Upholstery techniques, regulating, late victorian, edwardian chair


Why re-upholster?

  • Re-upholstery offers the client the creative opportunity to return cherished and tired pieces of furniture, which were built to last, into items that will once again delight and grace their home 
  • Re-upholstery is the sustainable and environmentally friendly solution for the discerning client.  


Stages of Upholstery

To provide some insight into the various techniques involved in traditional upholstery I have chosen to describe and illustrate the various stages of re-upholstery employed when re-upholstering this delicate Victorian Nursing chair.  



Ripping off:

This frame had already been stripped-down by a previous owner, so the 'ripping-off' process did not apply here.  However, the ‘ripping off’ process is usually the first task for the upholsterer.  This is when the old material and upholstery is removed to reveal the frame; a very dusty process which requires the use of Personal Protective Equipment, namely, a dust mask. Pliers and ripping chisel are employed for this task and require careful handling so as to avoid damage to the show-wood and frame. The 'ripping-off' process is very interesting as it sometimes reveals hidden secrets of the chairs past. 

Frame examination and preparation:

Having removed the previous upholstery, it is now possible to examine the joints of the frame more closely, and if necessary take remedial action.  This most frequently involves easing the joints apart, replacing dowels and re-gluing. 

This is also the best opportunity to give the show-wood a clean, address any blemishes and apply a couple of coats of wax polish


Using a webbing stretcher, the webbing is then applied  and interwoven to provide a sturdy structure upon which to build the seat. 

Tarpaulin Hessian:

To add strength to the platform of the seat a heavy weight tarpaulin hessian is tacked into place and the edges neatened.

Bridle or Stuffing Ties:

Using a curved needle  bridle ties are applied with No. 3 twine to retain the horse hair.

The First Stuffing:

Well carded hair is  then methodically tucked under the bridle loops to form the desired shape.  During application the hair is teased into shape and particular attention is given to avoiding any hollows or bumps.

 hessian, bridle loops,

Scrim Hessian:
An enclosed cushion of hair is then created as scrim hessian is placed upon the hair and temporarily tacked to the chamfered tacking rail. 

Stuffing ties:
Stuffing ties are applied anchoring the top scrim to the tarpaulin hessian and webbing below using a double pointed needle and No 4 twine.  This helps to prevent the hair from moving significantly. 
It is usual to sit upon the seat at this stage to check that there are no perceptible lumps and bumps.  This also helps to compact the hair.  If satisfactory, the scrim can then be tensioned again and tacked down securely.

Regulating the hair:
The hair is redistributed within the confines of the scrim to achieve the desired shape – this is achieved by the use of a regulator needle – as seen resting on the table.  Any irregularities in the positioning of the hair can be rectified at this stage. 


Edge Stitching:
A series of special stitches, using curved or double pointed needles are applied using twine dressed with beeswax.   
Throughout the stitching process the regulator is used to tease the hair into the edge around the seat, forming an enduring structure.  Intricate corner stitches may be required if the frame has a clearly defined corner, as in this example

 Top stitched, stitched corners, stuffing ties
 cotton wadding, 2nd stuffing


Second stuffing:
Another series of bridle ties are applied in readiness for the second stuffing.  This subsequent layer of hair serves to provide further comfort.  Great attention is given to reinforcing the shape, avoiding any matted lumps which may detract from the final  finish. 

Cotton Wadding:
A layer of cotton wadding is applied over the hair to provide additional comfort.  It also serves as a barrier, preventing the ends of curled hair protruding through to the top layers. 




Quality workmanship requires that an under-covering of calico is applied to retain the constrained stuffing materials.  It will also assist in maintaining the shape.   By these methods the expensive top fabric is protected.

Skin wadding:
A skin wadding (or fine layer of wadding made from cotton or polyester) is regularly applied as the penultimate layer to cushion and ease the application of the top fabric.  This serves to further extend the life of the top fabric.

 stretch calico over cotton wadding until taut


Top covering and trim:
The seat is finally covered with a suitable quality upholstery fabric and trimmed with braid or perhaps double piping.

Bottom covering:
To neaten the underside of the seat a bottoming cloth, usually made from black cotton, (though hessians are commonly used) is applied beneath the seat.




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