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.

4,009 thoughts on “Ask an Upholsterer

  1. Hi Joe,
    My client wants to reupholster this lounge seating. Currently the piece has 8 buttons tufting on top , size of bench is 128”x 50”. My client does not want buttons but my concern is that without the buttons, the seat may get wrinkles Because the piece is so big so does not matter how taunt I pull the top area will eventually get wrinkles from sitting down. Is my thought correct?
    My question is, is it possible to reupholster this pice without buttons tufting and the piece will be as smooth as it should be after heavily sitting on it.
    Thank you very much.
    Aung

    • Hi Aung,

      I agree with you about the wrinkles with a piece of fabric that size. It’s fabric and fabric stretches.

      Technically, I think the only way to minimize the wrinkles without buttons is to use a firm to extra firm foam with a thin layer of bonded dacron. The less you sink into the seat, the less chance of wrinkles. That being said, firm or extra firm foam could be uncomfortable and the client may not like that either.

      Also as you already know, your fabric has to be as taught as possible.

      I just think you explain to clients what you believe to be technically possible. In your case, there is a large piece of fabric involved and fabric stretches. The buttons are there to make the fabric taught. If there are no buttons, you either except that there will be some wrinkles or you need to take measures to reduce the wrinkles. The measures may be to use a firmer foam which may help reduce wrinkles, but it may also reduce comfort.

      I’m guessing that when you met with the client, the client said I don’t want buttons. And you either verbally said or had the thought “Wrinkles”. That is the precise time to tell the client what you feel the options and outcomes will be.

      As to the original questions, yes to wrinkles with no buttons without adjustments to the padding. But even then, you have a large expanse of fabric and fabric stretches.

    • The only time I use an edge wire is on seat springs the I refer to as “wire edge springs”. These are seat springs where the top front of the spring comes all the way to the outer edge of the seat frame. After the burlap is put on, you would then attach an edge roll. Most all the time, the wire edged would be used for a seat application were there would be a loose seat cushion.

      The main purpose of the edge wire is to keep the front edge of the seat nice and straight and give additional support to the edge roll.

  2. Hi there. I have an old nursery chair, round base that has 9 coil springs sitting on metal bars. There is a spring mesh unit that sits on and is attached to the springs.
    Some of the springs buckle when sat on and it’s not very comfortable! I am very new to upholstery, so wondered what my next course of action would be. Could I replace the metal bars with webbing, then new coils? I’m a little stuck as the mesh unit is attached the coils, but I’m sure I could reuse this if I can ply it apart.
    Thanks for any help, really much appreciated!

    • It sound like what you have are “strap springs”. You can look online for new strap springs. Make sure you buy the correct length to fit your chair frame, if you decide to buy new ones.

      Alternatively, it’s probably easier to web the bottom of your chair and add new coil springs, equal in height to the strap springs.

  3. I have a really great leather recliner. It has zippers to relax it. Should I replace the old padding with batting fluff or memory foam?

    • I’ve never used memory foam in furniture seating so I’m not a good one to ask about memory foam. I wouldn’t use 100% dacron batting as it will not hold up. I would use a combination of high density foam wrapped in dacron batting.

        • This is a difficult back to explain how to do in this type of format. The main issue is you haven’t pulled the fabric in the manner needed to get the stretch out of your fabric.

          You need to start in the exact center of your back. The top and bottom center should be marked on you back piece and the same with your fabric. Once you have your fabric started in the center, it’s a series of many small steps working the stretch out of your fabric from side to side. As you are moving from side to side, you will need to make a series of cuts up to where your last staple is to relieve the tension of the fabric as you move towards the end. Be sure to make your first cuts where you stapled in the center.

          The stiffer or less stretchy your fabric is, the more technically difficult it is to do. Just be careful as you staple and cut because one bad cut will force you to start over.

          If it sounds confusing let me know and I will try to clarify.

  4. Hi, I have a couch cushion question. My customer is insisting that his new cushions fit the shape of the deck of his couch. He wants the cushions to sit firmly, down level on the front of the couch, but then fill the dip on the deck, too. (where it’s hand-sewed across on the seam allowance?). But the deck is bowed, er, domed? from that dip to the back, because of the z-springs underneath. I tried a square of thick Dacron in the center of the cushion, then wrapped with single thickness Dacron, for more crown, but that just makes a “cushion balloon” on the couch. Oh, and he wants to be able to turn the cushions over! I suggested down cushion filling so the cushions would conform to the shape of the deck and lay flat across. (Not sure if I’m right about that). But oh no, his grandma had those and he didn’t like sitting on them. He wants me to angle-shave the front of the foam, wedge it, so it will go down into the dip, but that’s not going to help to fit the doming of the deck behind the dip. Help! I need him done and gone! LOL

    • I sympathize with you because if you look at 1000 pieces of furniture, 999 of them have a bit of a gap between the seat deck and cushion.

      I don’t know at what stage of the seat deck you are. The front of the seat deck should be slightly higher than the back. I would make it so the deck is flat and the front edge is sharp and square.

      I would make your seat cushion padding as usual, but I would make the boxing higher, eliminating the cushion crown.

      That being said, if all that were to work, you would have a piece of furniture that looks on the firm side, vs the comfortable side. If that’s okay with your customer, that’s the best advise I can give.

  5. In doing box cushions, if your top plate ends up 1/2 inch to long, is there a way to hide puckering when sewing to bottom plate?
    Also are there schools anywhere? I love doing upholstery and didn’t figure out how much till converting a school bus to rv.

    • My answer as a professional upholster would be to make sure your top and bottom pieces are the same size. That is where a good job begins. It would be best to cut a new matching piece and then you don’t need to worry about hiding the puckers..

      I would Google for upholstery schools in your area and post here what part of the country you live and maybe someone here will know.

  6. I have a sofa with foam core down topper that looks great until someone sits then stands up. THE material does not pop back up then looks saggy. I tried adding more down, didnt change much Would you suggest more down or should I try foam. Any other suggestions

    • There could be many reasons:
      1) If your fabric has a rubber backing, the rubber backing may not be allowing the down to breath. Down and feathers need to breath within the cushion.
      2) What is your ratio of down and feather. More feathers than down will not be as puffy as having more down. 50% down/50% feather is a standard premium fill. 25% down/75% feather is an economy fill.
      3) Your finished boxing size may be to large for your filling as in your foam core should might need to be thicker.
      4) Your finished cushion cover may be overall to big for the filling, not just your boxing.

      As you can see there could be several reasons. I would need to have more specifications to help.

  7. Re: upholstery class. Cheryl, for what it’s worth, I took a night class at a local high school many years ago, but when I needed to learn traditional upholstery to reupholster an antique armchair, I turned to youtube.com. It was a better source than the class I took.

    • Youtube is free, Kim’s Upholstery is subscription based. A hands on class would be best for most people. That being said, the class would have to involve the subject matter you were interested in learning about. For example, Kim’s upcoming class in Plymouth, Ma is about pattern matching and boxed cushions. This is all great stuff to learn, but it’s one small portion of upholstery. Cheryl’s project may not even involve a boxed cushion.

      Kim’s Upholstery cost to join for a year is approximately $250 for a years subscription. For some, it may be worth it to have access to a library of professional videos.

      This is all making me think about doing classes here on Cape Cod where I know there is an interest.

      • I think you should definitely at least put out some feelers on it. I couldn’t attend unfortunately because I’m in NJ, but I do think there is a lot of interest. You certainly know the subject. I think it would be a successful endeavor for you and you would probably enjoy it as well. Make sure you do some beginner classes as well (that is where I would be signing up).

        • Thank you Christine. I plan on taking that class in Kingston. Kim offered classes in Greenfield Ma but now they seem to be all over the country.

      • RE: Upholstery class. Cheryl, being self taught I can tell you some of the most best resources I have found were books, You Tube, and Joe Gramm.
        Upholstering for Everyone by Page Parker and Alice Fornia is a must. Kim’s upholstery has some great free videos on You Tube. Joe Gramm has been invaluable to me as I have reached out many times with questions and he was always quick to respond. My local upholsterer here in Maine is also a great resource for information, supplies and advice. Good Luck! and Thanks Joe for all your time and advice. It’s truly invaluable.

        • This is the most active blog question in a while, which shows you how much interest there is in people learning about upholstery. I love offering free advise on this blog, but I also would like to retire from being an upholsterer everyday. After all, I’ve been an upholsterer for 47 years and my hands are getting tired.

          Kim’s Upholstery and many others already have Youtube vides, there are also many books written, so I would need to have a unique angle if I wanted to devote more time to teaching vs upholstering. Stay tuned!

          • I am pretty sure none of the vocational schools offer upholstery classes in this area. Maybe you could offer to teach a class at one of the schools. They would provide the space so you would not need to re-work your workroom. If you ever need any help in your shop I would be willing to offer my time free of charge in exchange for learning the trade. I would have to work my schedule around my slipcover business.

            • Your question has come at a pivotal time in my career. Let me think about all this, including your offer.

              Teaching at the vocational school makes sense for all the reasons you stated, but I’m not really interested in that approach.

              Again, just out of curiosity, are you located in Plymouth or the Cape Cod.

    • Hi Cheryl, I don’t know of any upholstery classes on the Cape or Plymouth area. You would need to contact the vocational high schools in the area. There are two on the Cape and I don’t know about Plymouth.

      I did a Google search for “upholstery classes in Massachusetts” and found a few classes in the Boston area.

    • Cheryl, I’m waaaaay over on the West Coast but I found an upholstery class here put on by a fabric store (Pacific Fabrics, a small local chain). As Joe suggested, I did try the local community colleges and technical schools first with no luck.

      We had a great instructor (not an employee of Pacific Fabrics). He is one of a number of instructors (quilting, sewing, etc.) Pacific Fabrics uses. I’m sure part of the fee goes to the store but most of it goes to the instructor.

    • Look for Kim’s upholstery online. She has a Facebook group that you can join. If you become a member of her site, you have access to educational videos that are very informative. She travels the country teaching upholstery. I am taking a class with her in Plymouth in July on pattern matching and box cushions. Everything I know about upholstery I have learned from Kim.

  8. Hi Joe
    I’ve recently bought some dining chairs to use in our kitchen. They have sprung seats attached underneath by a metal cross, rather than tied. Inside I think it’s horsehair. It all smells a bit musty. The top of the seats are possibly leather. I was originally wanting to just recover, but didn’t realise they were sprung with horsehair. Ideally I’d like to replace the horsehair, what should I use instead? The seats are a little lumpy, so the springs need looking at. Do I need to replace the leather or just sort out the inside and put the fabric over the top? Thanks

  9. HI Joe, I am reupholtering a couch I have foam on all but the back, will do later, I used 1in foam, now should I get a 1/2 inch foam to put on top of my spring before I do the batting or should I also use 1 in over the springs. Do I also do batting over the springs or just put muslin as the linning.

  10. I have one question. I have old rocking chair that had no springs, not sure if it ever had any.
    Can I put springs in chair bottom if it never had any? I am trying to tackle this for the first time

    • If the chair had seat springs at one time, you would most likely see tack holes on the bottom of the seat frame where the webbing was attached.

      In general, if the seat was designed not have springs, I wouldn’t add them.

      A link to a photo of your chair is worth a thousand words.

  11. Happy New Year Joe! I have the mother of all upholstery questions…

    I have been commissioned to upholster 2 pieces of furniture for commercial use in Dubai. One is a “lips” sofa and the other is a fluted bench seating that wraps around a fake tree. Here are the pictures:
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dq7xa09fhoga7ov/AAA7YYFwtitAf-FB3gzkkMpPa?dl=0

    The problem with the lips sofa is that it is extremely rounded in all directions and the velvet has little stretch once it has the FR treatment on it. There is also nowhere to tack the inside back panel on to on the back of the frame. I am going to attempt to make the back as one big capped on piece, maybe with a zip down one side.
    – Do you think that would be a viable solution?
    – If not, how would you go about doing it?
    – Would you include pin tucked pleats to ensure it follows round all the curves?

    The fluted bench seating is obviously extremely challenging. The frame comes in 4 pieces – the back and the seat being separate and the whole bench being split in half. I am using a vinyl with a bit of stretch, but I am concerned about getting each channel so rounded without gathering of the vinyl as each channel curves round a corner. I was thinking of tackling this by attaching individual pieces of foam to the frame for each panel made of firm foam underneath and softer foam on top, and then templating and pre-sewing each panel together for each individual channel. I would then pull the seam between each channel and staple on back of frame.
    – How would you go about tackling this job?
    – How would you avoid the vinyl gathering?

    I know this is a really big question but even if you can help me with some of the smaller elements then any advice you are able to give is really greatly appreciated!

    Thank you.

    • Hi Martha, You’re adventurous to take on a project like this.

      Lips Sofa: It may be possible not have pleats on the seat, but I don’t see a way to avoid a pleat on the backs. Especially if the fabric is not stretchy. I wouldn’t use a zipper as I think it would take away from the clean look. I would make a slipcover that slides on from the top. I think you will need to pin the inside back and outside back onto the piece. Then mark the two pieces to line up where you’ll stitch them together. With any of the pleats, I would cut the pleat and machine stitch the pleat to keep the pleat as flat as possible.

      Fluted Bench: I wouldn’t know how to help with that piece unless I saw the actual construction. Vinyl will stretch quite a bit if you gently heat it. Heating vinyl is the best way to work out bulk and pleats. I almost envision a center strip with two side pieces for each section. But since I don’t know where the vinyl will be attached to, it’s it’s difficult to know where to start.

        • The closest job I’ve done to Martha’s job are these set of pie shaped ottomans at this Dropbox Link.

          I reupholstered existing ottomans so basically I was coping what was there. The ottoman frame was designed with spaces to pull all the fabric in place. Simple compared to Martha’s project.
          The job was done around 1980-1982 when I had an upholstery shop in Sarasota Florida. They were for the then CEO of Sarasota County Hospital.

          Not the greatest quality picture as it was scanned from an old 35mm photo.

  12. (Apologies if this posted twice — technical issues!)

    Hi Joe,
    Thanks so much for any help you can provide on this! I am attempting to reupholster my mid-century Kroehler couch — and am a little unsure where to go from here.
    I took the couch apart, expecting that I would probably replace the springs in the seat with hand-tied springs and that I would definitely replace whatever was in the back, as the back offers very little support. I found the bottom was one large metal spring unit, while the back was a series of sinuous springs backed by more sinuous springs bent into a U shape.
    My questions are:
    1. Would you opt to replace the bottom spring unit with hand-tied springs, or is there any chance new seat cushions and padding would be good enough? I’m not sure how to tell whether the springs are “still good”. If so, how should the height of the hand-tied springs compare to the springs in this unit?
    2. Should I replace the sinuous springs? Or just put new padding over them? The U-shaped ones in particular don’t seem to have much spring to them, which I assume is why the back of the couch was so uncomfortable. If you think I should replace them, is it something I can do at home without a lot of specialized equipment? What would you think about leaving the vertical ones and replacing the U-shaped ones?
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/8zh20hdidgr4fu0/AAA4VxdT-_d7cmo7Dh79-Z08a?dl=0
    Samantha

    • Hi Samantha,

      That’s an unusual spring set up you have for your sofa. You did a nice clean job of removing the fabric and padding. My first thoughts are it would be a major undertaking to to replace the seat and back springs. I think this is one of the times where I have to say I would need to be there and see the sofa to really know what to do. I would be inclined to say keep the springs as is and try to make the sofa more comfortable via the padding. I would tie down the back springs external wire support to the height it was originally, burlap and use a high quality dense pad as your first layer on both back and seat springs.

      Do you have any photos of what the sofa looked like before you stripped it??

  13. Hi joe

    I just purchased a brand new sofa for my living room from a local retailer. The sofa was mamufactured here in Canada by a well known company.

    Upon delivery, (late evening) I inspected the sofa -it looked fine my husband and sat on the new sofa for 10 minutes. (No one goes in the living room as we use our family room couches for everyday use) The following morning I walked past my new sofa and noticed the cushions were wrinkled across on the fronts! I also noticed that the cushions overhang 2 inches over the front base of the sofa. I’ve had my family room couches for over 12 years – there is a lot of use of these couches and til this day I’m yet to see a wrinkle on front let alone the top of them. And they don’t overhang.

    My question – is it normal for cushions to wrinkle like this when its is less than 24 hours in the house with only 10 minutes of sitting time? Is the overhang normal and lastly the stitching is very tight on the body of the sofa causing more wrinkles on the arms and base.

    I have contacted the retailer who reached out to the mfr. the mfr is saying that this is normal for cushions wrinkle as foam will condense 10% within first 6 months and the fabric will stretch. We only had sofa less than 24 hours and 10 minutes of sitting time. Last time I checked sofas are meant to be sat on … no??

    Pls help!

    Amy

    • Hi Amy, 2″ is to much of an overhang in my opinion. Especially if the cushions are a boxed style cushion. A “bull nose” style cushion can sometimes have a bit of an overhang, but usually not more than 1″.

      As for the wrinkles, there can be a lot of reasons for wrinkles. I try to have as few wrinkles as possible, but I’m always amazed when I look thru home decor type magazines, how many pieces of furniture in the magazines have wrinkles. These are pieces of furniture presumably upholstered & photographed by professionals, but yet are loaded with wrinkles. I once saw an Ethan Allen ad calling wrinkles “Comfort Wrinkles”.

      When the manufacturer off your furniture says fabric can stretch, I agree with that. I’m not so sure about 10% in 6 months thing. Foam condensing in 6 months would have a lot to do with foam density and compression, the type of wrapping material on the foam and how much use the cushions were getting and the weight of the people sitting on the cushions.

      The cushions with a 2″ overhang is to much in my opinion and should be a relatively easy fix for the manufacturer if they know you are not happy. The wrinkles are a separate issue which will be difficult to resolve.

      I would need to see a photo of the sofa before I could comment any more about the wrinkles. If you can upload a photo to a service like the free version of Dropbox, you can then get the URL link to the photo from Dropbox and post the link back here.

  14. Hi Joe,
    I have to reupholster this sofa but my client doesn’t want lumpy seat and wants a firmer seat. The seat is a loose cushion filled with dawn now.
    Can I replace it with foam, 2.8 with 35 lbs? Is 3.5” foam too thick? Any suggestion please.
    Thank you very much.
    Aloha,
    Aung

  15. Hi,
    I recently found your blog which is amazing!
    I’m hoping you can help me with a project.
    I’m in the process of reupholstering Grandma’s old chair for my daughter. It was in a very bad state with coil springs. I’ve taken the springs out now and I’m hoping I can replace them with a foam seat. It’s to be used in a bedroom so won’t have heavy use.
    My thought is to ‘re web on the top of the bottom rail rather than on the underside as previously. Cover this with Hessian and then put a 2.5ins foam cushion on top of this, which would come then about half way up the decorative rail. I want to keep the original dome shaped top so i would then add a slightly smaller 2nd foam layer, probably half an inch thick, and then a 3rd and possibly a 4th smaller layer again. This would then be covered with Dacron to make a domed seat.
    I’m a relative novice so I’m wondering if this sounds OK and if thete is anything else I would need to do or other solutions.
    A few photos can be seen at this link.
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/mfhzvyvudwebosn/AAAoErTd-lIlD3Mi24mgLarga?dl=0

    Thanks, Dee.

    • At the bottom of your question you ask if their are “other solutions” to your plan. I would simply re-web the bottom of the chair and put the springs back in. All foam will not replace the feel of a spring seat.

      The only change to your foam plan I would make is to start with the smaller size foam on the bottom to achieve your dome. Lets assume you will use 3 layers of foam. For your first layer, use 1/2-1″ foam. Cut the foam to shape so it fits inside the seat frame, not overlapping onto the wood of the frame. This is the layer that will create your dome or crown. The next layer of foam will be go out to the edge of your seat frame, but not overlapping the outside edge. Your third layer will overlap the outside of the seat frame by 1/2′-1″. What you don’t want to happen with your top overlapping layer of foam and dacron is for the foam to overlap into your stapling area.

      Two suggestions:
      1) Use a fox edge or edge roll on all sides of your seat frame. 3/4″ jute edge roll should work. With you second layer of foam, your foam will fit up to the stitching of the edge roll. The edge roll will help protect your fabric from the edge of the seat frame.
      2) Cover the seat in muslin before applying your finished fabric. Add one layer of additional batting on top of the muslin, then your finished fabric. Having the seat in muslin will make your finished layer of fabric go 100% easier.

  16. Don’t know if you still do this service?? I stumbled across this blog while googling for an answer. I am a novice upholsterer, and my client wants me to reupholster a victorian chaise, but would like to reduce the cost of replacing the top pad by using rubberised hair and cotton/wool felt, instead of the traditional horse hair. My question is, what thickness of rubberised hair would you use? The options I have here in the UK are 1″, 2″, and 2 1/2″…. Any thoughts would be appreciated : )

      • Hello!

        This is to go on the seat and scroll of a victorian chaise, I haven’t taken the top covers off yet, but she tells me underneath it has been mostly traditionally upholstered, but with the usual horse hair layer being replaced with felt. So I assume that there is stitched edge black fibre pad, over the springs, and then a second layer of felt instead of horse hair.

        The springs feel structurally sound but there has been some water damage. So I think the top felt/hair layer will need replacing. She has asked about alternatives to replacing this with a traditional horse hair layer. So I thought rubberised hair might be a better alternative to foam.

        Any thoughts? : )

            • I don’t care for rubberized hair. I think it compressors to fast, especially vs high density foam. Environmentally speaking, rubberized hair is “rubberized”. I use a low VOC foam.

              Is the seat what’s called a “wire edge” seat where by the top of the springs extend all the way to the outside of the seat or Is there a hard edge around the seat frame.

              • Thank you, thats a good point, I hadn’t thought about the compression over time.

                I am not actually completely sure what is going on under the covers. The last person to upholster it was her mum. Because she said it was traditionally done, then, I am assuming that the springs were lashed down and a black fibre pad was built over the top, and blind/top stitched to form the seat pad. She said that her mum replaced most of the horse hair with cotton felt.

                When I feel the surface of the seat, I can feel the springs a little, so there does not seem to be much padding on top of them. The edge feels soft, so I do not think she has used wire edge, though its possible. the only hard edge is the actual frame base.

                I will try to attach the photos I have!

                Many thanks : )

  17. Hi, I’m working on a Victorian style couch for a friend. It’s a reproduction, maybe 70 years old. The back is supported by springs which are old and need replacing. My friend would prefer a tufted back. Do you think it would be okay for me to remove the springs completely and rebuild the back with foam, padding, Dacron and burlap?
    I just discovered you blog today and I’m so happy to know you’re available!
    Thanks!
    Lisa

    • I’m not a fan of removing springs and replacing the void with foam except under extreme circumstances. It is possible your springs are bad, but in most cases the springs simply need to be re-tied. To test a bad or “sprung” spring, place the spring on a firm flat surface. Push the spring straight down. If the spring pushes out to the side, your spring is sprung. If the spring pushes down straight, then it should be fine to re-use.

      I’m not saying this applies to you, but most people I find that take springs out and replace with foam, simply don’t want to tie springs. That’s fine, but you risk ruining the shape, the look and the comfort of the piece.

      That being said, removing the springs is not something I would do. I would re-tie your existing springs. If the old springs are bad (sprung) then replace the old springs with new springs of the same size. I would replace the old padding with new high density foam with a medium compression. Mark out your tufting pattern on the foam and cut out small holes in the foam where your buttons will go. Then add one or two layers of batting, cutting out your button holes in the batting.

      If you really want to remove the foam, you will need to re-create the crown, as well as the depth, that the springs give you.

      Keep in mind back springs are the easiest to re-tie because they have virtually no tension to them vs a seat spring.

      • Okay, this is really helpful, and I really appreciate your feedback, but now I have a related question.
        By copying your response to the previous questioner, here’s the order as I see it from back to front:
        1) Webbing + springs
        2) New burlap to cover the springs
        3) 1 layer of dense pad over the burlap as a buffer to the springs
        4) 2″ of medium density foam depending on your seats depth
        5) 1 layer of cotton batting
        6) Dacron
        7) Finished fabric
        8) Buttons

        Where do I tie off the buttons for tufting? Do I add a second layer of burlap for the buttons to tie off?

        Or maybe it means I can’t do the tufting?

        Thanks so, so much.
        Lisa

        • To do the tufting you use a 12-18″ straight round point needle. With the button and button twine attached to the needle, push the needle all the way thru to the back of the webbing. Make a slip knot and put a bit of cotton or fabric into the slip knot then tighten your button to the desired depth. Use enough cotton batting or fabric so as your knot can’t slip thru the webbing.

  18. I am somewhat of a novice at upholstery and am trying to improve my skills, I have reupholstered an antique sofa with a tight back,I kept the original springs (all in good shape) replaced the horsehair ( probably not a good move) with 3 layers of cotton wadding , and covered with muslin then top fabric. My question is I think I should have bridle tied down the cotton but I did not am I correct or is that unnecessary?

    • I don’t know all the parameters of your project, but my first impression is 3 layers of batting is not the correct method. And, I have never seen cotton batting stitched in place. If the horsehair was in good shape, I would have left the horsehair and added your batting to the existing horsehair, then muslin. Again, no need to tie the cotton batting. Of course if the horsehair lost it’s shape, was dirty or had an odor, yes replace it.

      Don’t know if you are opposed to foam, but this would have been my procedure:
      1) New burlap to cover the springs
      2) 1 layer of dense pad over the burlap as a buffer to the springs
      3) 2-3″ of soft or medium density foam depending on your seats depth
      4) 1 layer of cotton batting
      5) Muslin undercover
      6) 1 more layer of batting
      7) Finished fabric

      Cotton batting can sometimes be replaced with 1/2″-1″ bonded dacron

  19. Hi Joe, I have a vintage chair that I have stripped down the the frame. The seat has zig zag springs. When I put new burlap over them, it makes a squeeky noise when I sit in it. I’ve noticed this with another chair I did also. How can I avoid this, or is it temporary with new burlap?

    • The clip used with zig zag springs comes with a paper type liner to prevent the spring rubbing on the metal clip. Over time, the liner wears out and the springs can squeak. If you remove the spring from the clip and line the clip with a thin piece of fabric, duct tape, etc, the squeak should go away. Or replace the clip with a new clip. If the clip is not the problem, the spring is rubbing on wood some where.

      • Thank you, I just took another look and really believe it is the burlap rubbing on the metal. It makes a crunching noise (I put one finger in different locations and it made the noise from that same spot). Do you know why that would be happening? I only have one strip of jute webbing under the burlap, down the center where the connecting springs are (there was no jute webbing present before). I really appreciate any help!

        • A squeak and a crunch are two different types of noises. Natural jute webbing would not make a crushing noise. A synthetic burlap could possibly make a crunching noise. Is your burlap natural jute a or a synthetic.

          • Yes I should have been more clear in my first post, it is definitely crunching. I am not sure on the burlap, I bought it by the yard from hobby lobby. I would assume they only carry synthetic, which would make sense as to why it is squeeking. I could not find this info anywhere, thank you so much!!

  20. I have a side chair I would like to add more padding to, but the bottom cushion has been glued to the wood. What is the best way to get the cushion off without ruining the fabric?

    • I would really need to see what you’re describing with a photo. You can’t upload photos directly into your comment. I wish you could. So if you upload a photo to a free service like Dropbox, you can then add a link to the photo in your reply.

      The reason I need a photo is I’m not sure if you are saying the foam is glued to the plywood or the fabric itself is glued to the plywood.

        • Thank you for sending the link. At first glance it looks like the seat is screwed on and removable. But your photo showing the bottom of the seat tells me the fabric is upholstered to the chair.

          The welting cord around the bottom of the seat is most likely hot glued and the seat fabric is stapled into a groove in which the welting sits.

          It’s highly unlikely you will be able to get the welting cord off without damaging the welting. To remove the welting you will need to pull it off. I don’t know of any solvents or any way to get it off other than pulling it off with pliers.

          The next step would be to remove the staples in the groove that are holding the seat fabric in place. Again, it will be difficult to get the fabric off without damaging it. Even if you do, it will be near impossible to get it back on after you re-pad the chair because the fabric has been stretched into place and trimmed.

          My recommendation would be to not try and save the fabric and buy 2 new yards of a gold velvet to match what is there.

  21. Joe,
    I love this!! I am an on site upholstery repair technician (17yrs). I just took a long bench seat 92″ and cut the top and bottom panels 1.5″ narrower to remove wrinkles. After this modification, the client sent a picture in to the manufacturer, showing a gathered wrinkle in the middle of the same casing that looks 3/4″ tall. The sofa, designed to have 3 seats, and was custom ordered by the designer to have just the one, she also supplied the fabric to the manufacturer. Do you suggest I shorten the panels further? Add polyester that will compress with use? is there any guideline? I would expect wrinkles in such a long expanse, but at what point do you put it back on the designer, as a poor design/fabric choice?
    Sorry, photo not attaching…?

      • Hi Kat, My first thought from looking at the photo if the fabric is cut to big.

        My second thought is the foam is too soft. Do you know the compression of the foam, soft, medium or firm.

        My third thought is the fabric looks like a chenille type fabric. If the fabric is on the stiff side along with a latex type backing, this could be an issue as well. Especially if the fabric is cut to big and the foam to soft.

        My fourth thought is with a long expanse, the risk of wrinkles is always possible. But the wrinkle in the photo is to big, in my opinion.

        As for the designer, I don’t know enough about the project to say it was a bad design or fabric choice.

        Hope this helps

  22. I recently acquired a vintage sofa that has a beautifully carved frame and the seat is a wood “box” containing the springs that them fits down in the frame. Can you tell me anything about this type of constructed furniture?

  23. Wow. You are a gem to offer such help.

    Im recovering an antique couch from the 60sor 70s…my first couch.

    It has coil cushions and is made by hiatt corp.

    Should i go thru the trouble of re- tieing the coushions? Or go with foam. They are in great condition… Just a strange sensation to sit on a springed couch seat.

    They have no sagging but inside the fabric innerds look broken down. If it was tied it is no longer.

    Thanks for the advice.Kelley

      • What you’re asking about is called an “Envelope” style cushion. There are two parts to an envelope cushion, the envelope and the core.The envelope is the cover to the core.

        The envelope can be filled with down and feathers or synthetic batting. The core of the envelope can be either foam or springs (Marshall Unit).

    • The springs inside of a seat cushion are generally not tied. More times than not the springs are called a Marshall Unit. They are joined together by wire and covered with a cloth. So you may be able to just put a new cover on the Marshall Unit or replace the entire Marshall Unit with a new one of equal size. Spring cushions are still considered one of the best seat cushions, if made correctly.

      Otherwise, foam will work as well. I recommend using a 2.6 density foam with a medium compression of about 35 lbs.

  24. Hello Catherine~! I hope you can help me. I am a fairly experienced fashion and household sewer. I have upholstered a lovely large wicker chair and ottoman, have made down sleeping bags from kits and also a camping backpack. I am embarking on a Shabby Chic-ish slipcover project for my camel back sofa. The fabric I have is a nice heavy cotton twill. I have a down comforter I no longer use and would like to incorporate it into the project. Object; to make the sofa look more plush and comfy.
    Do you think it would be a good idea to sew the down pieces that I will cut to fit, into the seams of the cushion cover, the sofa arms, etc? What I wonder about is how it would hold up with washing? I will be using heavy duty upholstery thread, but since the down becomes so heavy when wet (I’ve washed it previously)…..I don’t know. I know I could fabricate the comforter to fit onto the sofa where I want it but then I wonder about shifting of the pieces, which is why my next thought was to incorporate it into the slipcover.
    Any ideas? Thanks! Kathi

    • Down and feathers are considered to be washable, but the more you wash it, the less effective they become as to loft and warmth. The faster you can dry it, the better.

      You’ll need to stitch the down parts of the slipcover so as the down can’t shift much.

      You’ll need to understand that your slipcover is not a traditional slipcover and treat it as such.

  25. Hello, I’m recovering an old sofa (early 20th century) that has been stuffed with horsehair. I stripped it to calico stage and the upholstery all looks perfectly full and firm: I put a new layer 4 oz polyester wadding over the calico, then the top cover. It looks great, however there is a squeaking noise when ever I sit on it: the horsehair creaks. Do you know how I can get rid of this noise? I havent put the back on yet so I’m prepare to start again if necessary.. also the back doesn’t creak and is exactly the same process. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance,

    • It’s really impossible for me to know what could be causing the noise. I would describe horsehair as having a “crunching” sound vs a squeak. A squeak could be coming from wood rubbing on wood or the seat springs.

      • Thank you for your comment. It’s definitely not the springs, or the frame, and yes it’s more of a crunching sound. It’s very loud! I’ve recovered old horsehair before without a problem and as I mentioned the back is also horsehair and not crunching… mysterious!

        • Try to isolate where the noise is coming from. Isolating where the noise is coming from will be your best bet to solve the mystery. Sit on different parts of the sofa. It may be helpful to have some one help you. Sit where the noise is the loudest and have the other person listen at different parts of the sofa.

          If you’ve worked with horsehair, you know horsehair doesn’t squeak per say, it’s more of a crunching sound. Squeaking, when it comes to furniture, is more likely some part(s) of the sofa rubbing together.

          What kind of springs are in the sofa, coil or zig zag?

        • The main reason I find horsehair having a loud crunching sound is the horsehair is sitting on or covered with a synthetic type covering. An example would be horsehair directly sitting on synthetic burlap. Horsehair sitting on or covered with anything synthetic will have an exaggerated crunching sound.

          Make sure your horsehair is sitting on jute burlap. And make sure the horsehair is covered with a cotton muslin. Otherwise you should have a layer of cotton batting under the horsehair or on top of the horsehair to help neutralize the crunching sound.

          An other issue could be in the seat, there is a layer of “rubberized” horsehair. Rubberized hair can be more noisy than natural horsehair.

  26. What a wonderful service, there’s very little support in the US for people trying to upholster.
    I have 2 questions – first, I need sources for well made chair frames that use reliable but reasonably priced shipping.
    Second, since you’re in Cape Cod and i see a number of outdoor pieces: What’s the best way to protect both wood and outdoor fabrics from below freezing temps and ice? Even in the shed, pieces get Cold and both dry cold and the dry heat here are a big problem. Except of course when it’s a monsoon summer like this one but i suspect my furniture appreciates that more.
    We have some teak pieces, but i want a well made rattan set and i haven’t dared…. literature talks about the su and rain but never about snow or below freezing temps.
    Thank you again,
    Laurie

  27. I’m trying to help a lady who wants to get rid of a 3-recliner couch. I wanted to see if it might be good enough for her to donate it to a church yard sale. It turns out the reason is that the cambric on the foot rests and bottom is disintegrating. When you touch the fabric, it literally crumbles and she is constantly having to clean the floor to keep her cats out of the crumbled material. that same material on the inside area of the couch seemed to be in good condition. She said that the couch had sat on a rug that seemed to be deteriorating for a year or so before she got rid of the rug and put down laminate flooring.

    Have you ever seen this before? Any idea of what could cause cambric deteriorarte?

    I’ve got a picture of the top side of the couch at http://PeteBlair.com/couch.jgp and as you can see it looks pretty good. The owner said it was around 6 or 7 years old.

    • Sorry for the late reply. I was away on vacation in an area that had little Internet or cell service.

      Your link doesn’t have an photo. But if the cambric is the only issue, it’s easy enough to replace.

        • I have seen it before, but I don’t know why it happens. Most cambric, other than cotton, is dacron polyester. Theoretically it should not disintegrate, but it does. I’ve seen it happen to cambric both exposed to air and light and inside cushions where it is not exposed to much air or light.

          I use a synthetic cambric called “Celestra”. A non woven cambric I’ve had good luck with.

  28. Hi. I’m not sure if u can help but I have a 4 yr old sofa with springs protruding upwards in 2 of the seat cushions. The biggest problem is that all the cushions are sewn into the sofa making it inaccessible without undoing the stitching all the way around and re stitching (fabric to leather). I have made a slit at one side and can see that the centre springs are broken and the foam surround is no longer holding them. I have tried stuffing some extra foam through the slit but it isn’t helping. I am wondering is it an option to fully remove the springs and replace with just foam? Also there is a tie going from the top cover through the springs, foam and down below the sinuous springs which I would need to cut to remove the springs – does this serve any greater purpose than to create the button like dent in d centre of d seat?

    • I think you will need to find a way to entirely remove the springs and padding and replace with new of the same or foam and dacron. The string, I assume is for a button.

      This is really a homeowner type of fix vs what a professional upholsterer would do. There is just way to much labor to take the seat apart, replace the padding and sew it all back together, by hand.

      So you’ll need to just get creative.. Or time for a new sofa. Keep in mind what you do on one cushion of the sofa will not feel the same as the other cushions.

    • Sorry for the delay getting back to you. Hopefully you’ve solved the mystery of how to get the back off.

      I can’t tell you exactly how it comes off if there are no visible signs of screws or dowels. What I would do is cut off the outside back and just start gently poking and prying to see where it is attached.

  29. Hi Joe

    Our company has been doing upholstery for a while now but we have recently run into a few issues. We do our best to correctly estimate how much COM we need for a project but occasionally we underestimate. For some lounge chairs recently we asked our customer to send a certain amount that we thought would be enough and when the project required more our customer insisted that we pay for the extra, amounting to over $1000. What I wanted to ask you was if it was standard in the upholstery industry to have some sort of disclaimer that allows for us to ask for extra if it comes to that without the cost being transferred to us?
    I certainly would appreciate any perspective you have on this.

    Thanks
    Sarah Asp
    MTC Studio Designs

    • To my knowledge there is no industry standard for this sort of thing. I think if you wanted the customer to be responsible for extra needed COM fabric, it would need to be stated in the contract.

      As the fabricator/designer, you’ve taken on the responsibility of estimating the fabric for your client. Unless stated in the contract, I believe you are now responsible if you’ve underestimated the yardage. I’m not a lawyer though.

      I would do either of these things:

      1) Have the customer be responsible for estimating the fabric. Unfortunately this is impractical for most clients to do.

      2) Have it in the contract the customer is responsible for any extra fabric needed.

      3) The best option is to order more than enough fabric. If you estimate 10.5 yards on a job, tell the customer 12 yards. I always order a bit more than I need. In your case, the upholsterer can inadvertently make a mistake, the pattern might require more than expected, there might be a flaw to work around. If you run out, you now have a potential dye lot problem.

      Figure out how much you need and add extra. It’s a lot better to have extra fabric than it is to deal with a customer, on who is to pay for more fabric and how to resolve a dye lot issue.

  30. Hi Joe,
    I have some troubles with the wood frame, it squeaks…
    I’m in Mexico and use pine wood, very common here and very strong.
    Just after building the wood frame I move it to see if is strong enough and squeaks a lot.
    A friend tells me is the humidity of the wood, other the staple used to build it.
    What do you think?
    Daniel

  31. Hi Joe,
    I’m working on a Wingchair. The seat is sagging so much as you can see from picture. Spring ties are in good condition. What method I should use to fix the sagging problem?
    I’m thinking about using Anchor steel webbing to help strengthen the bottom. Steel web should be more efficient than trying to use jute webbing for repair. However, I did some research and find Nerver Sag steel web and I can not decide which will be the most efficient for this situation. Would like your advice. Thank you.
    Aung

    • I’m assuming the spring twines on the top of the springs are in good shape, which is why you want to repair them from the bottom.

      assuming the spring twines are good on the top, what I would do in my shop is remove all the webbing on the bottom. Then using a single spring twine, going both length and width, tie the springs so they sit straight and nail off to the bottom of the seat frame. Then re-web the bottom.

      When tying the springs from the bottom, do not pull the spring rungs together as you would tying the top of the springs. Rather, you want the springs to sit as if the were clinched or hand tied to the webbing.

  32. I upholstered a bench seat . It has a 3/8” plywood bottom and 2” foam. I stapled the material over the foam and pulled tight and stapled around tightly . It looks tight and good but when one sits it leaves a wrinkle. How can I prevent it from wrinkling?

    • It could be a few things:

      1) You don’t mention using a batting over the foam. Fabric directly on foam causes friction and the friction could cause the fabric to stick to the foam.
      2) Foam quality. Anything less than 1.8 density could cause this. Also a foam that is too soft.

      • Thank you for the info. I will try the batting first. I hope the foam is good but can’t tell if it is high density as it was what was there and I don’t know who put it when it was upholster. Is there a way to test the foam to find out the density?

          • Yes I know if I buy new foam it indicates density but I was trying to reuse the existing foam. Should I not do that?

              • Thank you so much!!! I was making myself crazy searching for “why do you use batting when upholstering” ! I’m glad I found out. I’ll be sure to use it. This will save trouble in the long run. It’s going to be my first “job” (need to fix dining room chairs) and I really want it to work out.
                Thanks again!

  33. Hello Joe,

    I am recovering Pennsylvania House Queen Anne dining room chairs cushions. After removing the old foam and batting, there is a rubber mesh stapled to the wood seat frame that the foam and batting sit on. I’d like to replace it with the same material. I have been looking all over to see if I can buy the rubbery mesh but can’t find it. I see some people are using strips of webbing or stapling on plywood. But what about this webbing material? It has last 40 years on this set, so it must be sturdy enough. Do you know if it’s still being made?

    • I don’t know where to get the stretchy burlap type material. I never use it. Whenever I come across it in a seat and it needs to be replaced, I use polypropylene webbing and a layer of synthetic burlap on top of the webbing.

  34. Hi Joe,
    For permanent outdoor seating,I need to make seat and back cushions. I will use quick dry fast foam for seat cushions.
    Do I wrap the quick-dry foam with dacron the same way I do on indoor seat cushions?
    What can I use for the back cushions besides using quick dry fast foam?
    Thank you very much.

    Aung

    • Hi Aung,

      Wrap the seat cushions with Thermal Bonded Dacron. It comes in 1/4″, 1/2″ and 1″ thicknesses and varying widths of 20″-54″.

      An alternative to outdoor foam for the backs would be Firm Densified Fiber. Densified Fiber is a type of firm bonded dacron for use in cushions. It comes 4-3/4″. I haven’t used this product much mostly because I haven’t had a need to. But one thing about it is how to cut it. I haven’t figured out an easy way to cut it. So before you buy it, ask who you buy it from the best way to cut it to size.

  35. I plan to make new cushion covers for my wicker out of cotton duck (drop cloth fabric). I will pre-wash and dry it first. I have four questions. Which needle should I use, which thread, which stitch length, and can I cut across the width rather than running lengthwise for the 54 inch seat piece? Thank you!

  36. I found a beautiful cane backed chair with arms which is probably is a dining chair at the curb. We got rain and the fabric was soaked and gross. I took everything off to the bare wood. I purchased 2 inch thick foam and outdoor fabric. Do I need to use batting? Also is spray adhesive the best to adhere the foam to wood or do I need another type of glue?

    This is my first attempt at upholstery.
    Thanks

  37. I have 2 recliners with broken seat(s) edgewires that stabilize the zip zag springs. They are installed with 3 prong clips.I have new 15″ vinyl coated edgewire pieces.There are 2 edgewires per seat.If I go this route need to purchase clips and do I really need Osborne 445-3 tool or can I use pliers for the few clips needed. Should I remove the old wires (with bolt cutters) or leave in place?
    OR
    Should I leave on or remove all broken wires and tie off using Ruby Italian jute spring twing or use the polyester twing which is stronger/longer lasting?.Easier to do and doesn’t require special Tool? Thank you Ben

    • Hi Ben,

      You can use the polyester spring twine. Keep it simple. Just be sure the twines are tight so the springs stay in place. You can tie the twines off to the frame with #14 webbing tacks. You should be able to get the tacks at a hardware store, Home Depot, etc.

  38. Hi. I have recently started working at an upholstery shop. I have 25 years+ of sewing experience with industrial machines, but no professional upholstery experience. (The upholstery shop owners know this, by the way !)

    One thing I have noticed the shop doing, that drives me nuts, is that the fabric for piping is NOT cut on the bias. Some of it is cut on the straight of grain, and some is cut on the sort of bias, but never the true bias. I know for some applications this does not matter. Recently I had to apply double piping to dining room chairs, including the two head chairs with armrests with piping on the arms. I had a very hard time getting the piping to lay as flat as it should, and to go smoothly around corners. I have made mild inquiries about “Bias ?” but the owners do not seem to understand what I am hinting at. They were not trained upholsterers, and bought the business from a couple of old school types.

    Can you tell me what the (professional) deal is with regards to upholstery piping made on the true bias ? Other sewer says this does not matter, according to the previous shop she worked in. I see results that could be…better ?

    • I can’t speak for the industry. In my shop, I always cut the welting on the bias, except under certain circumstances. I find vinyl does not need to be cut on the bias. With fabric though, bias cut welting lays flatter and goes around curves much easier than welting not cut on the bias. This applies to cushion welt as well as double welt. Generally speaking, welting cut on the bias makes for a better looking, higher quality job.

      I do something a bit different though. I cut the ends of bias cut welt straight or square. I don’t like the look of a bias seam where the welt joins together. A straight or square cut end disappears better.

      I did work in a shop for a while where the owner insisted to match the welting cord to the cushion when it came to stripes. This would mean not cutting the welt on the bias. But even with stripes, I think bias cut looks best because it adds contrast to the cushion.

      I’m in agreement with you. Welting should be cut on the bias, with a few exceptions.

  39. Hi Joe,
    I have made a 72″ x 24″ piped, boxed cushion cover for a client using their material, which was a loosely woven, indoor/outdoor. To stabilize fraying I had to serge the edges.
    I noticed some puckering after piping the top and bottom plates.
    After assembling the cover and inserting the foam the puckering is significant.
    I experimented with needles from #16 to #20 with size 69 thread. I went with the size 20 in a Chandler industrial walking foot machine.
    Although I am wont to blame the fabric, I wonder if my choice of thread and needle might be the problem?
    Questions:
    Is the puckering avoidable? (I seem to have this problem particularly with Sunbrella)
    Would you redo the cover hoping for a better result?
    If necessary, how would you address a situation like this with a client?
    I appreciate your continued advice and expertise. Thanks so much!
    Patty

    • Some Sunbrella is very difficult to sew no matter what you do. I find the toughest Sunbrella to sew is Sunbrella Canvas from the Elements line. It stretches in every direction and tends to pucker.

      One key to sewing Sunbrella is to use the largest stitch possible. I generally use a #69 bonded polyester thread. Try a bigger stitch and see if that helps. Make sure your thread tension is set right. And if your sewing Sunbrella canvas, just expect some puckers no matter what you do.

  40. When I took apart an antique settee the smaller, seatback springs were not tied diagonally. Can I skip the diagonal ties as i put it back together?

  41. Hi Joe,
    I’m stucked. Can not figure out how to make this smooth. Fabric is not stretchy. The frame is not wood too I don’t know what it is made of. When I shoot staple, sometimes it bends the staples and sometimes it will go in fine. I can pull staples out easily from the frame though. After I sew the case, and fit it on, pull the bottom to staple in the back but as you can see fabric is still wrinkled and I don’t know if my case need to be smaller or should I fill it up with a layer of cotton.
    Need your advice please.

    Thank you very much.
    Aung

    • Hi Aung, You have a lot of bias action going on with your fabric because of the shape of your frame. And it’s extremely difficult to get the proper stretch out of the fabric when the font and back pieces are sewn together as one piece. Generally when the front piece can be stapled around to the outside back, you can work all those wrinkles out inch by inch. But with the outside back attached it makes it more difficult.

      I think your cover may be a bit to big. The wrinkles on the top indicate that to me. A tighter fit would mean less wrinkles. But again, this is a difficult piece to do in the first place and then combine all the bias stretching action with your fabric, makes for a difficult job. But I think in order to get rid of the wrinkles, your front and back pieces need to be cut so that they go on to the frame as tight as a drum.

      Wish I could offer more help.

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