How It’s Made: Upholstered Furniture

how to build upholstered furniturePeople often choose to cover their furniture in upholstery fabric. The act of upholstery is the physical stuffing of fabric that covers furniture. This can involve padding, springs, webbing, foam, or cushions in frames.

The role of upholstery can have a great influence on the function of a furniture product. You can choose a natural fabric for warmth and comfort or instead use leather for durability. The choice of upholstery is an important part of specifying furniture in any space.

Upholstery is very niche work. A professional should do the job. The question is: what is the best fabric for each particular job?

Why Upholstery is Important

Fabric creates a lasting impression. This is why it’s so essential that it looks perfect. What needs consideration is how easy a piece of furniture is to upholster. After that, the nature of the pile and its fire retardancy need an assessment.

All these elements affect how the fabric looks over time. This is especially the case when the designer chooses to include contours and curves in the piece of furniture.

History of Upholstery

best fabric for sofa upholsterThe word upholstery derives from the Middle English upholder. It refers to the type of artisan who held up their goods. A person who works with upholstery is an upholsterer. An apprentice upholsterer is often called a trimmer or outsider. Today they tend to go by the name apprentice upholsterers.

In the past, upholsterers used materials like hay and straw. They also used animal hair, burlap, linen, coconut husks, and wadding. Indeed, anything that the artisan can push into a piece of furniture to improve its comfort.

In the 18th century, upholders served interior decorators. These decorators were often used by the mid-upper to upper-class people. Today, interior designers work with upholsterers to meet client desires.

Modern Upholstery

These days there are many ways you can buy upholstery or furniture. One way is to go through a furniture retailer. Furniture stores represent either one or several furniture manufacturers.

Another option is to update old furniture with new fabric and stuffing. Local upholsterers can restore anything from heirlooms to everyday sofas. To become professional they might have done an apprenticeship in upholstery.

With a local upholsterer, it’s a good idea to have chosen the fabric beforehand. This is especially if you want the upholsterer to upcycle outdated furniture.

Upholstery Fabric

sofa manufacturing processThe choice of upholstery fabric is vast. You can buy it from a fabric store, or direct from the upholsterer. There are plenty of options online and in catalogues. You can opt to select a fabric from a furniture manufacturer or an upholstery mill.

Upholstery fabric may be a single type of fibre or a blend of many. The design and aesthetic you are looking for in your upholstery is your choice.

Upholstery fabric comes in any number of materials. Yarn or thread can be woven or knitted into a textile. Fibres include cotton, wool, linen, hemp. They may also be polyester, nylon, acrylic, polypropylene, and rayon. All can be strung on looms and woven, or knitted, into the upholstery fabric. You can use one type of yarn or various combinations to weave or knit upholstery fabric.

Once woven, something like latex, glue, or another textile is often added to give it stability. This aids durability and adds abrasion resistance. When upholstery fabric is not backed it can stretch and move better. While fabric with a backing will resist stretching when upholstered to furniture.

Storing upholstery fabric today is on rolls or bolts. These range in size based on the yardage stored on them. Typical rolls are 50 yards, but some companies consider a roll to be 30 yards. It all depends on the fabric’s weaver.

Upholstery Fibres

Upholstery fibres include:

  • Cotton. This is a natural fibre preferred for its breathability and cost-effective reputation. Cotton is particularly suitable for those wanting a soft feel. Its downsides include a susceptibility to fading and staining.
  • Wool has great texture. Another natural fibre that is great for retaining its shape when upholstering furniture. It is less resistant to stains. More often than not it receives protection against staining.
  • Linen is also prone to stains. But it’s good for taking printed designs and producing heirloom pieces.
  • Silk is at the very high end of upholstery. It is expensive but offers strength while being soft to the touch. It is not recommended for upholstering everyday pieces.
  • Polyester is a synthetic fibre known for being easier to clean than any natural fibre.
  • Rayon offers added softness when used with other natural or synthetic fibres. But, it is not considered very durable over time.
  • Acrylic is synthetic but very durable. It retains colours better than natural fibres. Plus you can clean it. Upholsterers find this is particularly good for heavy use. It was first used as upholstery fabric for the outdoors.
  • Nylon is another synthetic fibre. It is good at resisting abrasion damage. It is also often used to upholster everyday furniture.
  • Olefin, also called alkene, is a very durable, synthetic fibre. It holds colours and people use it in upholstering furniture that is much used. Olefin doesn’t need treatment for stain resistance. It is a great choice for outdoor furniture fabric.
  • Leather upholstery looks particularly slick. It lends a chic and sophisticated air to any piece.

Upholstered Sofas

At Olson + Baker, we have a huge selection of upholstered furniture. There are sofas like the Franklin Three Seat Sofa.

This has soft, comfy backs and seat cushions. It is a genius mix of both contemporary and classic styles. This makes it one of our best selling designs. The Franklin Sofa works in both contemporary and more traditional interiors. Its upholstery includes a sophisticated patterned fabric, soft velvet or luxurious leather.

The Franklin collection is handmade. This involves a small team of master upholsterers and seamstresses. Their combined experience totals more than 100 years.

The team operates from a Yorkshire-based workshop. It is a member of the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers. The work meets the highest possible standards.

The upholstery collection can be bespoke. The team can tailor the furniture into a wide variety of options. Our experienced design consultants can guide you through the creative process. They can also help you to create your own custom design.

Our upholstered sofa collection also includes the Carl Hansen CH162 Two Seat Sofa.

The CH162 by Hans J. Wegner embodies simplicity. It captures the essence of modern sofa design. A rigid box-like frame holds the padded upholstered seat. Indeed, the CH162’s understated minimal design defines it.

Crafted by Carl Hansen and built to last, the handmade solid wood frame is durable and stable. The reversible upholstered pillows are both luxurious and practical. They contain down wrapped around foam core for supreme comfort.

Inspired by the core ethos of modern Scandinavian design, this is a modest piece. It is a prime example of Hans J. Wegner’s timeless work.

Another sofa option is the Normann Copenhagen Rope Three Seat Sofa. This piece from Normann Copenhagen’s Hans Hornemann embodies Scandinavian simplicity.

Rope has generous proportions and understated features. The design excludes any excess details, focusing on the core elements of the piece. This piece has a low back with a deep seat that creates space surrounding the sofa.

Its characteristic design draws on both contemporary and modern themes. This creates a playful, welcoming feel.

Upholstered Chairs

We also have a wide range of upholstered chairs. These include the Gubi Pacha Lounge Chair.

Curvaceous, soft and low-slung, it is a joyful modernist creation. And it embraces both extreme comfort and effortless versatility. Iconic designer Pierre Paulin’s vision was to create a sensation of ‘sitting on clouds’.

A little ahead of its time in 1975, the modular Pacha Collection is finally coming into its own today.

Another stand-out piece is the Fredericia Swoon Lounge Chair.

Fredericia by Space Copenhagen designed this in 2016. The aim was to fill the gap between an armchair and lounge chair. And the Swoon balances the need for relaxation with good support for the body.

The Swoon’s curving contour and voluminous upholstery suggest comfort and cosiness. It is smaller than an average-sized chair. This makes it particularly suited to tight spaces. The oak chair legs come in a choice of finish, and the upholstery can be leather or fabric in a range of colours.


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