Friday, August 24, 2012


She plopped down on the horsehair sofa and buried her face into her hands. Captain Le Voi must think her a heathen. When would she ever learn to tame her tongue? She stretched out and laid her head against the bolster, her feet propped on the rolled arm. Mama would have a fit of vapors if  she were to walk into the library and take notice of her unladylike behavior, but what did it matter now. Jonathan Le Voi would be half way to New Orleans.

She hadn't meant to call his character into question . . .

Horsehair sofa? Have you ever heard of the term? I come across it all the time when reading, but what is meant by it? What do you see when given such a description?

This sofa came to us just like this. It was given to us by an elderly lady. I can't decide on fabric to have it redone in, and since I don't have a place for it yet I'm in no hurry.

The type of upholstery on this sofa is diamond tufted.

Here is another semi-diamond tufted with channels.

This was one of my favorites. There is enough detailed work to give it character yet there is also a simplicity to it with its clean lines.

In my opinion, the fabric on this piece is absolutely hideous. And although I don't have an after picture, you can trust me that the new fabric was just as bold and . . . awful. It definitely did not represent the era.
Now this one, I absolutely loved this one. And wouldn't you know it, I don't have any after pictures. It was redone in a white and blue floral fabric. A hundred and twenty dollar a yard fabric. I remember it distinctly because we had a difficult time telling the difference between the front and back of the fabric. The weave was that good.

If you look closely at the arms and legs you'll see a creature. Can you tell what it is?

Here is another beauty. I think the customer's choice of fabric worked with the dark wood. If you look at the feet you can see the tiny white wheels. They're clay and fragile. Sometimes we get pieces in with wooden wheels.
Okay, so what about the horsehair sofa? The truth is all of those sofas had been considered as horsehair sofas at one time or another. Why? Well, during the 19th century horsehair was a common stuffing for upholstery. Here is a picture of a piece that came to our shop.

And, yes, it came to us exactly like that. If you look closely you'll see a brown mess underneath some of the whit cotton. That was some of the guts of this sofa.

Here is the same piece after it was redone.

This isn't a DIY segment. I've watched plenty of those shows and of course the professionals make it look easy. I'm not saying that there aren't some easy projects, but I've seen chaos of wannabe DIYs. It's not pretty. It's kind of like asking a toddler to fold fitted sheets. Unless you're one of those people who has a knack for details  you get what you pay for.

I'm not a historian of upholstery so it's hard for me to tell you what kinds of tools the upholster used back in the day, but I can tell you that I have great admiration for their artistic skill, especially since I know how difficult it is with our many modern conveniences such as power tools.

We've taken apart furniture where the upholsterer not only used the old hammer and tack method, but also hand sewed the seams together.

Here, let me show you:

This has been partially stripped and the new deck has been put on. We now sew the corners with a sewing machine. The original fabric had been hand sewn. Each of those pleats had been tacked with tiny tacks. We used an air staple gun. Much quicker.

The insides are done.

Here my son is tacking the back. Even though we have modern tools, recovering furniture is still intricate and tedious.

Take a look at this chair. The new fabric is loosely laid up there so we can judge where we want the stripes to land (I will tell you right now plaids are the most difficult patterns to work with, silk makes it even more difficult) anyway, if you look closely you can see a bit of that plaid fabric attached to the outside wing. See it?

Ahhh, there it is. Hubs is lining up the stripes and pinning them to the chair, then he's chalking out his pattern. I can't tell you anything else about this process, not because it's some ancient Chinese secret but because all the snips and clips and holding your mouth just so to make it all fit together baffles me.

This picture was taken by my daughter. She sewed up the white chair, but as you can see the plaid chair is next to it.

I suppose you're wondering what other sorts of things we upholster at our shop.

Well, we've done dentist chairs and RV seats. These babies were one of the most difficult things I've worked on. They were almost grounds for severe discord in our household. I think I quit fifty times that week but hubs wouldn't hear it. *g*

Right now we're working on boat seats. Let me tell you something about vinyl, there aren't very many second chances. Once you sew vinyl it's pretty much a done deal or you have to start over. The sewing machine needle leaves holes and you can't move the threads with a pin to fix the hole.

Here is something hubs did that really impressed me--

He custom made these from a customer's drawn out plans.

Between my daughter, brother and I we have hundreds of pictures. Obviously you can tell my favorites are the antiques, of which I have a lot more pictures, but we do all sorts of stuff in our shop. We even fixed the bear head of a mascot costume. I'll try and add the picture later today.

Upholstery is one of those trades that you almost need to apprentice at in order to pick up all those tricks. My husband is often telling me I need to hold my mouth just right. I've tried, it doesn't always work. 

I have to work today, but if you have any questions, please ask, I'll try to answer.



  1. Wow! Ya'll do really fine work. And I'm not a toddler, but I can't fold fitted sheets either...sigh...

  2. What beautiful work! My aunt & uncle did upholstery, so I know what hard work it is. There are some beautiful pieces here as well. Nothing like the real thing.