Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Settee Project (Part 4) Finishing The Settee

Note: Originally posted this past Sunday (March 23rd).

The settee has been finished and brought home for a week now (Monday the 17th) and I've been procrastinating about writing-up this last part.

I was excited when my fabric came in. It came in around 3 in the afternoon, and I waited until work was done (4:30) to open it, unroll it, and look at it. I was really lucky to find that although I had ordered only 5 yards, they had sent approximately 7 because it was the end of the roll. As it turns out, I end up needing those two extra yards!

The pattern was a bit brighter and more "lime green" than I had thought, but otherwise, it was pretty much what I was expecting.

Continuing with my seat stuffing, I fixed the cotton (removed some from the front) and finished my rough cover.

Next, I prepared and sewed my cover. Originally I wasn't going to have a piping running across the front edge, but Pierre suggested that I put one to "square-up" the look of the seat.

Because there's a piping there, I wanted to match-up my fabric band. Basically, because there's a sewing there (the seat cover is 3 pieces consisting of the main seat, the piping, and front band) you lose an inch of the pattern if you use the same piece because of the 1/2 inch seam allowances. In order to match the pattern, you need to cut both pieces (main seat and front band) from two separate places on your fabric. Does that explanation make sense? Basically you need to waste quite a bit of fabric to avoid having the pattern mismatched at the piping seam.

To make things even worse, I cut my front band WRONG the first time (the pattern ended up in the wrong spot), which wasted most of 2 yards of fabric that could have been used as my side arms or possibly the back panel. I was very upset with myself, but we carefully planned out the other pieces, and it turned out okay.

Once the seat fabric was finally put together properly (photo above) and tacked in place, I started working on the back. It's at this point that I realized that all the added height of the finished seat made it VERY difficult to add the webbing, burlap, and other "foundation" work on the frame. It should have been in place after the springs were covered, and the edge roll was reattached, but before any stuffing was done on the seat.

It was difficult to do, but I managed to get the back webbing and burlap installed.

Next was redoing the "lumbar roll". This was a padded roll of straw wrapped in burlap. I have never seen one like this, and neither had Pierre. It serves as extra support at the base of the back. I simply transferred the straw into a new burlap sleeve, and sewed it shut on 3 sides.

It was then tacked on the bottom rails, and hand-stitched to the back burlap/webbing (as before).

Here's a detail. Also note the added piece of webbing on the arm. Originally the fabric was just pulled around the burlap and stuffing of the side arms, but having a webbing here (folded in half) helps add a lot of strength in this area. Other sofas often have a wooden rail here for this purpose.

Re-installing the horsehair and moss padding.

After the moss/horsehair was a layer of new cotton, followed by the rough muslin cover.

Finished fabric:

Work on the arms was next. Burlap was added (tacked only on 3 sides - none where the webbing strap above is), followed by the original horsehair padding. This was the only photo I got of this step.

I reused some of the original cotton for the arms. I had wanted to do the same for the back panel, but it was unevenly worn, and I didn't use it there. The reason: the old cotton is more compacted, and has fewer gritty imperfections than the new stuff. It's also a bit thinner, and I wanted to keep the arms relatively "slim".

Patterns were cut from the existing old covers (beige stripe ones) and used on the rough covers as "test fitting" since they don't need to be 100% perfect. This is prior to nipping and tacking them in place.

Rough arm covers installed:

Some adjustments were made to the patterns, and applied to the finished arm panels. These are also made of 3 pieces (top "wing", piping, and lower arm). These were matched and mirrored for height, but not matched with the back panel (which I could have done if I were super picky, and if I had a lot more fabric to work with). Additionally, the top wings were loosely matched with the arm as best as possible (the arm end where it meets the wing has a large curve, so getting a match is difficult). The left arm has a near perfect match because of the large leaf pattern that flows well into the bottom piece, but the right one was harder to match.

Side note: the seat's front band had been only temporarily tacked, since the arms wrap around under it.

Finished inside arms, along with the finished front band. This shows the piping being installed around the perimeter.

Side panel installed. Note: these are always tricky to install. There is a combination of 4 different fixing methods used on this single side panel:
- Cardboard "blind tacking" strip along the top horizontal section of the arm.
- Ply-Grip (a flexible metal edging) used along the curve of the wing top.
- Metal tacking strip along the front edge (basically a metal bar with nails in it, where the fabric is wrapped-over and tacked down).
- And a simple row of staples tacked down the backside of the sofa, as well as on the bottom edge.

Next, the back panel.

I wanted to stick with historic materials, so I used stretched burlap panels as a stiffener here.

The shallow curve was carefully tacked using cardboard strips (along the top), and metal tacking strips on both sides.

The last step was the bottom fabric. I used our "better" bottom fabric, which we use on our antiques, and hand tacked it in place.


Finished sofa as seen in my living room (note that the colours from the shop above are closer to the actual colours, and they look darker/dimmer in my house photos below).

My Settee Project (Part 3) Frame Repairs & Foundation Work

Note: Originally posted March 16th, now reposted with just a few edits.

Alright, it's time for part 3 of 4 of the Settee project. I finished the settee yesterday (Saturday the 15th) after another 11 hours of work on it. I went into work at 8:30am, and I finished the loveseat at 7:30pm (quick note: I may go back and forth between loveseat and settee but I'm always talking about the same piece of furniture).

I might have posted the finished piece today, but I forgot my camera at work with all the final photos. Fortunately I have many of the other photos still to share for this third post.

This post will deal with the restoration of the frame, refinishing the legs, and all the steps involved in the reupholstering of the seat (installing webbing, springs, tying, stuffing, etc.)

When I last left you, I was finally down to a bare frame:

As you can see, someone had sanded all the finish off the 4 legs. The legs (as well as the entire frame) are made of solid birch. Birch is a very common wood used for upholstery frames. The legs were originally stained to look like mahogany. You can still see some of the stain on the tops of the legs, as well as some of the stain that overlapped onto the wooden frame pieces (originally applied with a paint brush).

The entire frame was loose, so it all had to come apart.

While most of the frame pieces were in good shape, I repaired several sections that had chunks of wood torn out, or large missing chips (especially ones on corners). This included one entire strip along the right-hand side rail, and 4 smaller patches. These were fitted with the use of a router, and patched with small pieces of birch, glued with carpenter's glue.

Once all the patches were fitted, and trimmed, all the old holes in the frame (from thousands of tacks and staples over the years) were patched with a urethane glue. This is a modern "construction adhesive" that we use for the same purpose at work, and it dries to a hard rubbery consistency, which helps hold staples better than something like wood filler (which just crumbles).

The frame was originally held together with hide glue (aka "hot hide glue", or animal protein glue, which is made from hides and bone, and has been used for over 1000 years). Because of this, it was easy for me to take apart, and reglue with new hide glue. I prefer to use hide glue for 4 reasons:
- It keeps the piece historic.
- It is reversible (it dissolves in hot water).
- It sticks to itself, so you don't need to painstakingly scrape all the old glue joints.
- It is an ideal glue for chairs and high-wear pieces of furniture because it creates a rock hard immovable joint similar to epoxy. A lot of other modern adhesives have a flexible joint, which eventually fails (especially when used on chairs).

The drawbacks to hide glue are:
- It's a huge mess (although it cleans up easily with water).
- It takes a few hours to prepare the glue before you can use it.
- You have to apply it while it is hot (and be careful not to overheat it), and clamp it within just a few minutes.
- It needs to dry for at least 24 hours.

Let me just say: This was a HUGE pain in the ass to put together by myself on the living room floor. I could not find all my ratchet strap clamps, which made things harder, but I eventually managed. I used a tourniquet diagonally in the frame to ensure that the frame would stay square while it dried.

You will also note the refinished legs. These were stained with some aniline dye stain that I had on hand (the same one I used on the bathroom vanity), and top coated with hand-brushed shellac (6 or 7 coats) and wax-polished (again, to keep it historic).

One of the two small arm patches:

At one point, someone had taken a chunk out of the centre bar and fitted it incorrectly, so I filled-in this section with a block (mostly just for looks).

Here was the repaired frame once I brought it to work, ready for upholstery:

The first step was the installation of new jute webbing. We use this webbing on all our antique restorations, and we prefer to use as much as possible, to help make the upholstery last longer. If you will recall from previous photos, my sofa originally had only 4 vertical straps per side, and 3 horizontals.

Once the webbing is installed, the springs are attached. Usually we use "hog rings" which are metal rings, crimped to the springs and into the top layer of webbing. For this sofa, and simply out of personal preference, I chose to hand-stitch the springs instead. This is way more time consuming, but I just prefer it. This is the hand-stitching as viewed from the underside.

Here's the 4-way tie which I did on "day 2" at the shop.

The original spring ties were just a 4 way tie (as shown above), but I definitely wanted an 8-way, which is far superior, stronger, and will prolong the life of the upholstery. The 8 way was finished on day 3.

After the springs were done, they were covered in burlap, and then the burlap was hand-stitched to the tops of the springs to keep it in place (they had it done this way on the original as well).

The next step was to install, restore, and re-stitch the front edge roll. The original edge roll was simply wrapped-over in fresh burlap (I used a double layer), and re-stitched over the top to preserve the original shape and firmness.

Half way through the first row (and yes that's a big-ass needle):

Edge roll finished, and top-stitched to the burlap/springs. The edge roll took several hours to do.

The next steps involve the re-stuffing of the seat padding over the springs. You will notice some white cloth which I didn't mention. This was just another layer of canvas added over the burlap to help contain the straw/dust. The first layer of stuffing is about an inch of straw (yes STRAW).

Slightly more is added at the front to fill the small hollow behind the edge roll.

After this is the layer of moss and "lower grade mixed hair".

Followed by the lovely black horsehair (with a few previously repaired patches in a light coloured hair). The whole thing then gets loosely stitched all the way through into the burlap over the springs, to keep all the stuffing from shifting around.

The last layer is cotton (aka cotton felt), followed by a thin muslin cloth. In this photo, I had way too much stuffing over the front, and I had to redo the front part again to square it up. Not shown is also a thin layer (a band) of original moss stuffing which was stitched over the front of the edge roll.

Continued in Part 4!

My Settee Project (Part 2) The Tear-Down

As I mentioned in my last post (Part 1), I really didn't expect to have too much trouble with this settee, but boy was I wrong!


The first piece to come off was the bottom, followed by the back panel. As soon as I took the back panel off, I cringed.

Now, from my perspective, the image above is just horrifying, but let me explain why. First, the awful added elastic webbing (the black and white straps), and second, I can spot at least 3 different fabrics (not a good sign). The last upholsterer also didn't pad the back very well, and you can see just the loose sheet of yellow foam along the bottom of the photo. There's also the "ply grip" which is a really cheap and lazy way to attach the back panel edges (the metal edging along both sides). Ply-grip is meant for CURVES, not straight sections, but we see this fairly often at work. It gives a really lumpy/bumpy looking edge.

Moving along, I removed the rest of the back panel along the top curve of the sofa, and then I partially un-tacked a section of fabric. This revealed FOUR LAYERS!

In the photo above (working from the outside-in) is:
- Top "current" green leaf fabric.
- Rough corduroy-looking beige fabric. Plus a layer of cotton padding.
- Beige and brown striped fabric (see top corner of the picture), with more cotton.
- Dark green fabric.

This was going to be hell.

For those new to upholstery, when you redo a piece, you're supposed to remove the old fabric and start fresh, but in a lot of cases (at least 75%), lazy upholsterers will just cover over the old fabric, and add additional padding wherever it's needed. This is an awful way to work, and leaves you with an overly puffy looking (and often lumpy) sofa or chair.

In the case of this poor sofa, they covered over it THREE TIMES, and it meant that I'd have to strip the frame down three times as well (which is like doing 3 sofas).

Here was layer 1 removed (the green leaf print). Note the added padding (Terylene), which they just glued over the old fabric.

Under the padding is almost a fully upholstered sofa (minus the outside panels). This was a very thick and rough fabric, probably from the 70s or 80s. This was held in place with staples. Also note that there's now about a half inch stripe of red-stained wood showing at the top of the legs, because the top of the legs were buried in the upholstery and padding.

I should have taken more "in-between" photos like this one. This is layer 2 being removed. You can see the third layer, and more excess cotton padding. The whole thing was like peeling an onion.

This layer was a real mess. Whoever did the sofa in the 70s or 80s did a really terrible hack job while trying to adjust the collapsed front of the sofa (instead of actually fixing it).

They had cut off the front piping, and tucked this red piece of fabric into the seat, with added foam stapled on the front. They had also glued cotton over the front edge (you can see the glue line).

Here's another "layer" photo.

Above (top to bottom):
- Top fabric (possibly as old as the 1930s or 40s).
- Thin layer of original(?) cotton padding.
- Green rough cover.
- Layer of horse hair.
- Some random piece of garbage fabric (I have no idea why this was added here, but it was only about 12" deep and not attached anywhere).
- Original burlap, coils, and bottom stuffing layers.

Here you can see layer 2 (the beige 70s or 80s fabric) fully removed, showing the third layer, possibly from the 30s or 40s. Pierre said this could even be as old as 1910 or 1920, but it's hard to say for sure. It's not the original fabric, though, because there were stuffing repairs under this, and evidence of possibly a navy blue cover and/or a violet/purple cover. This layer was tacked with upholstery tacks. Tacks are generally found on pieces before the 1960s.

Layer 3 being removed:

Here's the bottom of the sofa, with straw and lots of dust falling out. You can also see that whoever sanded the finish off the legs didn't even bother to do the bottoms of the feet.

Layer 3 fully removed. The green is likely just an old (replacement) rough cover, since it was directly over the horse hair. If you're not familiar with upholstery: you can't have horse hair directly under your good fabric, because it will poke through. It needs to have a layer of cotton over it (at the very least).

You can see how much the original stuffing has been pushed-in by all the excess stuffing materials, and lack of proper repairs.

By this point, it's already been DAYS of stripping old layers (at least 3-4 days), and this is where things (for me) really start to get interesting. Here you can see the beautiful layer of horse hair. The white patch on the right arm is a patch done in cotton (to adjust for a thinner area of hair) , and there are two or three lighter patches of hog hair in the original horse hair seat pad (old repairs).

You can also see the crushed/collapsed front edge roll. This is a stiff, hand-stitched edge done with burlap, straw, and moss/horsehair stuffing to keep the front edge of the sofa crisp and sturdy. Since the burlap doesn't last forever, it should have been repaired and re-stitched, but no one ever bothered to do it. What you see is still the original upholstery foundation from the original manufacturer.

With the horse hair & moss layer removed (it's like a big mat and stays together in large pieces) we're starting to get down to the bare frame, but we still have a way to go.

In the photo above, you can see that the back panel has a straw-stuffed lumbar roll (something I haven't run across until now), and that the seat stuffing is toast (the springs are all popping out).

Here's a detail of the front edge roll with the original hand stitching.

Top burlap removed, and the seat stuffing layers removed and flipped over on the floor. The seat stuffing consists of a layer of straw, followed by a mix of moss and hair (not horse hair though, but some kind of cheaper alternative). You can see the remnants of the bottom layer of tightly woven burlap that used to cover the springs (more on this later).

Burlap over the springs removed, and spring ties removed (a lot of these were already torn and broken).

About the burlap. The old stuff was excellent quality, and very tightly stitched together. In this photo, you can see a small sample of the old burlap, next to the modern equivalent, which is a much looser weave. Pierre says that 'even older burlap' than this (1800s) was woven tight enough to block the light.

Once the springs were removed, and the old webbing discarded, any remaining tacks & staples were removed, and I was finally left with a bare frame.

This is a really well made frame with nice tight joinery, and very thick rails. Our best estimate as far as age is early 1900s.

Just for comparison, here's the frame from a sofa of approximately the same age (maybe 1920s?). This was a really nice sofa, but you can see that the frame is made with really rough cut wood (almost barn boards), with less precise joinery. Both, however, are still miles better than most of what's available today.

Continued in Part 3!