Sunday, 3 February 2013

Upholstery - part one

Years ago when I had an antiques shop we restored quite a lot of furniture. My father took charge of the restoration and I did the upholstery, mainly dining chairs and stools. I enjoyed it but hadn't done any for a very long time and really forgotten more than I knew. A couple of years ago we gained a couple of Parker Knoll wing chairs. They had been Andrew's grandparents, and then his parents had them recovered and used them everyday. Because of the U.K regulations regarding fire retardent fabrics (pre-1950 furniture is fine, anything else has to be labelled) they were unable to be sold at auction or even given to a charity after Andrew's father had died. But there was no way I was going to let these very comfortable chairs be destroyed, even though we had no room for them at the time. So they sat in storage.

Move forward to the new house and I felt I had the perfect spot in front of the log burner. I had never tackled wing chairs before and as I was new to the area thought that joining the local upholstery evening class would be a good way to meet people and do the chairs. Five terms in I'm still there!

I love the class and the projects people tackle, ramshackle pieces of furniture are made beautiful. I'm amazed at the talent that these people have.

Our workshop

This chair had a hideous covering but Tom's choice of colours is just fabulous.

The buttons are turquoise velvet
I just love Kate's 1930's club armchair and desperately want one. She was given it by a friend but is going to give it back to her as a surprise 50th birthday present. That's true friendship.

Club chair
Someone wanted to make a headboard which has given me food for thought for one of the guest rooms.

Buttoned headboard
The other interesting thing is what you find when you strip back the old upholstery. Most of the time it's a filthy job but you sometimes find scraps of the original fabric. A lot of furniture has old repairs done with whatever was to hand at the time.

Old repair
Anyway back to my Parker Knoll chairs. For some reason I can't find the early photographs but trust me re-upholstering them is not for the faint-hearted. Each one took between eight & ten hours to strip. They had been done by a specialist P.K. company and there were layers of staples, plus really nasty jagged metal strips used to lock fabric in place. Reupholstering them is exciting at first because you get some fabric on quite quickly but then it just goes on forever.

Back & arms

Midway through the second term I was sick of them! I'm used to lifting quite heavy stuff but the more layers that went on the heavier they got. It was usually dark when I was lifting them in and out of the car and each time the tow ball got me, my shins were bruised and sore for weeks. A lot of the time I was hoiking two about, so Nick our tutor could show me on one and I could replicate it on the second. My finger tips hurt from pulling the fabric taut and rarely did a class finish without some mis-strike with a hammer.  But eventually after two terms and hours of work at home they were finished. And a perfect place for mid-morning coffee.

Pride of place
I've just started my fifth term and my fourth project but more of those another time.


  1. Big round of applause! The chairs are gorgeous. What a lot of work. I think if I was to pick a lucrative career these days, upholstery would be the way to go if it didn't make me so crazy. Fits well with the recycle mentality, and it's very satisfying if you can get over the urge to lie on the floor and get drunk after about an hour of wrestling with fecky little tacks and nasty musty fluff and the sore hands. Keep up the good work (the turquoise chair is lovely too - nice job).

    1. Thanks Sue. You're right about the recycle/upcycle though. Every time I go to the tip there's so much perfectly good furniture just thrown away. Andrew has to hold me back....

  2. What a fabulous project. With a great result. I look forward to seeing your next project too.

    However, in my case, know thyself. At school, in Domestic Science (which we were obliged to do for the first two years), my teacher thought I was a left-hander gamely trying to work with my right. Shame she found out I was doing my best as a committed right-hander. But this looks a lot more intersting and creative than making my own apron.

    1. Thank you Margaret - although they don't bear close inspection! But you are a great wordsmith which is far more skillful in my book.

  3. Chapeau! Lovely result - love the material but it must have been one of the most difficult to work with because of all those stripes!

    1. Apparently easier than checks Kalba! I'm desperate to do another armchair in a soft woollen tartan - subtle heather colours not blazing scarlet - but at the moment I'm forbidden. Doesn't stop me looking on Ebay though!