If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:
Remember jumping up-and-down on your couch or sofa or whatever you called that big, comfortable piece of furniture in your living room?
Kids in the 17th Century would have had a hard landing;
upholstery was only in homes of the well-to-do.
And bounce wasn’t added until the invention of the furniture spring—-
in the 18th Century.
Perhaps no product requires ‘digging’ from the inside-out —more than upholstered furniture. We fall for pretty fabric at the expense of the most critical but invisible components.
Shopping for a sofa, I asked why information about frames, springs and fillings wasn’t on the label. The store owner said, “it would cost too much”.
Production tickets in every factory list all technical information
which can easily be reprinted for consumers.
In a privately owned furniture store, a salesperson understood all my questions and directed me to a sofa that had every element of quality I asked for. I later viewed the manufacturer’s on-line video; it confirmed the excellent raw materials materials and production techniques I required.
I ordered the sofa in full grain, drum-dyed full-aniline red leather.
It’s comfortable—and beautiful!
FURNITURE FRAMES FOR UPHOLSTERY:
Frames must be kiln-dried hard wood of the same species because different species have different degrees of density which contract and expand differently.
Components must be joined with mortise and tenon or double doweling—nothing less, and chair legs must be secured to the seat rail/apron with properly screwed and glued corner blocks.
Frames must never be felt through fillings and upholstery fabric.
If you feel the frame, it will eventually protrude through the covering.
Do not compromise.
THE SUSPENSION SYSTEM:
Better upholstery manufacturers use woven jute webbing as the
foundation for their furniture’s suspension.
Webbing strips are tacked to one side of the frame, stretched tightly and tacked to the other side. Cross strips are tacked, tightly woven, then stitched to provide a sturdy base for hand-tied springs and layered fillings.
Some manufacturers use perforated flat steel webbing, corrugated steel webbing and corrugated jute combined with steel webbing—but these cannot provide the durability and comfort of woven jute webbing layered with coiled springs and fillings.
Steel wire in different gauges is coiled into springs of different sizes and shapes. Coiled metal springs absorb shock, add resilience and add spring. Varieties of springs are commonly used; spirals that widen at both ends are called’ double-coiled’.
Gauge numbers range from 00, the heaviest, to 15, the thinnest.
The heavier the wire, the stiffer the spring.
Coiled springs for better upholstered furniture seats range from 9 to 12 gauge and from 5” to 14” in height in hard, medium and soft tension. Back springs are 12 to 15 gauge and 4” to 10”.
I had read manufacturers use from 4 to 8 coiled springs per seat, so I asked
an artisan upholsterer why he was using so many more. He laughed saying, “Lady, how can you have rules like that when each style is different—you gotta fill the whole area!”
The way springs are joined to each other is a critical component of quality.
Chosen for comfort and strength for each design, different gauges and sizes of coiled springs are first sewn to the webbing base and then joined to each other in a technique called ‘8-way hand-tied’—which prevents coils from shifting with use.
Hand tying allows variation of the degree of compression according to the placement of the coils; some areas need to be more firm than others (e.g. when rising from a sitting to a standing position, springs behind the knees must be firmly tied ). The twine has a waxed finish and is very durable.
Some manufacturers join springs with metal clips because it’s faster and cheaper–but this results in uniform spring tension, a quality ‘no-no’.
The National Home Furnishing Association states, “Eight-way, hand-tied remains the standard of excellence for those who want good quality”.
Very slim styles of upholstered furniture cannot
accommodate the depth of coiled springs;
‘sinuous springs’ must be used.
Sinuous springs are made of heavy steel—closely aligned in parallel rows for strength —and cross-connected with small steel helical springs that act together to counteract weight and provide comfort and stability.
Fillings give shape and comfort to upholstered furniture.
In better quality production, burlap is sewn over the springs to become a sturdy support for fillings that give a chair or sofa its shape. Fillings prevent the suspension system and frame from being felt through the upholstery fabric.
Chair and sofa fillings:
Fillings depend upon the desired softness or firmness for end use.
Animal hair blends as mohair, hogs or cattle hair mixed with other fibers, foamed plastic or Dacron polyester available loose or in rubberized pads are preferred for flexibility and comfort. Horse hair, a more traditional filling, is quite firm.
OTHER GOOD FILLINGS:
• Fiber mats from fibers of the sisal plant.
• Moss from an air plant.
• Kapok (silk floss) from seed pods; resilient and resistant to moisture.
• Foam rubber (flat sheets) available in compression: from medium to firm.
• Polyurethane foam (flat sheets) densities range from soft to high resiliency.
Padding is applied over filling materials—beneath the upholstery fabric
to create a smooth and perfectly filled and smooth surface.
Cotton padding—-excellent for durability and softness.
Polyester fiberfill —soft and resilient padding available in rolls of various thicknesses. It is also used to wrap polyurethane foam in cushions.
Soft cotton cord (welting) covered with bias-cut upholstery fabric is sewn into the seams of joined pieces of upholstery fabric to define shape and prevent wear. Plastic welting is rigid; fabric coverings easily fray, especially at corners.
Good quality seat and back cushions should be cambric casings —
stuffed with a good filling and covered with upholstery fabric.
Down: the under plumage of fowl, preferably goose. It is very soft, expensive and must be plumped after being sat-upon —to avoid ‘looking squashed’. Synthetic down fillings are beneficial to people with feather allergies. Don’t confuse feathers with down.
Feathers: listed as a filling can be misleading because quality judgments cannot be made unless the specific variety and amount of feathers is known.
Polyurethane foam wrapped in cotton or polyester padding is commonly used for cushion fillings. Premium polyurethane foams provide soft resilient seating. Qualities of foam are not equal; densities range from super soft to extra firm. The higher the density, the greater the durability.
Polyurethane foam topped with down, quality feathers or one of the better synthetic lofty products achieves resiliency with a luxurious hand.
Ready-made coiled spring units can be topped with down, feathers or a lofty synthetic product to achieve a desired softness or firmness with a luxurious hand.
We’re attracted to upholstered furniture by the color, pattern and texture of the fabric. You may like it—but how do you know if it’s good?
Animal, vegetable or mineral?
Did you play this word game? You probably weren’t aware that textile scientists uncover and restructure fibers for textiles from each of these natural sources.
Highly complex and capital intensive global textile businesses have replaced the traditional homespun and cottage-industries of spinning and weaving. Technical specialists constantly strive to develop fibers that can be spun into yarns. e.g.bamboo is currently a popular textile fabric.
Color can be added in either the fiber or yarn state.
Capital intensive technology is used to knit or weave
undyed or dyed yarns into piece goods—which can
be dyed a solid color or printed with colorful patterns
by hand or machine.
For decades, textile scientists have restructured existing natural and man-made fibers to create new products, e.g. micro fibers. They have also created finishes for better end-use performance as stain-retardants, water-proofing solutions, etc. Most of these processes are applied by the textile manufacturer or contracted out to specialists.
Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY
My next post: UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE:PART II