Saturday, March 29, 2014

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!

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