An illustrated guide to recovering chairs and other upholstered furniture at home.
One of my early memories – I couldn’t have been more than 4 – is visiting my father’s upholstery factory and wandering around the vast (or so it seemed) workroom where sofas and chairs were propped up on sawhorses. I can remember the faint dusty smell, seeing furniture stripped down to the frames, and watching the various upholsters hand-tie springs, add webbing, and secure fabric (ordered from the samples I played with in the back seat of the car) with tacks spit out of their mouths onto the magnetic ends of a narrow hammers.
The Upholster’s Handbook – Tools, Techniques, Projects by Nicole Fulton and Stuart Weston (Mitchell Beazley, $24.99) took me back as I flipped through the pages where 18 different upholstery projects are shown in 450 excellent how-to photos.
First published as a hardcover in Great Britain in 2004, TUH has recently been reissued in paperback. Sure, there are upholstery tutorials online. But TUH condenses and illustrates the key pieces of equipment, upholstery terminology and basic techniques including an illustrated glossary of equipment, materials, stitches and knots and then some, all in a slim, handy volume. It covers something as basic as or how to judge whether springs should be reused or replaced and as arcane as how to recycle and wash valuable old horsehair should you come upon it in a piece of vintage or antique furniture. The text is basic enough for a beginner, clear and easy to understand. Photos are excellent! The Upholsterer’s Handbook is an essential resource in any decor library but especially valuable for DIYers who is fond of furnishing or recycling thrift-shop finds or simply for someone who is purchasing fine upholstered furniture and wants to be able to judge the level of craftsmanship.
The pair of salon, or side chairs in the book [top] are an upholstery basic from the early 20th Century examples with elaborately carved splats. But any dining room chair found in a thrift, house sale or antique barn could be recovered in the same way. The complete step-by-step process of stripping the chairs, restoring or painting the frames, adding new webbing, hessian (woven jute cloth), stuffing and tacking on calico — white cotton covering the fabric rests on takes them to the point where they are ready to finish with fabric and trim. Some recycled furniture is even sold in this state.
The fabric chosen to cover the chairs is opulent with a cream background and black flock print. The velvet flock works particularly well with the carving. For the trimming a simple band of black velvet has been chosen to set off the chair’s black paint finish and the black flocking on the fabric. As it is plain, the trimming will neither distract from or fight with the top fabric.
Tools needed: Craft knife, hot-glue gun, magnetic hammer, pins, scissors, staple gun (optional). Materials needed: Adhesive sticks, piping, 13 mm (1⁄2-in) tacks, top fabric.
Step 1 Prepare the chair to the calico stage [above]: strip back the chair, apply webbing followed by a base layer of hessian. Make a series of bridle ties, add the stuffing, and secure it. Add another layer of hessian and create a firm seat with a row of wall stitches and a row of roll stitch around the pad’s top edge. Sew some through stitches in the pad, then add a second layer of stuffing to fill out any dips in the center of the pad. Now position a layer of cotton felt and, finally, apply the calico.
Step 2 Cut the top fabric with a 10cm (4in) allowance all round. Lay the fabric on the seat pad, taking care to position it so the pattern lies straight and to its best advantage. Secure the fabric by placing a temporary tack in the center of each side rail. Fold the fabric back from each back upright and make a T cut, stopping a minimum of 2cm (3⁄4in) from the upright. If the cut is made too close, the fabric may tear around the corners.
Step 3 Carefully fold the fabric around and down each side of the upright, smoothing it into position, trimming away any excess fabric from within the fold. Repeat on the other upright.
Step 4 Secure the fabric around the frame with tacks. Manipulating the fabric into position, place a series of spaced tacks around the frame, stopping 5cm (2in) from the corners and taking care not to damage the show wood beneath the fabric (you may prefer to use a staple gun for attaching the fabric instead). Take care to work around the earlier tacks placed to secure the calico. Ease the fabric onto the tack line – the neater the tacks are around the edges, the cleaner the end result when the trimming is in place. Work the fabric across the seat pad, making sure the grain lies straight and taut. Now hammer home in the initial center tacks.
Step 5 Attach the fabric around the front corners. First smooth the excess fabric at the corner around from the side of the seat to the front and place a tack to secure it. Next trim away the excess fabric at the corner to reduce its bulk. Now fold the raw edge under and smooth the fabric back down over the front edge of the seat to create a neat vertical line down the length of the corner.
Step 6 Holding the fold in place, attach a tack to secure it. Repeat on the other front corner. Place the remaining tacks around the corners to complete the tacking process. Trim away the excess fabric using a craft knife, taking care not to mark the show wood.
Step 7 To apply the trimming, begin by attaching the band along the back rail, starting at the center. Using the hot-glue gun, add some glue to one end of the trimming and attach this to the center of the rail, turning it under. Apply pressure and then temporarily secure it with a pin. Continue attaching the trimming along the back rail to the first upright. Carefully fold the trimming to enable it to change direction to go up and around the back upright, and securing the fold temporarily with a pin.
Step 8 When applying the glue around the back corner of the seat pad, take care to make a clean line of glue exactly where you wish the velvet to be fixed. Position it around the back upright, gently pushing it into place with your finger. Continue fixing the trimming along the sides of the frame, applying pressure as you go, and carefully maneuvering around corners as in step 7.
Step 9 At the center back of the frame, where you reach the beginning of the trimming, create a neat finish by folding the end under. Make sure the fold butts up to the first fold exactly with no space in between or an overlap.
Step 10 Attach the dust cloth to the base of the chair; in this case it is hessian. Cut enough hessian to cover the base with a 10cm (4in) allowance all round. Attach it to the underside of the seat frame with four center tacks, turning it under by 2cm (3⁄4in). Apply spaced tacks out from the center, stopping 5cm (2in) away from each corner.
Step 11 At the corners, make a T cut in towards the center of each leg. Fold the excess hessian under around the chair leg and place a tack on each side to secure it.
I feel I could definitely attempt this tutorial!