Foam is the ‘F’ word and Staples are the ‘S’ word in Alison’s workshop!The tutorials within this website are mainly concerned with traditional upholstery – not necessarily solely on antique chairs – but still using old-style techniques which require a few basic hardwearing materials. You ‘get what you pay for’ so source the right materials for your chair.
Sometimes you will have to be a bit of a contortionist with 10 pairs of hands to reupholster chairs – make the tasks easier by investing in good quality upholstery tools.
Don’t be like a surgeon who leaves something inside a body! – be diligent about removing all old tacks and staples no matter how laborious it feels at the time.A good tip is to keep hold of the original top cover at this stage so you can use it as a template – providing it was a good fit in the first place!Do renovate the woodwork before you start so that the frame is as robust as possible but don’t worry too much about some old “war wounds” – they are part of the history of the chair! I’m not as old as the chairs I work on – but I’ve got more bits missing!
A saggy bottom must be avoided! - Learn the tricks of the trade right from the start.
Try to be patient! Expect to take one step forward and about 3 steps back! If it’s not right, please undo it and start again – otherwise the subsequent layers won’t sit right.
When cutting out hessian and linen scrim, instead of marking out a cut line, pull a thread all the way out at the measured point and you will be left with a straight line to snip along. General rule of thumb with all out upholstery processes is to always start from the middle and work your way out. In this case you can make sure there is enough hessian to reach all the way to the back and to the front, and from side to side.
With the exception of webbing - use the smallest tack possible and only move up to a larger tack if a 10mm won’t hold – that maybe because the frame has lots of old holes or there are too many thicknesses of material to get through.
Again, with the exception of webbing, - use “temporary tacks” – which means don’t hammer your tacks right away in the first instance - leave your tacks proud until you are happy that everything is tight and in the right place before you hit them fully away. It makes the tacks quick to ease out and it’s kinder on your frame especially if it’s an antique.
You can adjust your stuffing, not just to fit the chair, but also the person who is going to use it!
An important consideration when stuffing a set of dining room chairs is to weigh what goes into each one – that way they will all be identical. The same goes for stuffing an armchair – weigh what goes into each arm, and into the wings if present, so that both side are exactly the same.
Calico rips in a straight line in both directions giving a straighter edge over cutting.I’m a stickler for getting this stage really tight! – we don’t want to see any wrinkling with age!!
It’s tempting to bodge some of these methods for speed – but you may regret it later because the rolled edge may ‘banana in’ and will be seen and felt long after a project is completed.
“You always regret your economies, never your extravagances”! – try to purchase the best quality fabric you can afford – it will wear better and therefore last longer.
Not all fabrics have undergone a ‘rub test’ but it’s a good idea to look for one because it will give you an indication of a fabrics durability because it has been tested on a machine. The Martindale Machine is a universally used oscillating test and gives scores in 1,000’s of rubs up to 100,000. From 10,000 is for decorative use only. 10,000 – 15,000 rubs can be used in light domestic situations i.e. scatter cushions. For general domestic use a score of 15,000 – 25,000, curtain weight or use on a bedroom, or chair in little use. However, if you really want something to last use a heavy duty fabric with a score of 25,000 – 30,000 or for real longevity commercial use is 50,000 and above.
The Wyzenbeek tests the warp and the weft and is another grade to look out for.
Some fabrics rip easily, especially from a cut. You can still use them for your fitted covers but to be forewarned is to be forearmed! – Deliberately cut and try to rip a small piece of your material. If you find it has a tendency to rip one way or another you can take extra care with your cuts and fitting.
We all love fabric! In my classes we call it ‘fabric porn’ when the sample books come out!
Be consistent with your measurements – either work in metric or imperial – avoid confusion by mixing between the two.
Alison always measures widths first, followed by drops, or lengths second. Write your measurements down this way too – then instinctively you know which way you are cutting out your fabric.
Many people aren't confident when cutting their top cover as mistakes can be costly with an expensive material! Why not practice with cheap calico or other material first until you master the technique.
Always “Measure Twice, Cut Once”!
Mishaps may happen and if you accidently bleed on your fabric – your own saliva will dissolve your blood! So! Spit on your whoopsy and rub it off by using another piece of fabric that matches the one bearing the stain – hey presto!
Be imaginative with the finishing touches to your chair to show it off to full potential.
At the end of the day it’s ‘HANDMADE’ – so please don’t be too picky or hard on yourself if a part hasn’t gone quite how you would like – it’s Part of it’s Charm!!
You will need access to a sewing machine with a zip or piping foot - and a few spare sewing machine needles!
Whether you've upholstered everything you own or are starting from scratch, there are plenty of places you can find some furniture looking for a new home and best of all, often at a bargin price. I would suggest websites such as eBay, Gumtree, FreeCycle, charity furniture shops, boot fairs, auctions and keep an eye out on your local paper for house clearances. I've even been known for picking something up that was dumped on the side of the road! If you can find something that was traditionally upholstered you may event get away with just a repair to the upholstery underneath (as it lasts for years) which saves lots of time, then you can apply the top cover of your choice.
If the frame is too battered and bruised, don't forget there are some great paints on the market now if you want to go for somthing from bright and colourful to a chalk paint for a shabby shic finish. Applying soft wax over the top will help it last longer. Just remember to do your painting before you start your upholstery!