underneath too.

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Behold

After much pattern matching, here she is, in all her corn-coloured glory..

  

Staring at hares

Our workshop is based at the Phoenix Brighton and have three huge windows through which passersby from the street often have a good look at our current projects. While I’ve been working on this chair, lots of people have stopped to peer in at the harvest hares! One chap even stopped to take a photo – cheeky!

Something special

Every now and then you get to work on a chair that is a bit special… I’m with my daughter on this one, she said: “I love the birds and the hares – I wish we could keep it.”  This is going to be a bedroom chair – what a lovely thing to wake up to every morning.. It would simply be rude not to stare.

If you’d like to learn more about Mark Hearld’s work and some of the other artists who are part of St Jude’s, you can visit their website.