Ask an Upholsterer

Do you have an upholstery question, need help, advice or professional support on an upholstery project. With 42 years of furniture upholstery experience, I may be able to help. My name is Joe Gramm, owner and upholsterer at Cape Cod Upholstery Shop. Submit your upholstery questions at the bottom of the page and I will try to answer them from a professional upholsterer’s perspective. Please allow a day or two for my reply.

To help me answer your questions, please include a link to photos of your upholstery project. Use a service like Dropbox or Google+  and include the link with your question.

3,729 thoughts on “Ask an Upholsterer

  1. Hi I have a question please help. My springs to our couch seemed to have expanded pushing the cushions way up in the air a good 4 inch’s is there any way to ge the springs back down to be level?

    • 4″ is an extreme amount for the springs to pushing up. You don’t say if the springs are coil or zig zag. How can I help without any information. Either way something is drastically wrong.

      I suggest you flip the couch over and look to see if there are indications of what the problem could be.

  2. Hello.
    I have found a leather sofa I love with nailhead trim, the color of which I dislike.
    I can have the trim replaced with another color, but same sized nailhead.
    Once they pull the original nailheads, will the replacement heads be as snug as the originals?
    Thanks for your time to answer this question.

    • As long as the new nail heads don’t go back in the same holes as the old nail heads, it should be fine. The only other issue would be if the wood is split because of the nail heads. If the wood is split, then it might be an issue. All depends on how old the sofa is and how many times it’s been upholstered. But in general, it should be okay.

  3. Hi Joe,
    I’m redoing seat cushions for rattan sets. They will be used in a hotel with high traffic
    I am debating which foam I should use? We used to have a big upholstery supplies shop on the island but it is closed down
    Can you help advice me which of the foam below is appropriate for this application:-
    foam 5” with 1.8 ILD , 45 Lbs (a local store here carries only 1.8 ILD)
    or
    Foam 5” with 2.5 ILD, 35 Lbs ( not sure if this one will be too soft I have to order from the mainland
    Or what will you recommend?
    Thank you
    Aloha,
    Aung

    • Sorry for the late reply. The 5″ 2.5 density, 35 lb medium compression would be what I prefer. Firmer foam will hold up better in high traffic areas. So if you were able to get 2.5 density with a 45 lb firm compression, that would probably work as well.

      The only issue with a 45 lb firm compression with 5″ foam is it will border on being hard rather than firm. If you can get samples of each, you may want to get samples first.

  4. Hi I’ve taken all the old foam out of a buttoned back leather arm chair, the foam had almost gone to dust so I vacuumed it out. The buttons are still attached so I’m wondering if I could use foam chips by pouring them into the large opening at the top, do you think they would be firm enough ? I’d rather not have to take all the buttons off

    • Maybe shredded foam would work, you just need to try it. Being the high end professional I am, it’s not what I would do. But since you are the owner and user of the chair, do what you feel works for you. Theoretically the shredded foam might work. Anything will be more comfortable than powdered foam!

  5. Hi,
    I have two bamboo chairs and recently had cushions custom made for them. They are 3″ foam wrapped with a thin layer of something. The problem is they aren’t very comfortable. Do you recommend a certain type or density of foam for this type of seat cushion? The cushions rest directly on the bamboo frame, there are no springs. Would some type of latex or memory foam be better? Or a thinner foam and a thicker layer of the wrapping? I sat in one of the chairs to watch TV the other night and my hips and back got sore.

    • Three inch foam is a little tricky because that’s not a lot of foam for a seat. Maybe your chair can’t take more than 3″, I don’t know. I haven’t used memory foam in seat cushions so I can’t help there. My go to specifications for seating foam is 2.6 density with a medium compression of 35lbs. I also wrap most cushions with a 1.0oz stitched dacron. Three inch foam would make me change the compression to a firm 45lb compression.

      Without knowing more about the chair, that’s all the help I can offer.

      • Hi, here’s a picture of the chair. (I hope this works): https://www.dropbox.com/s/en1u6vq7t9h5a5l/IMG_0542.jpg?dl=0
        I don’t think it could handle more than 3 inches of cushion to sit comfortably with arms at the armrests, and also at the dining room table (we sometimes use it there for extra seating.) The info you provided is helpful in that I can go back to the place where the cushions were made and ask about the density and the compression of the foam. Perhaps they can make some adjustments that would make it more comfortable.
        Would you have wrapped this a bit more, so it’s a little fuller looking and not so flat? I don’t know if they can do that now, because they haven’t allowed extra fabric for the extra fullness, so it might shrink the cushion in from the sides of the chair.
        Thanks for the information, it gives me a place to start!

        • The seat cushion does look a bit flat. You should be able to add a bit more dacron to give it a more crowned look. The added dacron may or may not effect the fit of the cushion. You may also want to switch to a square type back cushion vs rectangular as to give more support to your upper back.

          There are several issues here I need to point out.
          1) 3″ foam sitting on a bamboo base is going to be difficult to make comfortable.
          2) Your bamboo chair is not designed to sit in for long periods of time and watch TV. If you have any type of back issues, you need to find a chair to accommodate your back.
          3) Your chair is designed for things like seating at a dinner table maybe for short periods of time and reading the newspaper in a 3 or 4 season room.
          4) Let your chair be the chair it is. Make it as comfortable as it can be considering it’s design intent. Use the best foam and back cushion you can and leave it at that.
          5) Go out and find a comfortable chair that accommodates your back to watch TV in.
          6) If you must continue to use your chair for watching TV, consider adding an ottoman to get your feet off the ground which in turn may help to relieve stress on your back.

          • Thanks so much! You’re absolutely right, the chair isn’t made for long periods of sitting, and it’s comfort level is limited. We bought it mostly as extra seating at the table and for short stints when guests are here. I will take your advice and not try to use it for something it wasn’t intended for heheh!
            I will change out the back cushions, also plan to check the foam and the Dacron wrapping, and may add more Dacron to give it a softer, rounder look and feel.
            Thanks so much for your helpful input! Much appreciated!

  6. hi can you help, I want to replace some leather car seats, the leather is fine but the sponge underneath has gone hard,what can i do to stop it getting worse? Can I apply spray latex or something else?
    thanks In advance.

    • I assume when you say sponge you’re talking about the foam padding you sit on under the leather. I don’t do auto upholstery, but the premise would be the same as furniture foam. If the foam has gone hard there is nothing you can do to soften it other than replace it with new foam.

      I personally have not heard of any product to soften hard foam. Sometimes you can use steam to bring back the edge of foam that has lost it’s shape, but if the edge has gone hard, even steam won’t help.

  7. I have been asked to make two cushions for an L-shaped banquette that measure approximately 76”w x 18”d x 3”h and 48”w x 18”d x 3”h.

    I originally thought I would use 3” high resiliency foam (2.7 / 35idl) as that is my go-to for Upholstery projects but I doubted that was the right option for banquette seating. I have 2 samples that were sent to me by my supplier that are 2”h and about 6”x6” so they’re big enough to feel but not sit on. (Note: not 3” so I’m not comparing apples to apples).

    In talking with the designer and her client, the client mentioned that she doesn’t want to sink in too much when sliding in (because it’s a rather long cushion) so she agreed to go with the 2.7/50idl. (I brought her both samples to feel. (35/50).

    I’m now second guessing what would be best for this seating. Are most clients actually meaning “medium” but say firm?

    This is for a residence, not a restaurant needing high traffic.

    • I think you’ll be okay because the customer sounds like they know what they want. I consider 2″ & 3″ foam not very thick for seating. So when using those thicknesses, I think it’s better to go firmer.

      I also agree with a long banquette, you don’t want to sink in because it makes it harder to slide around.

      I think you’ll be okay with the 50idl. I agree it is firm. The foam I use as “firm” is 45idl. Not much of a difference. The firm foam will actually make your job of stuffing out a long cushion easier. Use a good quality bonded or stitched dacron to wrap the foam and I think you’ll be fine.

      I know what you mean when the customer says firm, do they really mean firm. Because medium compression foam can feel firm. But I think in your case, along with the type of application, go firm.

      • Joe, thanks for you’re reply. I can get 44idl from another supplier if you think that’s actually better. I believe theirs is 2.9lb/44idl. Also 3”. (The client’s bench height is 16-3/4” so they want to keep it at 3”.)

        Also, I planned to wrap top/front/bottom with 1oz bonded dacron. Do you think that will be a problem with causing the short part of the L to push up against the side of the long L causing the other end to hang over? My plan was to cut foam and fabric same size as the bench top.

          • You want cushions to be properly filled out or they won’t look good. Be careful cutting your foam to small. I can’t really help with that because even for me it can be a trial and error thing until I get the cushion perfect.

        • I’m not sure how much of a difference the two foams will make. That being said, I’d probably use the 2.9 density with a 44 lb compression.

          You may have to experiment with the size of foam in relation to wrapping it with dacron.

  8. hello
    I have had a beautiful single box cushion cover for my sofa made locally.
    It is 4.5″x 25″ x69″.
    It is not tufted.
    In order to be able to afford the quality materials I wanted, I decided to DIY the foam & stuffing of this cushion. I have a high quality 4.5″ 3.2lb high resilient foam core with a softer ILD about 25ild.

    My issue is the Dacron/wrap materials & effect of the ‘lines’ of the sofa.

    On the other cushions, I DIY’d previously, I used the same foam, & the DAC 91 faced/backed/stitched Dacron. I purchased a whole roll & have plenty left over.
    Those cushions were smaller, so the crown effect was not too bad.

    I am trying to achieve a lower crown, but still fill out my cushion & I do not want tufting.
    I have seen where a thicker cotton batting can be used, but because of the width of the cushion, I am hesitant to use cotton, my concern is that it will matt up due to getting heavy use.

    I decided to use a very thick 1″ bonded Dacron on this long cushion it is more flat & not as ‘puffy’ & achieved the lines I wanted EXACTLY.
    Here is the issue:
    I was not sold bonded Dacron. My mistake for going to Joanne Fabrics.
    Instead of the batting being ‘bonded dacron’, cushion wrap, it is actually NuFoam.
    This is an entirely different product.
    While it looks exactly the same, it does NOT behave the same. It has reacted with the glue somewhat aside from just bonding to the foam, & it has some hardened & flattened & bunched areas that are ‘telescoping’ through my fabric. I did not know this product had different characteristics than the bonded wrap. It has only been on for a few days & the effect is getting worse.

    I *know* I need to pull out the cushion & strip this off of the foam.
    My question is:
    Will actual bonded Dacron react with glue in this manner?
    I am using 3M Super 77 spray glue.
    Also, will I need to also have a cover over the bonded Dacron, like remay. The 1 side of the cushion is a woven cotton, & I am concerned about migration/bearding.

    My only experience is with faced/backed Dacron, which gives wonderful results, but I do not want that much crown.
    Would cotton work better?

    Live & learn!!!

    • I would not use cotton batting. Wrong application for the project. I don’t know how thick you Dac 91 is, but you can purchase standard 1.0oz stitched dacron which works the same as Dac 91 and is less expensive. The 1.0oz is about 1″ thick or slightly less.

      When it comes to bonded dacron, I only use thermal bonded. I’ve never had an issue with the dacron reacting to spray adhesive.

      • My Dac 91 is 2 sided, stitched , it’s 30″, 1.5oz.

        What is your trick to filling out a cushion without getting that extra crown in order to achieve more square lines?
        I’m thinking the thermal bonded in 1″ is the way to go since the 1″ Nufoam filled everything out perfectly & kept the lines, but the NuFoam seems more dense than bonded Dacron, so I am not sure if I should bump up the thickness to account for that. Suggestions?

        Also any tricks to getting ALL of the Nufoam stripped off of my core foam?
        Since the reaction was so bad, I want to be sure I get all of this product off so there is none remaining to react when I put the proper Dacron on the cushion.
        Is there a method, or a tool to shave off the fuzz?

        Just for future reference:
        What occurred with the 3M Super 77 spray glue & the NuFoam appears to be 2 fold.
        #1, the glue did not seem to cure the same & remained tacky on the NuFoam, & everywhere it grabbed, it kind of hardened the fluff factor, & remaining tacky, it keeps grabbing, & everywhere it grabs loses fluff & becomes stiff. The glue was not over applied, but seems to have bled through due to extra tack. I attempted to cut down the tackiness in a last ditch effort by using some talc, but there seems no end to the issue, so it must come off. I’m posting this part so that anyone doing outdoor cushions, which is the actual application for NuFoam doesn’t use the 3M Super 77 spray glue.

        • What is your trick to filling out a cushion without getting that extra crown

          The finished boxing size is the trick. My standard cushion for example is 4″ foam with a single wrap of 1.0oz stitched dacron. I finish my boxing at 3 1/4″ which gives me a bit of a crown. If you want a cushion with no crown, than make your finished boxing 3 3/4″ – 4″.

          Also any tricks to getting ALL of the Nufoam stripped off of my core foam?

          Can’t help there. I try to only apply adhesives, not take them off. I’m not trying to act smart, I really don’t know how to remove glue from foam.

          • Hah! Thanks. I just want to get all of the NuFoam off. I didn’t think I could get all of the glue off. I was just -meaning all of the stray fibers from the NuFoam since that is what reacted to the glue. Maybe one of those little pill shavers & a lot of patience because it will surely gum up due to tackiness.

            On the boxing & less crown question:
            You mentioned about making the boxing smaller. I am thinking on that.
            On that note, at this point, will the opposite work also?
            My boxing is 4.5″ & my foam is 4.5″, & I was planning 1″ Dacron each side.
            Since I am stripping the Nufoam off, I *do* have the opportunity to add a layer of foam, say 1/2″ each side, bringing the foam proper to 5.5″, then add the thermo-bonded Dacron. If my understanding is correct, it should achieve the same effect correct?

            Thanks so much for this site! It has a wealth of information.
            The woman who made my box cushion covers is on vacation, & is not an upholsterer, but she is a professional a seamstress who does amazing work. She will order the proper materials for me, but cannot give advice about which types are more preferable &/or why, since it is not her area of expertise. I won’t be stepping foot in Joanne Fabrics again for anything upholstery related after this nightmare! All of this extra work due to attempting to buy 4 yards of bonded Dacron-which was not bonded Dacron at all!!

  9. I am reupholstering a french provincial chair with Sunbrella canvas fabric. When I attempted to staple the fabric to the inside back of the chair, I could not get the material to lay flat. It had multiple puckers. I removed all of the staples and am now wondering if I should/could use curve-ease to navigate the curves. Any suggestions as to why the puckers occurred or a solution to my problem would be appreciated. Thank you! https://www.dropbox.com/s/2dsbmm977ya9dji/Screenshot%202017-10-28%2015.38.25.png?dl=0

    • Sunbrella inherently wants to pucker. You need to center your fabric in place. Then get the stretch out of the Sunbrella by pulling evenly to the corners. Then filling in from the center to the corners. it’s not easy.

      I would not use ply Grip or curve-ease. Curve-ease is mainly for outsides, not insides.

  10. Hi, I’m a capable sewer and I am reupholstering a weathered faux suede sofa. The problem I’m encountering is the squeaking when sitting. By a process of elimination I have determined that there are two parts to the problem, both are due to the webbing.
    The main squeak comes from the dust cover rubbing on the webbing as you sit on the couch. The less problematic squeak is the webbing rubbing on the edge of the wooden frame at the front of the couch.
    So my question is, how do I eliminate the squeak? The webbing itself doesn’t appear to be overstretched. It only runs in one direction, front to back. What can I use other than the dust cover?
    Cheers from Australia

    • I must say I haven’t encountered a situation like yours before with webbing. A few questions first:
      1) What type of webbing are you using. Is it a jute webbing or a synthetic webbing of some kind.
      2) Are you using coil springs in the seat.
      3) Is the frame tight. Especially the from rail.

      I could see it’s possible for webbing to squeak against wood in certain situations. I can’t think of any reason why the webbing would squeak rubbing up against the dust cover. That is based on the premise you’re using the standard cambric type dust cover cloth. As for the webbing against the wood; my only suggestion would be to try and jam a thin(1/4″) piece of foam between the wood and webbing and see if that eliminates the squeak. I don’t have any suggestions about the webbing and dust cover as I’m having a hard time seeing how webbing rubbing on a dust cover could squeak.

  11. Ok don’t laugh too much. This is my first attempt at tieing springs. This is about a 1910 chaise and I hated to see it thrown out. I guess I’m just looking for a quick view and an OK to move to the next step. I do see a few hills and valleys……do I need to start over? What do you suggest as the next layer? It had straw, then cotton batting and then muslin. What do I use in place of straw and cotton? Dense foam?

    Here is drop box link to pics
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0r3mwlzaakh4j55/AAC5K0Nc6_EF-K9-6O1X30HFa?dl=0
    Thanks for your advise as I move forward.

    • I’m not sure I see enough from the photos to suggest you do the springs over. However, this is what I could comment on.

      1) Some of your ties are not knotted, rather looped. This is somewhat done in the industry, but you are better off making every tie an actual knot. If your twine were to break, the loop does not stop the twine from unraveling. With a knot, if the twine breaks, the unraveling can only go so far as the next knot.
      2) You don’t need to twirl your extra twine around your ties. The exception may be where your tacks are. Wrapping the twines near the end where your tacks are can some times prevent the twine from rubbing on the edge of the wood. The edge of the wood is a common place for twines to break, especially with jute twine.

      Other than that, I can’t tell from the photos how uniform your springs are. The more uniform they are to each other, the better shape of your final seat. So if there are springs that are to high/to low, you may want to consider adjusting those.

      For new padding I would cover the springs in Burlap, then dense pad, then 2.6 high density foam, then batting, then muslin, then a layer of batting, then your finished fabric.

        • I edited my reply so if you did not see the edits, please read my reply again.

          One more thing. I noticed you used the old antique copper coated springs. Those were probably the original springs. It’s okay to re-use them as long as they are still good.

          As long as the spring stays straight as the spring gets pushed down, the springs should be okay. If you push down on the springs and they try to move to the side and not go straight down, then you are losing quite a bit of tension from the springs. Lack of tension will result in a seat that is less resilient. So just be sure your springs are good before proceeding.

  12. I have a 1960s French provincial sofa with two pocket coil spring cushions and a matching chair. One of the sofa cushions was ruined by cat urine and the Muslin fabric covering the coils started to rot and the wire that reinforced the perimiter of the pocket coil unit was broken. My husband threw it out. I don’t want to reupholster the sofa using foam cushions, because I am concerned the overall look and feel of the sofa will change. How difficult/expensive would it be for a professional upholsterer to make one new sofa cushion (or two if it would be difficult to match the remaining cushion) using a new pocket coil unit? Can foam be made to look like the original cushion, with a slight crown and no square edges ? I have photos but not sure how to send them with this comment

    • It’s not difficult for an upholsterer to make new inner spring seat cushions. Either the upholsterer will make them in-house or they will send them out to their cushion fabricator.

      As to matching the old, I don’t think there could be any guarantees of making an new inner spring cushion to match the other. I think you’d be better off having two new ones made.

      As for foam vs innerspring. An innerspring cushions has a look/feel of it’s own. Foam and dacron is not a good substitute in my opinion.

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