Here is a rather nice rolled-arm sofa that was in need of a little help. It had been attacked by a family pet, and was also showing signs of wear from years of use.
Since the sofa was getting completely redone, the client also chose to have us change the design to a 3 pillow. She was also no longer a fan of the overstuffed “down” style pillows, and she wanted crisp/rectangular pillows.
Here’s the before:
Note the mediocre pleating job on the rolled arm corners.
The sofa was reupholstered in a thick beige woven fabric, with new foam in all the cushions, and attached cushions on the back (the old ones were loose pillows). The wooden legs were also touched-up. I think the difference between the before and after photos on this one are pretty amazing.
I don’t often show the backs on sofas (since it’s awkward for photos), but here you can see how the backs/tops of the pillows are finished.
Here is the final piece in this set. This is the sofa chair that matches the previous sofa, and wing chair. The set is likely from the 1920s or 30s. The chair was completely stripped down (see wing), refinished, repaired, and put back together.
Here’s the chair stripped down, refinished, and re-webbed. In the background, you can see the sofa frame being glued back together.
New spring ties (8 way hand tie):
New webbing on the back springs. These ties were still in excellent shape.
New burlap, with all the springs stitched.
Edge roll attached:
Here is a good photo that shows how the arms are stitched. As previously shown, the flat wooden arm tops are made round with the use of compressed straw. Over time, the burlap had gotten stretched and loose, and as a result, the arm couldn’t maintain a nice shape. The arms were not originally stitched, but having them stitched this way will help keep the arms/stuffing in place longer. The straw is stitched in a triangular pattern (one row down the centre, and against the edge of the wood on either side).
Seat/deck stuffing before rough covers (original straw and cotton, with the addition of new cotton as needed).
Deck completed, and back in progress. Because of the way the back/arms are attached, the back panel had to go in before the arms (the same for the sofa, but the opposite of the wing).
And here’s the finished chair!
I love the back on this style of rounded-top chair.
Here is the matching sofa that goes with the previous wing chair, and the following sofa chair. This is a set that we believe dates from around the 1920s or 30s.
While the wing chair was finished in a dark grey/black print, the next two pieces are in a much lighter beige/cream colour, with an abstract wavy horizontal pattern.
Again, this piece was completely stripped down, repaired (the back was broken on one side), and refinished to match the other pieces. Skirts were removed, and the original front wood appliqués were (refinished and) reattached.
As with the other two pieces, note that the front band just under the cushion is incorrect (loose and baggy, and should be attached to the front spring wire).
Again, the bottom webbing is incorrectly installed. It should always be basket woven.
While the back webbing is not technically incorrect, with this little amount of webbing, it won’t be long before it starts to stretch and bow-out.
Frame 90% stripped.
All the spring ties were quite worn. It was also the (likely original) old 4 way tie (we only use 8 way since it’s much stronger/longer lasting).
One of the many busted twines.
The back was a mess.
Here is the broken back rest that we had to repair.
We also reglued both arm fronts. Otherwise the frame was in good solid shape.
I don’t know how it happened, but I forgot a photo of both the bottom webbing, and the newly tied springs. You’ll have to use your imagination (or visit another one of our antique sofa blog posts). Hopefully you can see the difference with how nice and square, and even the springs are sitting. Also note refinished frame.
Edge roll attached:
Base layer of straw. The original straw was quite lumpy and misshapen, so we disassembled it and redistributed it into an even layer. Over this went some cotton, then the rough cover.
Back re-webbed, springs re-attached, and re-strung. Note the additional webbing (straps) used, for a longer lasting back.
Burlap, and stitched springs:
The arms and back were finished in the same way as the wing, and sofa chair.
Note: the client wanted no more ribs/piping to divide the back, and she wanted only one long cushion, rather than 3.
Detail of refinished wood work:
This is one of 3 pieces in the same antique sofa set. We estimate that the set is from around the 1920s or 30s. The client had already had them reupholstered a few times in the past, and the last time she got them done, she had skirts added, and decorative front appliqués removed. She held on to these, and she wanted us to remove the skirts and reattach the appliqués. Since the appliqués were much darker, and none of the wood tones on anything matched anymore (as well as this particular chair having a broken foot), we refinished everything in a very dark walnut colour (it may appear black in some photos, but it is in fact brown).
Wing chair before:
Note hat the front (portion just below the seat cushion) is incorrectly upholstered on all 3 pieces (this chair, the sofa, and the other chair). The fabric should be attached to the wire edge of the springs, forming a crease here (see finished photos). As is now, it’s very baggy and not appropriate for the style/age of the piece(s).
Over the years, the arms have become quite deformed. This piece (and any very old piece stuffed with straw) needs to have the foundation work redone every once in a while (20-30 years I’d guesstimate) but a lot of upholsterers don’t bother. We care, we do this work. We strip antiques to the bare frames and start fresh.
There haven’t been that many advancements in upholstery techniques, when it comes to antiques/traditional pieces, but this could have been done with hand stitching instead of all the tacks. Tacks are faster, but they definitely don’t look that good. We will be doing a piping, and using ply grip (a flexible metal track that is hidden and holds the fabric).
Lots of little tacks, and a double piping that just ends abruptly.
Partially stripped frame. Note how loose and baggy the side panels have become over time. Some (lazy) upholsterers would either tack a new burlap on top of this, or do nothing, and simply add more stuffing to build-up the arms.
This is the first layer (deepest layer) of straw on the arm(s). This should be very tightly compacted, giving the flat wooden arm top a curved surface. As you can see, it’s extremely loose and baggy.
Busted spring twines.
Correct (but deteriorated and probably original) 4-way tie. We no longer use 4-way, preferring 8-way ties, which are stronger, last longer, and support the stuffing better.
This shows the first stuffing (straw) on the other arm, after the old burlap has been removed. The stuffing is just lifted off (in one big chunk) and set aside for now.
I’ve never seen someone screw-up webbing like this. It’s not uncommon to have to alter one row, but to completely forget to “basket weave” the webbing makes it incredibly weak. ALL 3 pieces were like this.
So much better:
Before I forget, note the broken front foot.
Completely stripped chair (before refinishing though – note colour difference between the legs and back), and with the new webbing, new spring ties (8 way). Also note flat arm tops.
Seat stuffing before putting it back in place (and arm stuffing on the bottom).
Skipped the edge roll, but you can see it in other posts, and on the other chair. Here’s the chair with the seat foundation done (with rough cover), and with the arms redone, firmly compacted (original straw), new burlap, and the straw hand stitched. At this point the legs and back have been refinished, and the broken foot is repaired.
Stitched springs, and stuffing/rough covers on the wings.
Arm stuffing put back in place (again, lots of straw, and cotton), covered with rough covers. Seat (deck) in place. Note the rib where the fabric is attached the front edge (spring wire).
DONE. I actually really love this piece. Both the colour/pattern, and the shape/look of it. The dark wood plays nicely with the black/charcoal grey print.
The seat cushion(s) in the entire set were replaced.
This was the broken foot. The dark stain really helps hide the joint.
Beautiful crisp arms, with a nice tight side panel. Also note the wing, with no more unsightly tacks.
The double piping goes around the wood band all around.
The next 4 posts are all from the same client, and include a rocker, as well as a 3 piece living room set.
This rocker had seen better days. The finish on it was mis-matched (light and dark areas), the back rails were horribly damaged, and the seat was long overdue for reworking. The frame was also wobbly.
The seat was actually sitting on top of a groove, which it is supposed to sit into (and which hides the edge of the fabric). Note the difference in the final photos.
The arrow points to the damaged areas of the frame. The fabric is NOT supposed to be attached here. The fabric should sit right inside the edge. We called our client about this, to find out if she wanted us to patch/stain/repair this, and reupholster it properly (at an extra charge), or leave it as-is. She chose for us to repair it, and at the same time refinish the entire frame, which turned out beautifully.
Here’s the seat pad with the material and first layer of stuffing removed. We should see an edge roll here, and hand stitching.
Second layer removed (straw), revealing a foundation in very poor condition.
The spring twines were all very loose and/or incorrectly tied (not enough tension, and incorrect knots):
Everything was taken off, cleaned, and re-tied.
Burlap and stitched springs.
First layer of stuffing (straw from above), this time with edge roll, and side edges (to get a nice crisp shape). Also note bridle ties (long stitches in the centre) to help keep the straw in place.
Second layer of stuffing, cotton, and rough cover.
While I worked on the seat, Pierre refinished the frame, which was reglued, touched-up, sanded, re-stained a more appropriate walnut/mahogany colour, and lacquered.
Not shown is the work on the back. The back was fairly simple, but still tricky because of the striped fabric.
This is a rather nicely proportioned, and comfortable “Mid-Century Modern” lounge chair. I’m not sure if the current cover is original (doubtful) but the accompanying ottoman (which may or may not have come with the chair) used to be black.
The client wanted to go with a very nice quality imitation leather (vinyl), and I think they made a great call. The vinyl they picked out looks great, and has a nice soft feel.
After! What a difference! We also cleaned-up the chrome base.
This is a large, solid oak sofa set (large 3 cushion sofa) and matching chair. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the frames at the shop for the “before” photos (the clients just dropped off the cushions), and I didn’t have time to photograph the sofa before it left.
The original cushion and arm covers were a solid colour (teal) leather, which was starting to show signs of cracking and splitting.
All the old foam cushions were replaced with new high quality (firm) foam. We often replace old (soft) sofa cushions, so don’t hesitate to call us for a quote.
The set is originally from 1978.
It’s been quite a while since the blog has been updated, and I have about 3 months worth of projects to add over the next week or so.
Here is a very nice quality swivel chair, made by the company Bisson & Choquette out of Montreal. The chair has a massive wooden frame (very solid), and high-end feather pillows. The client wanted modifications to the chair to have the outer edge more squared, and with a piping there.
Though I haven’t added the photos of all the steps involved, it took quite a bit of work to re-stuff and firm-up the interior edge to get a more squared shape (at least a day’s worth of work). The client was very happy with the finished chair.
Note how the arms just gently curve in towards the centre of the chair, with no definition there.
The swivel base was stamped with a date.
Lots and lots of work later, note the nice squared top edge.
This post will serve as a bit of a quick upholstery lesson for those who may be interested. It happens quite often that some of our clients are shocked by the fact that a chair or sofa could be stuffed with straw. Most people know about horse hair, but there is a wide range of materials used to stuff upholstered pieces, and the point of this post is to just quickly explain a few of the most common ones. The stuffing materials discussed here mainly pertain to antique pieces older than 1950.
By far one of the most popular stuffing materials (which has been used for centuries) is straw. When I first started working for Pierre at Lefebvre’s Upholstery, I wasn’t really aware of just how common it is to find straw in upholstered furniture. I had assumed that straw was mainly only used in cheaper pieces, but that isn’t the case. While better pieces will have more hair or moss than straw, straw is still often used as a base layer, and can sometimes be the only stuffing material used along with some cotton.
Here is an early 1900s chair with a straw and cotton stuffed seat:
The advantage of straw is that it’s very durable, cheap, and it was readily available. If the chair or sofa is properly maintained, it can last well over 100 years. It doesn’t last forever, though, and on heavy wearing pieces, it will eventually wear itself into dust.
The cons: It’s messy, and a good bottoming fabric must be used to prevent dust and fibres from billowing out of the chair or sofa bottom. It can also cause allergic reactions from the fine dust.
Some clients prefer to have the straw replaced with foam, but in most cases, the straw is reused.
The last bit of info I want to pass along is that there IS a difference between straw and hay. They are not the same thing, and you can’t use hay in upholstery.
Coconut fibre is much less common on antique pieces. Over the past year, I have seen it only once or twice, and in both cases, it was added by a later upholsterer to “fill-in” bare spots, or to add a bit of additional padding. The fibres are somewhat “crunchy” feeling, and offer a decent amount of resilience. Coconut fibre is often used in place of horsehair.
Excelsior is also known as “wood wool” and it was originally invented as an alternative stuffing for mattresses. It dates back to the 1840s, and it’s basically thin wood shavings produced by machine. It often resembles straw, and it is found occasionally in chairs (particularly Victorian ones) in place of straw.
If you’re curious, you can read about the entire history of wood wool here:
Second to straw, the second most popular stuffing material found in antique pieces is moss. This is not the kind of moss you would find on the forest floor. The moss is actually Spanish Moss that has been treated to produce a dark curly stuffing material similar in appearance to horse hair. It is usually called “black fibre”. I have seen sofas almost entirely stuffed with this material. From what I’ve seen, this material is very long lasting, and other than leaving a small bit of black dusty residue, I haven’t really noticed any excessive wear to it, even on pieces over 100 years old.
Horse Hair: Horse hair is by far the best material to be found in antique upholstery, and it is usually a sign of a quality piece. The hair is a rich black, and has a very springy “plastic-y” feel. Because it was expensive, it will often be found only as a thin top layer over a cheaper stuffing (such as straw and moss), or mixed together with cheaper curled hair.
Horsehair and moss stuffing on the back of a settee:
Light Curled Hair (usually hog hair): Several other types of curled hair are also used in upholstery, and are nearly as good as horse hair. They range from nearly white, to light yellow, or brown, and are always worth reusing.
Here is a small wing chair primarily stuffed with mixed hair:
Rubberized Horse Hair: Rubberized horse hair is usually found in the form of a mat of hair cut to suitable shapes. It is simply curled hair that has been coated with a rubber material (as the name suggests). You can see an example of this hair in the 1962 Wing Chair that we worked on last year. In the photo you can see rubberized horse hair on the wings and deck.
Lastly, we have the outer-most stuffing materials, which usually consist of a layer of cotton or felt, or sometimes Kapok on small chairs.
Cotton used in upholstery is supplied in large rolls, and it is about 1″ thick when not compressed. The cotton is soft and fluffy, but it contains lots of little flakes and imperfections. Older cotton tends to be more dense (from compression), and with fewer imperfections. The cotton is used over top of all previously discussed stuffing materials, and it helps to even-out any small bumps and imperfections from the layers beneath it. It is absolutely essential over curled hair, since it will prevent the hair from poking through the finish fabric. Cotton that is still in good shape is reused, but if it has become too lumpy, torn, or soiled, it is replaced.
Here you can see cotton batting being applied to the arms of a wing chair:
KAPOK: Kapok is rarely seen, but makes an appearance here and there. It is a silk-like fibre obtained from the large seed pods of the Kapok tree native to Mexico, and areas near South America. The fibers are similar to those that you would find in milkweed pods. They are used in pillows as an alternative to down, or they are compressed into a felt-like padding used on chair seats, usually Victorian occasional chairs, or dining room chairs.
This was an interesting pair of chairs to work on. At first glance they didn’t appear to be very old, but once we opened them up, we found that they were probably from the 1930s or 40s, perhaps early 50s. They have coiled backs, with straw and curled hair or moss stuffing, and the cushions are also sprung, and were stuffed with straw and felt/cotton.
The current cushion covers were already covering up previous layers:
Some of the corners/joints under the current upholstery were sloppy, so we made corrections on the new upholstery. Sadly I forgot to photograph these, but basically we tightened up the corners and had a sewn seam here.
A previous upholsterer had stuffed foam in between the springs. We don’t know why. These blocks were removed.
Here is some of the old original stuffing.
The seat cushions turned out to have 3 layers on them. The floral, the orange, and then a deep blue.
Bare cushion (viewed from the side). You can sort of see the springs, which are sandwiched in layers of straw and felt/cotton.
Here are the finished chairs (only one shown). The wooden legs were also touched up.