“I Need An Upholsterer!”
I received a call last week from an Arts and Crafts collector who lives in Canada, wanting to know of an upholstery firm in the states who knew how to do leather cushions for a Gustav Stickley Morris chair.
It’s a challenge even for anyone living in the United States to find an upholsterer who can work in the Arts and Crafts style, for most of them are rarely asked to do so. What we have to realize, though, is that Arts and Crafts upholstery, like Arts and Crafts woodworking, is actually easier to do than many other styles.
So, here are the steps I recommend, wherever you live:
First, do your research. Determine as closely as you can which firm made your chair and, hopefully, in what year(s).
Second, utilize the websites of Arts and Crafts auction houses, galleries, museums, and dealers, then search them for an example of a chair or settle identical to yours. Narrow your search looking for examples that still have their original leather upholstery. As a second choice, find one with appropriate replacement cushions.
Third, print out pictures of the example you find, enlarging portions of the cushions to reveal the critical details, such as exposed stitching, where (and where not) to use cording along the seams, the amount of stuffing, whether or not they used coiled springs in the seats, and so forth.
Fourth, start calling friends, local antiques dealers, and anyone else in your area to find the most reputable upholstery shop within driving distance. Don’t bother asking about their experience with Arts and Crafts antiques. Right now you’re just looking for high quality. Then, call and describe your project, see if they are interested, and make an appointment.
Fifth, take your chair and your photographs with you. Even if the cushions will not be attached to the chair or settle, the upholsterer will want to take his/her own measurements. Tip: often you can determine the height of the seat cushion by spotting the “shadow” the original one left along the legs and slats under the arms.
Here are a few other points to consider:
If your chair has cushions that have been recovered, do not automatically discard them. In some cases the original framework, springs, stuffing, and, if you are really lucky, the worn original leather may be hidden beneath layers of recent fabric.
If you have a chair with original upholstery that cannot be used without damaging it, consider having identical new cushions made, then label and safely store the originals, in the event you ever decide to sell it.
If your upholsterer does not have a source for the new leather for your cushions, start shopping the fabric stores in your area or going online to check websites. And don’t be afraid of color! Not every Arts and Crafts cushion has to be brown. Finding an Arts and Crafts shade of green or russet can add some needed color not only to a big, brown Morris chair or settle, but to your living room as well.