Skill Learning

Click on the sections below to learn more about the skill and to get started on your journey to becoming an upholstery master.

Top cover fabric initially springs to mind with this title but that has a section of its own. The purpose of this category is to introduce you to all the materials that are required to reupholster, or repair, traditional chairs, sofas, stools etc. They combine to make up the all-important layers underneath the top cover. If the wrong materials are used, or are used in the wrong order, you can't expect your top cover to fit and wear well. It is therefore hardly surprising that these materials are very specific to our trade and you can easily be sold the wrong thing which will be a hindrance not a help! Reassuringly the materials list is not huge, but the type and quality are what's important.  

Upholsterers' tools are not numerous, or costly, but it is very important to collect a kit that will help you do the job properly. Avoid being sold the wrong implements before you start. This recording will introduce you to every piece of equipment, its use, and safe handling. Upholstery can be a technical trade to master and you can't carry out all the different processes with incorrect equipment.

A group of 3 short films with Alison's Top Tips on stripping off and preparing a wooden frame for upholstery. It's a good idea to attend to any woodwork before you start to your upholstery work while it's naked so you can get at the joints. Before starting any project please think about the precautions you can take to help you work in a safe environment. This includes safe handling of tools and fire retardant materials.
Please note that your project needs to be at the correct height so that you can maintain good posture throughout the tasks. Don't be afraid to move or turn your chair to allow you to work in the correct position.

Webbing is a very strong strip of fabric. Alison favour's a linen with a herring--bone pattern running through it. A cheaper alternative is a woven jute but it won't hold you up as long.

One of the first skills to learn in upholstery is how to choose and apply webbing to your piece of furniture. Aside from the frame of your piece, webbing is one of the most important elements in the structure of your project forming the foundations that all future elements of upholstery are built upon. Every piece of furniture is different, but webbing can be found in almost every chair, sofa or footstool and anywhere where springs are used or where stuffing needs to be supported.  

The key to applying webbing is to correctly plan and position your webs with the future upholstery elements in mind to fully support springs, stuffing's or to assist in the fitting of calico and top cover. Any mistake in the type of webbing used, the tension applied or location of your webbing can cause problems throughout the rest of the project, so getting this first step in the upholstery process right is essential. The good news is that, so long as the you have correctly planned for the positioned your webbing, applying webbing is one of the less technical aspects of upholstery, but it must still be done well!  

In this collection of video's you will learn how to use the basic tools needed for English webbing, where, when and how to apply webbing to different types and areas of a frame and how to carry out a repair to webbing. French webbing is wider than English and requires a different sized stretcher to apply.

Please note, if your project has previously been upholstered with elasticized webbing you need to follow the manufacturer's instructions -- or you may be able to transform it into an antique of the future by using the traditional techniques in this video, providing your wooden frame is robust enough to handle the tacking.

Traditionally upholstered furniture uses a wire spiral spring to add comfort, not just to seats, but to backs and arms as well where applicable. They are called double cone because the diameter of their centres are half that of their ends. To prevent cutting coverings, the free end of the wire is coiled inwards -- this is called the knot. Sizes from 4inches to 12 inches are obtainable -- the size is measured from knot to knot. They are made of different gauges of wire to suit various purposes and it is very important to select the correct height and gauge of spring for your particular chair. A spring that is too short of weak will not stand the test of time. Likewise, too big a spring will not sit right and will be felt through the stuffing! Once the correct size of spring has been selected you will see how to attach it in the correct manner to give stability and comfort for many years. This layer, with the webbing, is the all-important foundation to your project -- you can't' expect the subsequent layers which follow to sit right if your webbing and springing hasn't been carried out correctly.

Hessian is a course jute cloth, and is used as underlining. Sounds easy enough to use but its application varies vastly according to what surface it is being applied to. Hence the need for this set of films to guide you through use over webbing, springs, wood and even an iron frame.

The use of hessian for a tacked rolled edge is another subject within this category.

The stuffing found in top quality traditional upholstery is curled horse hair. Lesser quality is Algerian grass and Alva, a seaweed from the shores of southern Russia, the Baltic and other places. Some stuffing's may include cotton and woolen flocks but they can be lumpy and therefore make it harder to achieve a smooth finish. The course filling used in Alison's work is a polished fibre made from the husk of the coconut. It has been washed and made fire retardant. It has been dyed black with carbon and really resembles animal hair but is much more affordable than real horse hair. Alison will tell you how to restore real horse hair if you find it in your chair or in a mattress.

You can't expect your stuffing to go according to plan unless you prepare for it properly and this set of videos show you how to hold it all in place.
Calico is a off white plain-woven textile made from unbleached cotton - often not fully processed. It is much stronger than, say curtain lining and well worth investing in for over your stuffing.

Rolled edges are made out of stuffing and are the sausage like shapes around the outside edges of the chair. They are so important to the form of your piece and they soften the top cover away from the edge of the rough frame so it doesn't wear out.

Without a shadow of a doubt rolled edges, for some learners, are the most technical processes to master. The object of the tutorials in this section is to treat the subject so simply, but so exhaustively, that anyone handy with tools can, from the instructions given here, successfully acquire the skills to make, or repair, a rolled edge that will last for decades.

Rolled edges are so important because they form the basis of our stuffing's and, even when covered with our top cover can still be seen and felt so there is no hiding place if they are wibbly wobbly, saggy or loose!

Before watching the Top Cover set of videos, you should watch the Top Cover Fabric set to ensure you are comfortable with measuring, pattern matching, cutting and storing your top cover fabric.

Whatever your level of expertise -- from beginner to more advanced improver -- this section will assist you in giving your project the professional finish it deserves!

The video tutorials here are concerned only with fitted top covers - loose cover making is a different trade, but you will find a comprehensive lesson on how to make a loose cover for a chair seat cushion on this website because that is what we commonly come across to complement our mainly fitted covers.

What type of fabric? How much fabric do I need? How do I deal with a pattern repeat? How do I prepare and cut out my precious top cover and fit it my project? All these questions and more are answered in this category.

This is the culmination of all your work and it's the part everyone sees so we have to get it right!

You will see each key stage demonstrated on a wide variety of shapes, sizes and styles of chair and a sofa. This will help you adapt the techniques to the unique requirements of your particular piece.

As we near the completion of our projects it's such fun to play around with different finishes to complement the final look. In upholstery we have braids and cords, either off the shelf, or handmade, to choose from. You will need access to a sewing machine to make your own single and double piping.

Indulge in this section to give you inspiration to give a totally bespoke finish.

Help is at hand in this section to assist you with the art of deep buttoning. It's really not as difficult as it looks and this step by step guide will help you start from scratch or use an original pad.

Loose covers require real precision!

A lot of chairs and sofas have a loose cushion either on the seat or back or both. They are much more substantial than a scatter cushion. This detailed demonstration by Alison's colleague Deborah Good shows how to construct a boxed, piped seat cushion with a concealed zip for easy removal.

You will also need a sewing machine.