Sunday, August 1, 2010

1930's-40's Parlour Set - Part II

This is the lovely home where the parlour set is eventually to settle - on the cedar-paneled porch in the shade of a big burled oak.  Not only were these two upholstered pieces kept in the family, but also a charming piece of family mechanized folk art and 2 matching end tables, purchased as part of the set. 

The National Chair and Furniture Company of St. Louis Missouri founded in 1910, was first manufacturer then in later years distributor of furniture  - first for residential, then moving into institutional/commercial furnishings.  Early on, apparently their motto was, "We are Bears on Chairs", which is pretty funny.  Here's half a tag I found sewn inside the seam of cushion...

Back to to the reupholstering of this set - I left off with tying of springs, inside backs (4-way tie) and seating (8-way tie).  
I guess what I'd have you to know if you're doing this yourself, is if most of the ties are still holding to frame or to one another, you can sometimes tie over the old jute strings to achieve the original height of springs.  I remembered the rule of thumb - I read it in one good book or another, that coil springs should tie down to 1 1/2" below their height when standing alone, without any compression.  It helped that this set too, had a good edgewire not terribly out of shape, and that one (two on the chair) good torsion spring nailed on the edge, informing me the height of the deck.

Work back to front starting at center and follow directions for "double-return tie" (google that). There are lots of good books and tutorials on the knot making and how to carry this out. Do all the verticals, then do horizontals. This sofa and chair both, for these beginning stabilizing ties, used double-return. It takes forever to do, so you can't rush through double-returns. You just can't. But you must do it if the sofa's to last another eon, receiving a lot of sitting by a variety of people (not just light weights). That's part of the reason why upholstery is so expensive, it's absolutely all handwork, monotonously tying and retying and tying again. Stapling and tacking, taking that out, doing it again, until it's just right, no crinkly corners, hard edges of wood or weird bumps of cotton that you can feel when you run your hand along back or arm.

Do the vertical tying to finish, so that each spring has been tied to the others, so they all move in unison when sat upon, anywhere on the sofa. Then cover with hessian or burlap. Next will be your spring cover pad - these had curled hair pad on the sofa, but just cotton on the chair. I had a bunch of extra saved from an old piece where the people wanted foam, so I plucked it all apart and supplemented both. Curled hair is like $30.00 per lb, so don't throw it away if it's not too bad...reuse it, but you do need to pull it apart to make it fluffy again. These pictures attempt to show how to deal with the burlap around the posts of frames...

You want the foundational covering (what will be keeping all the stuffing from falling through) to be stapled firmly (but not stretched taught, that's for the final cover) against the frame - no daylight to be seen in corners!

Handsew the edgeroll back on if it had one (these did). If it's a really old piece or from Europe, you may have had to cut extra long burlap and fold it back up from the stapled rail, stuff it with cotton or hair and sew that down (making your own). You need this roll up front to give the "nose" it's nice edge and to protect that edgewire from poking through fabric and getting terribly misshapened.

I like to review pictures I took early on, because this may be 4 days later that I'm just now doing this step and can't for the life of me remember how it went. Is it so terrible to make up your own way? No, but I like to do it the way of the original piece. Because this isn't purely recreational for me, I kind of collect all the ways there are of attaching noses and aprons and decks and things...there are a million and one patents out there held by furniture manufacturers, it's kind of fun seeing all the myriad of ways. This one was handsewn at corners (3 flaps) instead of trying to pattern that curve and sewing it just right on the machine.

Oh, this is what it looked like underneath. Don't forget, you have to handsew the combination of deckcloth/nose to the burlaped and spring-covered springs...

This would've been faster to machine sew welted section to the section covering edgeroll, but I was doubtful of the curve. Sometimes these pieces were cut funny and you can't tell by measuring the old fabric because it's stretched out so much and yielded to the shape of sofa over time. So. Another hour and 1/2 probably, to get a curved needle and no-slip handsewing thread (or strong button twine) to hold it all down where it needs to be...on both pieces.

I forgot to tell you, I actually did the inside arms first, because they extend beneath the level of the decking and even show a little bit out front edge of apron, near the carved show wood, when all's said and done. The original curled hair pad was replaced against new burlap, fresh stuff added to plump it up, new cotton (the old cotton was seriously flattened, dirty etc. It was peeled off, discarded and 2 and 3 new layers added. Why say 2 and 3? You build up quite a thickness at top, while tapering down near deck, to allow room for a plump cushion. Extra bits of cotton also get stuffed in corners, through the lower rails, where the fabric gets pulled through, accessed through outside arms...

Must handsew curled hair to burlap to inhibit shifting. All of this is unnecessary you realize, with the application of foam and cotton or dacron. Modernity...

Doing the same with the back. Placing former cushions on first to check the fit to see how much cotton I need to add and to see how tightly I need to fasten the inside back's fabric to frame. You must give a care to the line of cushions at front edge, neither sticking out too far or sunk too far back. Also to keep in line with welt divisions, marking the sofa into 3rds.

Does fit nicely - no big gaps showing khaki colored deckcloth at point of T-cushion's meeting inside arms.

Now to match the pattern on the inside back of sofa, separated by vertical welt cording.

Cover with burlap the backs, layer of cotton and outer covers applied. I like to hold things in place with small no. 3 upholstery tacks (nails) and then staple with the shortest staple that'll do the trick usually 3/8". Never staple everything with long honking 9/16". Upholsterer's of the future will hate you.

I'll wrap this up now. I've ignored blatantly the first rule of blogging - "keep it short". Can't do'er. And I've been scolded several times by readers to post! post! with better frequency. I'll try! Please do see my facebook pages, both fan and profile are Miller Upholstering, and I'm twittering now at millerupholster. Those have become so much easier to do with the iphone - quick and frequent action reports. Thanks for reading this though. Corn-in-the-Can...maybe you can use some of this towards that sofa you received as a gift last Mother's Day? Yours Truly, Helen


  1. You are truely talented, truely knowledgeable, and I enjoy watching you work. If I lived, say 500 miles closer, I'd bring my grandparent's chairs that look like these, so you could work your magic.

  2. Ha! Corn here...
    I've been away from the WWW for about 5 months now... and I just came over here today seeing what you had and found this 2 part post for almost identical furniture... and you thought of me!

    I'm so scared-- but am determined to do this myself.
    I'm looking at tips on measuring. Am getting ready to find some complimentary fabric.

    The tips on hand sewing are great!

    I'll keep you posted when I get started...


From Start To Finish

Here's a post from a while back that had lost it's image links.  Someone was asking about Cogswell chairs just yesterday, so...