The design philosophy of simple elegance applied even to the seats of Arts and Crafts chairs. Unlike tufted Victorian velvet, Arts and Crafts designers opted for leather, although not always brown. By the time many Arts and Crafts chairs reach us, however, their original leather has often been replaced with something less appropriate. Returning a chair to its former original appearance is not a project which automatically falls to a professional upholsterer, as I can demonstrate today.
The first step in this project is to remove all of the tacks and staples used by previous upholsterers to hold on the layers of canvas, the webbing, the padding, and the fabric. The best tools for this are an assortment of pliers – and a pair of safety glasses!
Once the seat frame has been cleaned, I tape a large piece of heavy craft paper to my workshop and begin preparing a paper pattern using a tape measure and square.
After cutting away the unnecessary paper, I place the pattern over my chair rails and begin testing the fit. Notice that I purposely have left the “tails” longer than necessary. More on that to come.
The great thing about creating a paper pattern is that you can easily adjust it, either cutting away extra paper or taping in a scrap piece of paper to make a snug fit.
Once I am pleased with the fit of my pattern, I lay it on top of my material, whether can be the actual leather or, in this case, the canvas support. I then grasp each of the tails, stretch the canvas front to back and side to side, securing it as I go with tacks or staples.
Turning the chair over on a padded surface, I can next tack the canvas on the inside of each rail before I use my scissors to trim off the extra tail material. Note: if you do much stapling, invest in a rechargeable staple gun. They are much easier to use than the spring-loaded guns that require excessive squeezing of the trigger to operate – and always seem to jam.
In just a matter of minutes, the canvas support is in place and ready for layers of webbing, padding, and the leather seat – the same way it was done more than a hundred years ago.
And if they had been available, would Gustav Stickley have bought electric staplers for his upholsterers?
Without a doubt!
Until next week,
“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” – Elbert Hubbard