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…
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…
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…
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
Last May, at the one of the Brighton Artist Open Houses, I met Lizzie Hillier from Sussex based textile design company called Woven Oak. I loved their fabrics and was keen to see if we could bring our skills together to create a beautiful chair.
A good find
Then a few months ago, I found this rather special 1930’s reclining chair at Shabitat in Brighton. Its upholstery was in serious need of some attention but its shape and woodwork were lovely. The chair also reclines, so while sitting you can slide the seat forward and the back tilts. Perfect for an afternoon nap!
Floor sweepings and tigers
Stripping it back revealed the original fabric (swirly brown and carpet-like) and ye olde upholstery practice of sweeping the floor and emptying the contents of the dustpan into the chair stuffing! Mmmmm lovely. However, I quite like the plywood from the back with all its old stamps. Easy tiger…
The seat was a hand stitched sprung cushion that would have been beautifully made in its day but was falling apart! No wonder the seat was so lumpy.
With a newly sprung seat and sustainable materials to rebuild its upholstery, the chair was all ready for its final cover…
This is Woven Oak’s ‘Bloom’ fabric – such a beautiful print that really suited the age and style of the chair. Fabric and chair together have created rather a lovely place to sit back and dream of summer days…
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.
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!
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.
A while ago a lovely friend asked me if I could find her an old chair – she lives in a house built in the 1930’s and liked chairs with bentwood arms. Here’s what I found… a beautifully designed chair made by Suparest as a Utility piece of furniture sometime between 1941 – 1952.
Recently I began the job of returning it to its former glory. It still had the original fabric and utility ‘cheeses’ label, but the fabric was holey and the stuffing was very saggy. The varnish was very scratched and worn. Not surprising after about 70 years!
Severe restrictions on raw materials during World War II saw the introduction of a controlled production scheme in 1941. Initially, the utility mark applied to clothing and then extended to other commodities including furniture. The utility furniture range was aimed at newly weds setting up home or those whose houses had been bombed in the Blitz. It was well designed but plain and not surprisingly ‘utilitarian’ in style. Towards the end of the war, new and more attractive designs were introduced, but the scheme came to an end in 1952.
Uncovering the past
This is what was inside… A cleverly designed spring unit that was hinged in the middle and sat on the frame as a kind of hammock. Attached to the spring unit was the original manufacturers label – Crosby Spring Interiors in Lancashire. I did some research on the interweb and found they made mattress springs – apparently their company slogan was ‘Think of beds – Crosby Springs to mind!’
Make do & Mend
Another little surprise inside the chair was a rather forlorn 1940’s style stocking wrapped around the side of the spring unit. With a seam all the way up the back and little patches of salmon coloured thread where it’s holes had been darned – it rather epitomised the ‘make do and mend’ nature of war time Britain and the years that followed.
Back to the frame
Once stripped, the wood was rather a strange pink, so I had to use water stains and spirit dyes to get it to a good colour.
Beautiful once again
With some very lovely Bute wool Ramshead fabric and I think it’s looking pretty good again. It’s also really comfortable, almost as comfortable as my mattress…