Reupholstery is an intricate process that skilled upholsterers use to restore quality furniture that is worn or damaged, or upgrade furniture that is out of style. But even if you’ve had many pieces of furniture reupholstered, you may have little idea of what actually happens behind the scenes.
The reupholstery process varies depending on the type of upholstery and the type of furniture that is being reupholstered. However, the following steps, which apply to any kind of chair with an upholstered seat, explain many of the standard techniques utilized in both commercial and residential upholstery.
Meeting With the Client
The reupholstery process begins with a meeting between the client and the designer to discuss the project details and expectations. The upholsterer will briefly examine the furniture to check for potential issues and ensure that it is of sufficiently high quality. If it isn’t, they may recommend buying new furniture instead.
The upholsterer will ask questions to get an idea of what the client is envisioning, and together they will review fabric samples. They will also go over pros and cons of each potential fabric, such as durability, allergy-causing materials, and environmental friendliness.
At the end of this meeting, most upholsterers will give clients a free quote based on the project details and materials selected. If the client is satisfied, the upholsterer will determine the expected turnaround time and get to work.
Stripping Down and Frame Inspection
The upholsterer’s first step is to strip down each individual layer of upholstery to arrive at and inspect the furniture’s frame. Removing the layers one at a time enables the upholsterer to examine the initial upholstery methods and later maintain them when reupholstering.
The first items to remove include the staples, studs, and tacks holding the other materials in place. Upholsters must be careful not to damage the furniture’s frame when removing these items.
Next is the top cover, or the material covering the exterior of the furniture. If the upholsterer is cautious enough while removing it, they can use the old top cover to help them measure fabric for a new one later on.
After removing the top cover, the upholsterer arrives at the padding and stuffing. At this point, the process varies depending on the condition of the materials:
- With more modern pieces, the padding, stuffing, springs, and frame may be intact, meaning that the upholsterer can leave these items as is and move on to recovering.
- If the padding and stuffing are in good shape but the springs or frame need restored, the upholsterer can remove the materials, address the spring and frame, and then refit the original padding and stuffing to the furniture.
- If the padding and stuffing are in bad shape, the upholsterer will remove and discard them before inspecting the springs and frame.
Thoroughly inspecting the springs and frame is crucial to repair any functional issues. The upholsterer may have to retighten or reglue joints that have become loose in order to make the furniture sturdy, and remove any springs that are damaged.
After improving any irregularities in the furniture’s frame, upholsterers must inspect the webbing. If it is damaged, they will either replace or tighten it to establish a durable foundation upon which the other layers of upholstery will sit. Various types of webbing exist, and each has a different use.
Black and White English Webbing
Black and white English webbing employs a cotton herringbone weave that gives it incredible strength, making it great for seating. Upholsterers often use this type of webbing to hold double cone springs.
Upholsterers use jute webbing, which is created with a type of durable thread from India, most frequently. Jute webbing works well in the back and arms of furniture, but is not strong enough for the seat.
Made out of rubber, Pirelli webbing helps establish a strong foundation to hold a seat cushion. Insead of using tacks or staples, upholsterers generally utilize a metal clip that fits into an indentation in the frame to attach Pirelli webbing.
After addressing the webbing, upholsterers move on to the springs. If the furniture has no springs, they will jump right to the base hessian.
Springs are important to add vitality and dimension to different parts of furniture — such as the inside back, armrests, and seat — in addition to making them more comfortable. For some types of furniture, they can even be used to add shape.
Replacing the original springs is only necessary if they are damaged; if they are in good condition, the upholsterer will just make sure that they are adequately aligned and attached to the frame.
Springing (the process of installing new springs) varies depending on the type of springs that are being used. Options include double-cone springs, zigzag springs, and mesh top spring units.
Different sizes of double-cone springs can be used for seats, inside backs, and even armrests. Upholsterers secure them to the furniture’s webbing, use lashing to tie them together, and then cover them with hessian to ensure proper weight distribution and prevent buckling.
Zigzag springs are often the spring of choice for more contemporary furniture, and come in various sizes and gauges for different uses. Unlike with double-cone springs, upholsterers use hooks to attach zigzag springs to the furniture’s frame.
Mesh Top Spring Units
Mesh top spring units are made of single-cone springs attached to a thin layer of steel laths and held up by a layer of wire mesh, which is encompassed by a thicker wire.
For furniture that does not have springs, upholsterers apply base hessian directly to the webbing to strengthen the foundation. For sprung furniture, they apply base hessian over the springs, helping to hold them in place. Different types of hessian exist, with different weights working best for sprung furniture or in certain parts of the frame.
If the original base hessian is in good shape, the upholsterer can just reapply it (if they had to remove it to examine the springs) or tighten it. Otherwise, the upholsterer will replace it with new, high-quality hessian.
Stuffing and Padding
Stuffing and padding make furniture more comfortable, add shape, and make it last longer. Many different types of stuffing and padding materials exist, and which the upholsterer decides to use will affect the application process. However, the following steps tend to be standard:
- Determine if the original stuffing or padding can be reused. If the original stuffing is still in good condition, reshape it before applying. If not, replace it with new materials.
- Apply the first layer of stuffing or padding on top of the base hessian. Fire-retardant foam and other fibrous materials have replaced horsehair, which is now too costly and difficult to find, for this first layer.
- Fasten the stuffing or padding by stitching and looping it to the base hessian.
- Apply a second layer of hessian on top of the stuffing or padding.
- Apply “stitched edges” to the second layer of hessian if stuffing is being used and it is thicker than a thin pincushion. This entails stitching the edges of the second layer of hessian so that they stay taut, and helps strengthen and shape the furniture. If foam is being used, stitched edges are not necessary, since its edges are already firm.
- Repeat this process if additional layers of stuffing or padding are necessary, which can help make the furniture more comfortable and add shape. Second and third layers often utilize cotton felt or wadding.
The final step of the reupholstery process is to secure the top cover over the padding or stuffing using tacks, staples, or studs. This is the most rewarding part of the reupholstery process, as the upholsterer finally gets to see the finished piece come together, topped with the client’s fabric of choice.