As I set out to write this blog, sharing my knowledge of a trade that has long been diluted, I began looking back at the things I’d learned as an apprentice at the age of 18. Wow, it seems to have been so long ago and my, how the methods of upholstery have changed!
My story starts at the tail end of traditional upholstery, before foam took precedent, when the skill of such a humble craft was still in the hands of an artisan. During these times, hand sewing was still common and zippers weren’t often used on cushions filled with only feather and down, instead, I was taught how to slip stitch. As horsehair was easy to obtain at this time, it was commonly used to build up a seat with an edge created by a “blind stitch.” Using an eight-inch long needle and twine, a roll stitch was then created for the front lip of the seating, a task now overtaken by the use of man-made tack rolls.
During that time, eight-way hand tied coil springs were the foundation of beautifully built sofas and armchairs, as they were often framed with durable Alder wood that was crafted together with dowels and screws. This well designed form of upholstering gave the furnishings a longer life span, allowing them to withstand the test of time, to be passed down, sold off, or reused for many years to come. Slowly, as new substitutes were introduced due to cost and fire regulations, horsehair was replaced by coco fiber, then rubberized hair and lastly foam. These new methods of substitution served to completely revolutionize and commercialize the upholstery industry.
Having given a brief overview of what used to go into the building of a traditional piece of furniture, I’ve found that I’ve learned something new concerning the meaning of "Upholsterer". Having derived from the word Upholder, the trade was formed by a select few craftsmen dating as far back as 1360. After being officially incorporated by the Royal Charter in the times of Charles I in 1626, by cabinet makers, undertakers, soft furnishers, auctioneers and valuers was formed and given the right to search, seize, and even destroy defective upholstery. “Can you imagine?”
So perhaps the next time you decide to select a piece of furniture, ask yourself, what went into making it? Should you decide to recover an armchair or sofa, pay it respect with a wonderful fabric that will enhance your living space. Have fun putting together your décor as you can now be content in knowing that like me, you have gained a broader understanding about where you plunk your “derriere”!