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…
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!
- Victorian bloke
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!