Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two 19th Century Antique Rocking Chairs

This first through designer Jacqueline Fortier, is a Liberty fabric, the name of which escapes me just now. Charmed to see a William Morris-y type print underneath. I applied "low interventive" upholstering tactics with this piece. That is to say, since it's a seldom used-for-sitting piece and more a family heirloom to reside in a guest bedroom, I kept much that was original intact, and upholstered over a fresh light padding on top of that old, old print - for future generations to appreciate. Plus, to remove it would have been a total fiasco, owing to the many many screws, nails of various size and shape (including ancient squareheads and horseshoe nails and what-all!, and staples that had been applied before and before. You get the idea of this rocker's use in the family over it's years of existence? Many generations were nursed and rocked in this chair! The outer frame was extensively repaired by Gene Cilek Rurniture Repair of St. Paul, 651-699-4022.

The inside back lifts out, as does the seat, but separately and is attached from the inside by long woodscrews.

The frame's wood was split in several places and some areas even had received the "quick fix" of stapling or duck tape!

Above photo is where you see that whole inside back unit repadded lightly with a foam sheet that's usually used for headliners in cars. I chose to use this material because the straw stuffing to this chair was so packed down, layers of stitching attached every way a person could to keep it attached over the years, that I dared not disturb this arrangement, or like I said, you would have trouble on your hands. There's no way we could find someone local to carve out this kind of frame unit new as a replacement, and we would've heard the old one's death rattle if we had set about taking it down completely. I couldn't add a bunch of new cotton either, because the finishing upholstery had to remain lean to the line. Too much padding (wouldn't even have added any comfort or resilience) would have diminished that great curve.

It's awful feeling when you find out a piece has old layers on it and that it was done intentionally by a previous professional upholsterer in the last 20 years or so. I can forgive an individual who maybe thought they'd try a DIY at revamping an outdated piece, but that's usually easy to undo. Or something hand done in the victorian era. They usually didn't expel much energy trying to get fabric on straight and secure. Common sense prevailed and an outside back panel may only be held on with a minimal amount of upholstery tacks. An upholstery shop that goes over the existing fabric and padding, - is excuse me, Cheating and makes twice as much work for the next person. Pneumatic stapling like there's no tomorrow, staples on top of staples, triple thick - this makes me so mad!!! and you usually cut your hands all to hell trying to remove all that. And it's got to come away or you'll have no where to secure your new layer of upholstery. This drives me up the right up the wall.

See? All they did was slap some dacron over everything and staple away, right up to the frame. I could barely get in there with my staple puller...oh, then there was all the old glue to contend with, that mucked everything up and you couldn't even see where the staples were, the fabric would just unravel and pull away, leaving the longest staple money can buy inside the wood or broken off. Attention Fellow Upholsterer's: Please use the shortest length of staple you need to hold fabric to a given hardness of wood frame and don't use more than you need. One staple is better than 5 in the same place.

But I mean, look at this - after all my ranting and raving, channel sewing and stuffing (cotton and curled hair by the way), this chair is fantastic. It is a platform rocker, so provides stationary rocking and is a prized seat in this much used combination living room/music room/common area. I knew how great it'd be if I just didn't let the previous poor workmanship get me down, and just made it right again.


  1. I have been checking out a few of your article stories and I must say pretty clever stuff. I will definitely bookmark your blog. Thank you very much.

  2. I just bought this exact chair (the 2nd one) at a thrift store for $7! I have never reupholstered before. How do you reupholster and keep the "tufts"?

    1. There is no easy answer for this. It is an advanced technique, not for beginners unless you want to really take time to study and learn. Books. And one-on-one lessons are recommended.

  3. I purchased an old chair at a thrift store recently for $7! I am trying my hand at reupholstering. During my research I found the EXACT chair on your blog that stated it was from the 19th century. I have removed the fabric. It looks like the original fabric was covered up when it was last reupholstered. The stuffing material looks like cotton batting and curly horse hair. The seat/back are actually stuffed channels and then stapled on to frame. I was planning on making it one solid piece with out channels (not using any of the current stuffing materials or fabric). Any suggestions or comments would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Without an image it's nearly impossible for me to advise you. Sometimes redesigning the padded portion of a chair works and other times it is a formula for disaster. Get some books, some personal instruction if you can and just do your best.


From Start To Finish

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