As an upholsterer – whether you’re just starting out or have been at it for years – there are some things you come across that will cause your heart to sink. Unfortunately, no one is immune to the nightmares that lie beneath the surface or the hidden secrets that spell upholstery hell. Here are the five discoveries that strike fear every time!
They may look harmless, but when you see these tiny, winged creatures come into contact with fabric, it’s a catastrophe. As an upholsterer, an infestation of moths is possibly the most disappointing discovery to make. If there was any part of the piece you’re working on worth saving, the appearance of moths means it all has to go. Sadly, you can’t take the risk of leaving anything other than the frame intact, so everything else needs to be ripped off and got rid of.
Thankfully, I’ve only had one completely disastrous run-in with moths in eight years, but it does surprise me how many households still suffer with them. Clothes moths mainly feed on wool clothing, carpets, and rugs and, of course, upholstered furniture. They will also feed on synthetics or cotton blends but are less attracted to manmade fabrics such as polyesters and velvets. Damage most likely appears in hidden locations like crevices and in between cushions. When they take grip, it’s a disaster!
The only solution is to strip everything away and let the bare frame sit. When you’re sure there’s no evidence of moths or their larvae left, the piece needs to be professionally fumigated. What a palaver!
Next up on the list of things you really don’t want to come across is another small but sinister creature – woodworm. An infestation of woodworm (the wood-boring larva of the furniture beetle) is relatively easy to spot as they leave a mass of tiny holes in the wood when the adults mature and fly away. If they’ve got into the joints, you may find that the frame is wobbly too. One way to spot if they’re active is to hit the wood. If a flurry of fine sawdust comes out, there’s a good chance they’re still busy!
“The appearance of woodworm doesn’t make a piece of furniture a total write-off. But it’s not a fun prospect to tackle.”
Chemical treatments involve injecting each and every hole. When purchasing and bringing old furniture into your home, check it over for indications of a woodworm infestation and ensure that it has been treated to drive out any remaining larvae and make it harder to take hold in the future. Older pieces of furniture that may have been subject to woodworm attacks in the past may need joints securing by drilling out and replacing dowels.
I’m fully supportive of anyone having a go at basic upholstery themselves, but it’s important to know your limits and when to call in a pro. Bodge jobs, badly executed repairs and a lack of knack can create big problems. I’ve come across all sorts of unbelievable cock-ups and makeshift solutions. People that use plywood instead of webbing, for instance – a common quick fix that does NOT make for a comfy landing.
The trouble is that some chairs that have been done up look innocent enough from first inspection, but undercover all sorts of problems can be waiting. Having to fix issues, take away what’s not right and re-tread old ground is one of the most frustrating upholstery challenges of all.
Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it should be disregarded. For me, I always make sure every project I work on looks as good on the inside as it does on the outside. In other words, get the foundations right before you even begin to think about anything else. When it comes to webbing, it’s so common to see a poor job and people don’t use enough. Sometimes I see it and wonder how the entire seat hasn’t fallen through.
These days, I’m coming across more and more elastic webbing and I have to say I’m not a fan. In my opinion, there is nothing as reliable as good old black and white, jute, herringbone webbing. And don’t scrimp on it! A decent, structured webbing base will make all the difference between a chair you sit ‘in’ and a chair you sit ‘on’. And elastic webbing? Forget it!
Metal Back Tack (AKA Ply-Grip)
Fixed with staples to fold fabric back over and create a blind seam, you may love Ply-grip, but I think its lethal! Like dealing with shark’s teeth, it’s a beast to come up against. While it may apply nicely, it creates a nightmare for anyone having to strip it away down the line. Not only does Ply-grip bruise velvet, you have to give the piece a real whack to fix it and it’s vicious stuff. Call me old-fashioned, but I always favour a slip stitch. And that’s the kind of satisfying process that definitely won’t give you nightmares!
Thinking of learning the craft of upholstery? Sign up to my total beginner’s guide Virtual Vintique: Upholstery Uncovered and take the first step towards seeing if learning upholstery could be for you. You’ll learn how to solve common upholstery nightmares like we’ve discussed above.
If you need help with an upholstery project, drop me a line for an initial, no-obligation quote by filling in the online contact form. Alternatively, you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07764 182 783.