True upholstery ateliers —or as they are more commonly known, upholstery studios— consist of a wide range of services. They normally offer everything from soft goods (i.e. draperies, shades, pillows, window cushions, bedding slip covers) to hard goods (i.e. reupholstery of all styles of furniture, sofas, chairs, ottomans, modern and antique, upholstered headboards, wall upholstery and custom built projects). In a nutshell, an upholstery atelier should be versed in anything to do with fabric and your home, excluding clothing...
The double-stop stitch used for horse hair
Quality ateliers should allow you to view your project during its various stages of completion if you so request. However, when you are considering a prospective upholsterer these are a few pertinent questions you should consider asking:
• “Does your studio do double-stop?” There are two main forms of inner upholstery padding used: horsehair and cotton or foam and Dacron. If you are considering horsehair padding for your project, you should ask them about double-stop stitching. Double-stop is the style of stitching that is used when the inner padding is made of horsehair. Any quality upholsterer who knows his craft understands this term and knows how to work in “hair” and do “double stop."
• "What type of foam will you be using?" If your project is more suited to foam, make sure to inquire about what type of foam they are using for your project. LX blue foam is the best and longest lasting regular foam on the market. (1800 white foam is the cheapest and has the shortest life span, and that's what's used in most retail furniture.)
• "Will you hand-tie the springs or use a klinchit gun?" If your project will require the upholsterer to work with the 8-way hand-tied coiled spring method, make sure to ask if they hand-tie the springs to the jute webbing or if they use a klinchit gun to attach the springs to the jute webbing. Once again, a true upholsterer does not “cut corners” (no pun intended) by using a klinchit gun.
Regardless of how big or small your project, you should leave the meeting feeling the upholsterer has answered all your questions and asked you the appropriate questions so that you are confident he has a full understanding of what it is that you envision for your project. Any issues or limitations regarding what can or cannot be achieved with your piece should have been brought to your attention at this time.
Referrals are always great, but I say that with caution, as your friend may not have the same expectations as you or the same budget, and in this industry the term “you get what you pay for” could not be a more fitting expression. At my studio, The Furniture Joint, I will not take on projects where the budget does not support the client’s quality expectations.
Above all go with your gut. (How many times have you said to yourself said after the fact, "Man! I knew it! I had a bad feeling when I met him/her.")
Last week I promised to address the differences in good quality and poor quality upholstery. This is fairly straightforward: it all starts at the frame. A quality piece of furniture will have a dowel-jointed solid-wood frame as opposed to a mass produced piece of furniture that will have plywood frames nailed together with a corrugated nail gun or staple gun.
Coming up next week! Sorry we did not get to address the concept of “green upholstery” this time around. So much to talk about, so little time! I promise to tackle that next week.
Matthew recently authored Matthew Haly’s Book of Upholstery, published in 2009 on Random House’s Potter Craft imprint. It explores techniques, tips and tricks to producing A-level upholstery projects at home. The book is an excellent resource for those unable to enroll in Matthew’s highly popular evening upholstery classes.