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  1. #1
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    Default Reupholstering a traditional drop-in seat for an antique Australian chair

    1. Preparing

    Up until now I have stayed away from doing my own upholstery, and will most likely continue to do so for anything that requires an industrial sewing machine.

    However, the drop-in seats for antique dining chairs are quite expensive to get reupholstered and modern upholsterers are very reluctant to use traditional tacks and fillings. I used to have an upholsterer in Sydney who did everything traditionally, but he has become too old. I believe that throwing away original fillings and using modern foams etc. for antique items are inappropriate, so I have decided that I will have do it myself.

    I have some 1840ís-1850ís cedar and Blackwood chairs that still have (the remnants of) their original upholstery. They were covered in a black sateen cloth made from horses hair woven with cotton (haircloth) and the stuffing was teased horsehair.
    Haircloth removed from drop-in seat frame.JPG Black sateen haircloth (removed from seat)
    Drop-in seat needing repair - underneath.JPG seat needing repair from below
    Drop-in seat needing repair - above.JPG seat needing repair from above

    Haircloth was a very common covering for early Australian seat furniture and all the examples that I have seen were the shiny sateen fabric.

    The first thing I have done is to obtain supplies of the materials that I needed. Fortunately, there are a number of good online Australian suppliers of materials. I have not bought from Oz Upholstery (the previous poster) because I didnít know about them but I have bought from Padgham Upholstery and DIY upholstery and found them both good.

    Many upholsterers will tell you that you canít buy teased horsehair stuffing anymore and that modern materials are better. I strongly disagree with that and there is no proof that any modern stuffing will still be going strong in 150 years, but there is proof from my chairs that teased horsehair will. There is one supplier that I have bought teased horsehair from in Australia: H Leffler and Son in Victoria. That was a couple of years ago but I expect that they still have it. They sold it by the kilo.

    Chair upholstery detail 1840's concave front d.JPG 160 + years old teased horsehair with plenty of spring left

    Haircloth is still made today and comes in a variety of patterns and colours. It can be very expensive when it is made in Europe and the UK. The cost is made worse because the fabric is only 60 cm wide because the limited length of horses hair! However, the fabric probably originated in China and it is still made there too, for much less money. One Australian supplier Ė Centaur Fabrics - has made arrangements to have the sateen haircloth reproduced. I bought some of it from them.


    A declaration: I have no financial or other connection to any business mentioned here.

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  3. #2
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    Default 2. Beginning the work - stripping

    The first part of stripping the seats was to remove the number of layers that had been added over the top of the sateen haircloth, along with its numerous tacks.

    That left the seat with the remains of its original upholstery (see photos above). The webbing straps under the seat had broken many years before and someone previous to me had cut them off so they would not hang down and show. It can be seen from the witness marks on the old hessian (photo 2 above) that the original upholsterer had been mean with his webbing straps as there were two across but only one front to back. That will have accelerated the failure of the webbing, though no jute webbing lasts that long anyway.

    I then stripped off the remaining coverings along with the remains of the webbing and all associated tacks. There was some variation between the chairs underneath the haircloth; on the top some had hessian others had calico, it was the same below.

    What I didnít strip off was the hessian and straw padding at the concave curved fronts of the chairs. That was still in reasonable shape, though the hessian had seen better days.

    Photo.
    Chair upholstery detail 1840's concave front a.JPG

  4. #3
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    Default

    This is going to be interesting.

  5. #4
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    Default More stripping

    I gradually removed each layer of fabric. There was a lot of dust so I used my compressor and a small nozzle to blow away as much as I could at each step. Then I took out the pad of teased horsehair. The second chair was different to the first. In the English videos I watched the upholsterers had used a linen thread to loop over the teased horsehair and hold it in place. The first seat that I stripped did not have any sign of that but the second chair had some string ties, though not as many as the videos that I saw.

    I took the pad of teased horsehair and washed it in a tub of water with some soap flakes, then put it out on a concrete slab and rinsed it thoroughly before putting it out to air dry.

    Seat b Teased Horsehair sewn in with linen string.JPG string holding horsehair in place

    Seat b teased horsehair removed .JPG horsehair pad removed Seat b Teased horsehair in the wash .JPG and being rinsed after the wash
    Seat b Teased horsehair air drying.JPG drying

    Removing the tacks along the grain d.JPG Removing the tacks along the grain. I used an old screwdriver and a hammer. I used a tack remover for any that were high enough out of the wood.

    Frame b stripped of tacks.JPG Frame b with tacks removed but with front straw padding remaining.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  6. #5
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    Default Starting the reupholstering

    The first part of reupholstering the seat is to replace the webbing straps that support the teased horsehair cushioning. The seats originally had three straps, two across and one front to back. However, the contemporary jute webbing does not seem to be to be very high quality - in the UK linen webbing is recommended for longevity because it is not acidic like like the jute but I have never seen that for sale. So, I decided to vary the arrangement to have four straps, two front to back and two side to side.

    I started the first strap with some 15 mm cut blued tacks then folded over the tail and put in some more tacks. I like the J shaped webbing stretches better than the straight stretchers as I can hold it with one hand while I use the magnetic tack hammer to drive in the tacks to secure the strap. The J stretcher can easily overpower your first tacks if you aren't careful so a bit of experimentation is important. I make the straps tight enough to resonate when tapped but not so tight the tacks pull out.

    The cross straps are woven under one front to back strap and under the other.

    1. First tacks in the webbing.JPGFirst tacks in
    3. Stretching the webbing.JPG Beginning to stretch.
    5. Holding tacks.JPG Stretched tight and first tacks in place

    7. First webbing strap almost finished.JPG tail folded over and tacked
    8. Second webbing strap in place.JPG two straps finished
    9. All four webbing straps in place.JPG Four straps finished
    Attached Images Attached Images

  7. #6
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    Default Fabrics

    The next stage is to put on the fabrics. As I mentioned above, some of the seats had calico both sides of the teased horsehair, others had jute fabric underneath. I purchased some jute but made an error. Because the original jute was quite a fine weave I presumed that the modern "14 oz" jute was more likely to be correct than the "18 oz" fabric. No. The 14 is very open weave but coarse threads. It looks like something I would use in the garden! So, I have ordered some 18 oz fabric and also some fine-looking jute fabric from epay. In the meantime I decided to use the unbleached calico for both sides of the teased horsehair stuffing.

    As you saw above, some of the seats had the teased horsehair stuffing partially stitched in place with linen thread and others did not. I don't have any linen thread and can't see that it is really necessary since the stuffing is held tightly in place, so I didn't do any stitching. Only time will tell whether that was a good idea or not.

    10. Unbleached calico under cover.JPG Unbleached calico under-cover. I took it over the original front padding for the chair, which I retained intact, because the original jute was very fragile.

    11. Unbleached calico under cover from below.JPG The appearance from below.

    12. Unbleached calico over the teased horsehair.JPG This is the top cover before I finished smoothing it and putting in the last tacks.

    There are quite few prickly hairs sticking up from the calico and those are meant to be dealt with by the next layer but I have decided to shave them off or pull them through beforehand. Final result approaching ...
    Last edited by Xanthorrhoeas; 16th Jul 2016 at 06:04 PM. Reason: typos as "usaual"

  8. #7
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    Default Finished

    The last stage was fitting the woven horsehair fabric/haircloth to the seat. First I added a layer of lofted cotton wadding, which is designed to prevent the teased horsehair from sticking through. I dont have aphoto of that - I'll take one when I do the next seat in the set. The two photographs below show the finished seat firstly from below and then in place in the chair (not great photos, sorry).

    Finished seat from below b-001.JPGFinished seat in place from front b-001.JPG

  9. #8
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    Default

    Good on you for taking on upholstery and the end result looks well worth it.
    I am a bit surprised, though, that you stuck with the 2x2 pattern on the webbing rather then going 2x3. The gap in the middle looks quite large ? Is it possibly an issue?
    Apologies for unnoticed autocomplete errors.

  10. #9
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    Default

    Thanks for the comment Arron.

    Actually the original webbing pattern was 1 x 2, not 2x 2 so I have increased the number of webbing straps. However, I agree that it might have been better to go to 2x3 and I will try that on the next seats. Only time will tell whether that makes a big difference. I have no way of knowing how long the original 1x2 straps lasted before they gave way (I'm not young but I haven't been around since the mid Nineteenth Century!) and, of course the original webbing may have been better quality than the current hessian webbing - it looks as though it may have been. In the UK they recommend linen webbing as it is not acidic and lasts longer but I have not seen any for sale, so am just running with what the DIY upholstery shops here sell.

    David

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