A few years ago some friends offered me a lovely old arm chair – it’s a 1930’s club chair that had been in Sarah’s family for years, she had been nursed on it as a baby and grown up with the chair in her family home. Here it is in the 1980’s with some William Morris fabric, a skirt and a very sweet dog. Oh and this is Sarah on her horse.
In more recent years, it spent some time in Sarah’s own living room with a new loose cover (made on the other side of the world but that’s another story). Really it needed reupholstering but this is a huge chair and it was going to be expensive! Knowing about my career change, Sarah gave it to me as a future project.
It is a beast of a thing, but I love it! It took two of us to lift it and we could barely get in through the front door and into the hall. Here’s what it looked like under the loose cover and stripped back to the frame..
So, I took it in to college as it provided me with lots of things I needed to practice – an independent sprung edge, wings and massive sprung arms. Working on it for just one day a week and doing the whole thing using traditional upholstery methods and materials – it took a long, long, long time, particularly those darn sprung arms! Here’s are some photos of its development…
No-one puts baby in a corner
Actually they do and then they put her on a pallet at The Cass Upholstery end of year show 2015.
Home sweet home
Since I’ve had ‘the beast’ back home, I’ve added some stripey cushions and matching 1930’s footstool. This is my favourite armchair to curl up in with a book. With footstool in position, it also provides the perfect spot for 40 winks on a Sunday afternoon…
I do like the occasional cocktail – Strawberry Margarita is my current favourite, with the Mojito a close second. Its my latest chair creation that has had me thinking about these drinks and the summer to come….
1950’s cocktail chair – before
I love the shape of the curved back – feels like you are being given a kind of chair hug. Typical of this era, it has lovely tapered legs which I’ve stripped and waxed. I’ve used two Vanessa Arbuthnott fabrics from her Swedish range as they go really well with the style of this chair. Her fabrics are also sustainable as she sources cotton and linen grown without the use of pesticides.
I’m hanging on to this one to sell at the Artists Open Houses in May. I’m thinking of sourcing some similar legs and making a stool to match. Cant beat sitting in glamorous comfort, with a feet up option!
Meanwhile, here’s a recipe for a Mojito from Jamie Oliver – although I have to apologise in advance for the mint spanking in the video… Well really.
Learning the noble art of traditional upholstery continues to be both hugely challenging and incredibly rewarding. However, it turns out that creating a number of matching chairs is a whole different skill in itself! So back in the summer, I brought two dining chairs into college to work on together.
These chairs are Victorian balloon backs with cabriole legs and some beautiful carving. This style of chair dates from about 1840, so they are approximately 150 years old.
In order to create two matching seats, you have to apply each layer of upholstery to both the chair frames, weighing the stuffing and constantly measuring the height as you go.
Woman on the edge…
Stitching is one of my favourite elements of traditional upholstery – it creates a firm edge, gives a seat its shape – and its key to creating two seats that look the same!
A matching pair
Using traditional upholstery methods and materials on these antique chairs means that they not only look beautiful, but will now have many, many more years of life in them yet. And they look pretty darn matching too!
One of the things I like about working on an old chair is stripping it back to the frame – it is a pretty dusty job but you are literally peeling back the years and you never quite know what you are going to discover… Some chairs just keep getting covered with new fabric so you get to see a potted history of textiles. With others – you can see the varying methods and materials that previous upholsterers have used.
A few months back, I read a really interesting article about someone who had stripped back a chaise lounge only to find that it had been originally stuffed using beautiful old Victorian clothes, like shirts and sleeping bonnets! Some of the garments even had labels in so she was able to trace some of the family history. I would love to share this with you, but sadly it doesn’t exist in the virtual world.
I recently reupholstered a lovely Victorian tub chair for a friend and although there was nothing as romantic as Victorian bonnets inside, there had been some imaginative use of cereal packets used as the inside of the arm facing!
The before photos
1980’s upholstery and recycled breakfast
The old innards and back to the frame
The after photos
Nice new firm back and a freshly sprung seat
The finished chair… No shreddies included!
Ready to strike gold…
I am of course still waiting to upholster a chair that contains a wad of cash or diamonds buried in the seat for safe keeping! So far I have only found a £1 coin and a Lego mini figure. I maybe waiting some time…
Deep buttoning is a rather curious thing…. Victorians introduced it in the second half of the eighteenth century to give ‘fresh decorative character to upholstery’ (David James 2008). Actually – they came up with it to torture upholstery students… Traditional deep buttoning is very difficult!
Now, while it is not particularly popular in the world of contemporary upholstery, deep buttoning is definitely a skill you need to have in your traditional upholstery tool bag – hence my recent choice of chair to work on at college. A few of my fellow students also took on similar buttoning challenges and for a while the workshop was awash with much heavy sighing, a considerable amount of swearing and even some interesting horse-like snorting noises…
A journey into deep buttoning
I thought you might like to share the journey……
After many, many hours and a lot of effort – this was the end result… A very comfortable, deep buttoned Victorian slipper chair.
When we were at a friend’s house a while back, I spied a lovely Victorian balloon back dining chair that was looking rather worse for wear. The leather was very worn and split and the seat was dipping – so I offered my services to rescue it from ‘sagsville’.
According to our friend, Anthony, the chair was likely to have been last reupholstered by a someone who worked alongside his father at the MG factory in Oxford in the 1950’s.
All the trimmings
They used red leather from the trimmings workshop, and judging from the colour, its probably the same leather that would have been used on the interior of the 1950’s MG Magnette saloon – see below. I know this because Anthony told me and he is quite the MG expert…
New for 2014…
I have now re-upholstered the seat. Although it doesn’t have that sports car feel about it any more – it looks rather lovely and is much more comfortable!
Keeping hold of the past
But, so we don’t lose an important part of this chair’s history, I have saved a sample of the MG trimming leather and slipped it under the webbing with a print out of this blog entry. A little piece of history for the next upholsterer to find…!
I decided to name my fledgling business – not after the season of daffodils, baby lambs and cherry blossom – but actually after the humble metal spring.
Springs are marvelously utilitarian in their look and feel and yet still manage to be beautiful. They create the foundations of a seat and contribute to it’s comfort and stability.
A brief history of the spring…
Before springs – you’d have just sat on fillings like hair, feathers or rags – with not a lot of give!
The Victorians introduced the double cone spring and by 1850, many seats, backs and arms were being built with these springs to provide comfort. These springs look very similar today and are still used in traditional upholstery. These are my favourite. Beautiful!
Double cone spring
The first half of the 20 century saw lots of development to the spring – mainly to increase speed of making mass produced furniture and reduce costs. For example you didn’t need to know how to position and lash springs when inserting a spring unit – just pop it in!
Tension springs are often seen in 50’s & 60’s furniture and were used a lot in Parker Knoll chairs. Serpentine springs are the sorts of springs used in a lot of modern furniture – you’ve probably got some inside your sofa!
So next time you drop into a comfy armchair – give a thought to the springs hard at work beneath your derriere!