The term upholstery is used to refer to the craft of providing seats with padding, webbing, springs and leather covers. Upholstered furniture looks more elegant and provides greater comfort.

family on couch

Traditional upholstery was done by hand. It used materials like animal hair, straw, hay, coil springs, linen scrims etc. Modern upholstery employs synthetic materials like serpentine springs, vinyl, dacron etc.

Types of upholstery

Different materials and methods are used for upholstering furniture. Here is a quick overview of different types of upholstery.

Traditional upholstery

Traditional upholstery evolved over centuries. It was used for padding and covering furniture especially seats, sofas and chairs. Since traditional upholstery developed before the invention of synthetic fabrics and sewing machines, upholsterers used springs, animal hair, coir, lashings, wools etc., for creating and holding the padding in place. In the Middle Ages, upholstery played an important role in interior decoration. Padded chair seats were quite popular in the 17th century. Still they were not readily available. Upholsterers used all sorts of stuffing to produce a dome shape slopping towards the seat. However, the methods were still pretty basic. They would heap the stuffing on a wooden frame and then they would use nails and a decorative top fabric to hold the stuffing in place. Towards the end of the 17th century, upholsterers started developing techniques that would help them distribute the padding more evenly. They mainly used curled horsehair for stuffing because holding it in place was easier.

Classic upholstery

‘Classic’ upholstery techniques and shapes flourished during the 18th century. By then, upholsterers had mastered the techniques and could create upholstered items that provided new levels of elegance and comfort. In the Victorian era, upholsterers used stuffing and padding excessively to create greater comfort and opulence. Also thanks to the development of mass production techniques upholstered items became more readily available. The development of lashing techniques and the availability of quality steel springs allowed upholsterers to build upholstery on seats, arms and backs of chairs independently of the shape of the frame. Stuffings became more complex and they started shaping edges into rolls and scrolls.

Automobile upholstery

An automotive upholsterer is also called a motor trimmer or trimmer.  A trimmer should have most of the skills used in upholstery.  He should also be able to work with carpet. Trimmers produce carpets, soft furnishings, roof linings and soft tops to match customer specifications.

Commercial upholstery

This is the kind of upholstery work that businesses seek. Restaurants may hire upholsterers to create comfortable seating.  Churches, clinics and hospitals also hire upholsterers.  Dental chairs, chiropractic chairs and medical chairs are all upholstered items.  In some retail stores we may even find upholstered walls.  Modern upholstery uses synthetic materials and stainless steel hardware.

Marine upholstery

Marine upholstery is different from other forms of upholstery because when upholstered furniture is made for use in ships and boats, the upholsterer has to consider several additional factors including dampness and sunlight exposure.  Materials that can resist ultraviolet rays are preferred.  Vinyl is a popular choice. If wood is used, it must be of marine quality. Also, stainless steel hardware is used to ensure that the furniture will last longer.

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