Upholstery Seattle Tips, Tricks and FAQ


Upholstering a Fainting Couch

The French take credit for popularizing the chaise longue, but the idea of combining a chair with a daybed goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. If you remove the armrests from a chaise longue it becames a "fainting couch", popular in the 19th Century. Despite its clean, simple lines, properly reupholstering a fainting couch requires experience and a trick or two.

fainting couch before upholstery
Fainting Couch With Original Upholstery
new cotton batting
New Cotton Batting

After stripping the fabric from this fainting couch, we discover the spring unit supporting the cushion needs some attention. The hardware is in good shape, but the springs are slightly off-kilter. Adjusting the spring box does the trick. There's still some life in the old polyurethane foam, so we leave that in place. All we need is a blanket of new cotton batting and we're ready to go.

fabric with relief cuts
Relief Cuts In Fabric
fainting couch with new upholstery

The upholstery fabric we're using, a rayon-polyester blend, is extremely durable, but stiff. Upholstering with a rigid fabric like this can be difficult, especially around the curves and corners. After trimming the new upholstery to size, we slice "relief cuts" every few inches along the bottom. These relief cuts create "give" in the fabric. With the fabric more pliable, we're now able to drape the upholstery in place wrinkle-free.

Custom made upholstery buttons and cream colored gimp to cover the seams provide the final touches.


Repairing Cat Scratch Damage

If you own a cat, or a cat owns you, the picture below left may look familiar. Some cats consider it their duty to destroy your furniture. Instead of using a scratching post, they'll sharpen their claws on your favorite living room sofa, easy chair or love seat. We can't prevent a cat from damaging your furniture, but we do know how to repair it.

The cushions on this biscuit-tufted leather sectional are ripped to shreds in places. Reupholstering the entire sectional with brand new leather would cost an arm and a leg. Repairing just the damaged squares with new leather is also problematic. While it's possible to replace the damaged biscuit squares with brand new leather, the color and texture might be off.

adding recycled leather
Recycled Leather For Back
repaired sections
Cushion After Repair
removing back and side leather
Harvesting Undamaged Leather
cat scratch damage
Cat Scratch Fever

There's a better, more affordable way to get the job done; use undamaged leather from the sectional's back to repair the cushions.

After "harvesting" unblemished leather from the back of the sectional, we carefully remove the damaged biscuit squares. Instead of instantly tossing the old biscuits, we use them as patterns for the new ones. We then cut the "replacement" leather to size and sew the new squares into place. Because the leather for both the old and the new biscuit squares comes from the same source, the pattern and color closely match.

Now we have to replace the leather we used to repair the biscuits. Since the leather covering this section faces the wall, matching the color and texture is not as critical. Recycled leather is a perfect choice for this. It's durable, affordable and it looks great.

As you can see (above) the new biscuit squares are nearly identical to the old and the recycled leather we used for the back looks great. The customer was kind enough to send us this note: "I just wanted to THANK YOU again for the amazing work you and Mike did on the couch. It is right next to an identical piece and looks exactly the same. I was delighted, blown away, and very grateful." – Tess


Masking Flaws in Antique Settee

There's a fine line between a valuable antique with "character" and a damaged old couch destined for the junkyard. This lovely 19th Century settee is a diamond in the rough. Careful restoration and attention to detail transforms it from junk into a jewel.

settee before new upholstery
Antique Settee Before New Upholstery
settee after new upholstery
Antique Settee After New Upholstery
reattaching broken leg
Reattaching Broken Leg
gap below headboard
Gap Below Headboard
attaching welt
Attaching Custom Welt To Headboard
welting to fit the gap
Welt Fills The Gap Below Headboard

While our designers are careful not to sacrifice an antique's "character", the restoration process often requires repair. For example, this settee's seat cushion is shot. The horsehair padding is salvageable, but the old latex foam has deteriorated into dust.

We toss the old latex and replace it with custom cut polyurethane foam.

Repairing and reattaching the settee's broken leg is trickier. The leg snapped off years ago, leaving shards of the old dowel stuck inside both the frame and leg. After removing what's left of the old dowel, we anchor the leg with a new dowel, wood glue and putty.

As often happens, the old wood is warped in places. When we attach the headboard, a crooked gap appears between the headboard and seat back. Our designers solve this problem by attaching a welt to the base of the headboard. The fabric welt nicely fills the gap. It's a small thing, but attention to detail can be the difference between something you save and something you eventually toss.


Upholstering Barrel Chairs

Some say the first barrel chair was manufactured from an old wine barrel in Italy. Others trace its origin back to France or the United Kingdom. While the concept is old, the barrel chair enjoyed its heyday during the Mid-Twentieth Century. Restoring these barrel chairs requires a modern fabric that evokes the original look.

barrel chairs before restoration
Barrel Chairs Before New Upholstery
relief cuts in the fabric
Relief Cuts In Fabric
rear view finished
Rear View After New Upholstery
top view finished
Top View After New Upholstery

The original fabric was a tufted beige chenille. We recommended a slightly darker synthetic chenille reminiscent of the button down Fifties and early Sixties.

Fortunately, the chairs are in great shape. They're sturdy and well made. The tricky part is smoothing the fabric around the tight curves. A couple of upholstery techniques come in handy. To prevent tearing, we slice relief cuts into the fabric allowing it to "hug" the concave chairback. The other problem when covering a barrel chair is fabric "bunching". To prevent bunching we build pleats. The pleats allow the fabric to smooth easily around the swivel base. When finished, the chair remains true to its Mid-Century Modern heritage.


Airstream Trailer Restoration

The venerable Airstream Travel Trailer is an icon of the American road. The owners of this 1966 Airstream chose Upholstery Seattle to reupholster the interior. This Airstream was originally upholstered in Herculon fabric. The Herculon of yesteryear was durable and stain-resistant, but it didn't always hold up under direct sunlight. After meeting with the owners, we recommended switching to a different upholstery fabric.

1966 aistream trailer
1966 Airstream Trailer
airstream trailer before restoration
Interior Before Restoration
airstream after restoration
Interior After Restoration
airstream after restoration
Interior After Restoration

Sunbrella® -- an acrylic fabric -- is ideal for this application. It's durable, easy to clean and doesn't fade, even under direct sunlight.

Sunbrella® doesn't fade because it's specially manufactured. When ordinary fabrics are dyed, the color only penetrates the surface. It washes out or fades over time. The color in Sunbrella® soaks through the entire fiber. This color-to-the-core technology makes Sunbrella® easy to clean and fade-resistant. It's also water resistant, mildew resistant and breathable.


Turkish Corners on Wingback Chair

Here's an example of a poorly upholstered wingback chair. Staples show through seams, the fabric droops, the nap is wrong, and the original seat cushion is gone. Because the cushion was replaced with static padding, the chair corners are now pleated. And the pleats are sloppy at best. This chair is in desparate need of new upholstery.

wingback chair
Old Upholstery
sloppy turish corner
Pleated Corner
new uphlostery
New Upholstery
new turkish corner
Turkish Corner

We start with the new fabric; a traditional blue velveteen. When upholstering with velveteen, it's important to consistently align the nap in a downward direction. That way, when somebody rises from the chair they'll smooth the nap instead of brushing against it. Brushing against the nap not only wears down the fabric, a "ruffled nap" takes on a slightly different color. Properly aligning the nap is critical.

The corner pleats also require special attention. When the chair came to us, the corner fabric was bunched together and tucked under the padding almost as an afterthought. The customer wants to keep the old padding instead of restoring the seat cushion, so we need to dress up the corner pleats. We do this by smoothing the excess fabric into what's called a Turkish Corner (above right). Welting provides the final touch.


Recycled Leather

seat before upholstery
Damaged Leather
torn seams
Torn Seams
cutting recycled leather
Sizing Recycled Leather
sewing biscuits
Sewing Biscuits Into Leather
straight lines in fabric
Properly Aligned Biscuits
newly upholstered seat
Recycled Leather Seat

Recycled leather is a relatively new upholstery fabric. We like it because it's animal-friendly and less expensive than new leather. Best of all, recycled leather is nearly indistinguishable from "the real thing". The only disadvantge; scratches can be difficult to repair in furniture upholstered with recycled leather. Aside from that, it's a great choice. This biscuit-tufted seat illustrates why.

The original leather on this seat is stained, badly worn and ripped in places. In short, it can't be salvaged for this application. The foam padding and bottom webbing are also shot.

After installing brand new jute webbing, we replace the old padding with HR-43 polyurethane foam and a dacron wrap. The dacron wrap gives the seat a softer feel than foam.

Aligning and tufting the recycled leather into square-shaped biscuits requires careful measurements and precise sewing. After folding the leather into a rectangle, we sew a curved seam along the inside edge, flip it 90 degrees and repeat the process. A dimple is created where the two seams intersect. In some cases, each dimple is covered with a button. Not this time.

After welting the corners, we're all done. As you can see, it's nearly impossible to tell the difference between recycled leather and "the real thing".


Repairing Car & Truck Seats

Why purchase shabby, aftermarket seat covers for an old car, truck or SUV? For a few dollars more you can enhance the value of your vehicle and enjoy the look and feel of brand new seats.

Damaged Truck Seat
Damaged Leather
Sizing New Leather
Sizing New Sections
Sewing Sections
Sewing Leather & Foam Scrim
Reverse Side
Scrim Side
Seat Heater
New Sections
Leather Truck Seat
Seat Heater
Leather Truck Seat Sewn Together
Sections Sewn Together
New Leather Truck Seat
Refurbished Seat

The process of restoring car seats begins by removing damaged leather panels from the seats. Before tossing the leather into our recycle bin, we use the old panels as patterns to cut new ones.

For maximum comfort, we cut matching pads from a roll of foam scrim. After sewing together the leather and scrim, it's time to install new seat heaters.

Installing seat heaters during the renovation process saves time and money.

The only thing left to do is sew the pieces together and make sure the leather is snug. For more on car and truck interiors, check out Mac's Upholstery. They're the auto interior experts.

Restoring Antiques With Excelsior

finished chair
Newly Upholstered Chair

In the days before polyurethane foam, furniture makers used cotton batting, horsehair and something called excelsior or "wood wool" to cushion chairs and sofas. Excelsior is manufactured from tree fibers. It's reminiscent of flattened straw. Faithful antique restoration often requires natural materials such as excelsior.

horsehair padding at corners
Corners Padded With Horsehair
horsehair padding at corners
Adding Excelsior Padding

These dining room chairs from the early 20th Century are perfect candidates for restoration. They're solid, stylish and feature beautiful hand-carved accents.

To keep the restoration authentic we recycle the chair's original cushioning materials including the sturdy cardboard edgeroll, now nearly a century old. The corners are padded with horsehair. Horsehair is expensive and attracts allergens, but it's durable and retains shape. The chairmakers used it to anchor the seat corners. Next, we clean and reapply the "wood wool". The original cotton batting goes on top. New upholstery fabric provides the final touch. When we're done, these dining room chairs are all set for the 21st Century!

Matching Print Fabrics & Weaves

Breakfast nooks used to be upholstered in vinyl because it was durable and easy to clean. Today’s fabrics are so versatile, vinyl is no longer necessary. More and more of our clients are making a fashion statement by matching different types of "breakfast nook friendly" fabrics in fun and interesting ways.

four color print
Duralee Four Color Print
three color tweed
Charlotte Fabrics Tweed
new breakfast nook
Installed In Breakfast Nook

Before visiting our Ballard showroom, where you'll find thousands of fabrics, it's a good idea to browse textile mill web sites for ideas. You'll find this indoor/outdoor, four color print in Duralee's Web Site.

The Duralee print is a spun polyester with the soft feel of a cotton blend. A solid colored fabric that picks up the print's green and brown tones would be an excellent match. A more stylish alternative might be a tweed.

This tri-color tweed from Charlotte Fabrics not only picks up the print's colors, it provides a nice counterpoint texture.

The tweed is 100% Olefin, so it's extremely durable, colorfast and comfortable. It's also resistant to stains, mildew, abrasion and sunlight. For all these reasons, the tweed is perfect for the seat pads. We upholster the back cushions with the softer, less durable print.

Matching Upholstery Fabric Pattern

aligning fabric  pattern matches
Measuring & Aligning Fabric

Fabrics with bold, bright patterns look great on furniture with clean lines, such as this Mid-Century Modern love seat sectional we just refinished. At the same time, you have to be careful when upholstering with a patterned fabric. If it’s not done correctly, the chair or sofa won’t look right.

Comersan, a company based in Spain, manufactures brilliant fabrics, many with vivid patterns such as "Vanity" (below). "Vanity" is a cotton polyester Jacquard with a woven floral design. It’s perfect for this 1960s canvas spring, walnut chair.

It’s important to align the fabric so the pattern on the seat cushion seamlessly matches the pattern on the back cushion at the point where they meet. Because Comersan cuts its fabric in extra wide bolts, matching the pattern is a little easier.

We begin by aligning the fabric so it faces the same direction on both cushions. After matching the pattern -- one on top of the other – we add four and a half inches to allow for the seam and padding. This is where we make the cut.

When finished, the pattern lines-up perfectly. It’s a subtle thing, but sweating details like this makes all the difference.


How to Restore Polyurethane Foam

When a chair or sofa needs new upholstery it usually needs new foam padding. Polyurethane foam deteriorates over time. It can disintegrate, bunch-up and lose it's bounce. In rare cases, a chair's fabric will wear out before the foam goes bad. Instead of throwing out perfectly good foam, we "bring it back to life".

grove worn in foam padding
Compressed Groove In Padding
fabric steamer
Fabric Steamer
Foam Padding Restored
Foam Padding Restored

Here's an example of a foam pad deformed after years of use (far left). As you can see, a groove has formed in the polyurethane. Left alone, the foam will never return to its original shape.

But, a simple trick will often restore it. Using a fabric steamer, we gently apply steam to sections where the foam's been compressed. The steam does double-duty; it moisturises the polyurethane, then opens and reinflates the tiny cells inside the foam. When the cells expand, the foam pad takes on its original shape and resiliency. The old foam is almost as good as new.


Fix Furniture Scratches and Dings

scratched arm chair
Scratched Furniture
000 grade steel wool
#000 Grade Steel Wool
scratches removed for chair
After Scratch Repair

It’s nearly impossible to keep furniture in heavily trafficked rooms blemish free. It’s tempting to junk a chair covered with scratches and dings when its upholstery wears out. Fortunately, there are affordable techniques to mask minor scratches and repair dings.

We begin with a specially formulated furniture oil matching the wood stain. Using a ball of extra-fine #000 grade steel wool, we buff the oil into the wood finish, allowing the furniture to fully absorb the oil. Using this method, minor scratches seem to vanish. The coverage lasts for years.

Deeper scratches and dings require a different approach. Wax sticks and crayons manufactured to match the finish are good way to go. In some cases, we heat the wax before applying it. After it cools, we smooth and shape the wax with a dull knife. Filling a blemish this way requires patience and a skilled hand. When done correctly, it's nearly impossible to spot a deep scratch or ding.

Affordable Custom Cut Memory Foam

Maxiumum comfort memory foam may seem like a new thing, but it's been around almost half a century. Developed in 1966 at NASA's Ames Research Center, memory foam is polyurethane with added chemicals to make the foam more dense and "gummy".

memory foam on top standard foam below memory foam
Two Inches of Memory Foam on Top

There are high and low density memory foams. Low density foam is pressure sensitive. When you recline on this sort of foam, it molds to your body. When you get off, it returns to its original shape. High density memory foam has similar properties, but responds to body heat instead of pressure.

In the early days, memory foam was too expensive for household use. It still costs more than most foams, but there are methods to make memory foam affordable.

By stacking various foams with different properties, we can achieve a full memory foam effect at reduced cost. We begin with a block of high density foam. This serves as a base. We attach a second layer of low density foam above that. Finally, a two inch block of memory foam goes on top. In rare cases, the memory foam is sandwiched around a block of standard foam. Either way, we get the same luxurious feel at a fraction of the cost.

hot knife to cut fabric
Hot Knife Cutting Fabric

Hot Knife Prevents Sunbrella® Fraying

Sunbrella® fabric is a great choice for curtains because Sunbrella® maintains its color and shape even when constantly exposed to direct sunlight. It's also UV resistant, stain resistant, water resistant, mildew resistant, and breathable.

Because this Sunbrella® Spectrum Dijon fabric is 100% solution dyed acrylic, its fibers are a little stiffer than you'll find in most fabrics. If you're not careful, this sort of fabric can unravel. To avoid frayed edges, we put away the scissors and use special cutting techniques and instruments.

A hot knife is the best way to cut this fabric. A hot knife is similar to one of those "wood burning pens" you may have used as a youngster. Electric current heats-up a steel tip on the business end of the hot knife. As the tip slides across the fabric, it cuts and heat seals the edges. The "cauterized" edges prevent the fabric from unraveling or losing its shape.

Restoring a Lady's Side Chair

antique lady's side chair before reupholstering  antique lady's side chair after reupholstering
Lady's Side Chair Before & After New Upholstery

Early 20th Century American furniture is usually better built than anything manufactured today. Instead of junking a shabby old chair, have it re-upholstered for less than the cost of a brand new one.

This lady's side chair is a great example. After removing the tattered fabric and old padding, the craftsmanship is plain to see. Notice the solid hardwood frame, the double support beams along the side and back, the fashionable Queen Anne legs, and the rolled corners on the arms. You won't find a stick of plywood or a single staple in this antique.

Aside from replacing the down cushion and burlap backing, all this old chair needs is new fabric. A rich, Jacquard print and piping transforms it from a piece of junk into a jewel!

Modernizing Antique Chaise Longue

Modernizing a treasured antique presents special challenges. How do you update a 1920’s hardwood chaise longue without sacrificing the original look? Our designers do it by combining old and new techniques with modern and traditional materials.

antique chaise longue stripped to frame
Antique Chaise Longue Stripped
longue springs tied to frame
Chaise Longue Springs Tied to Frame
jute strapping
Jute Strapping
antique chaise longue finished
Restored Antique Chaise Longue

The horsehair padding we find after stripping this sturdy, well-made chaise was common during the early 20th Century. While it’s possible to recycle the horsehair and cotton batting, we recommend against it. A lot of people are allergic to horsehair and the many allergens it attracts. This is where modern fabrics and materials come in. Foam padding and Dacron batting are a better way to go.

The hardwood frame is in great shape. The precision crafted dadoes and dowels are rock solid; no need for changes here. The springs and webbing are another story. The springs are okay, but they were tied to the frame the wrong way during a previous restoration. Some of the ties are rotting. The underneath webbing is also a mess. We replace the old webbing and backing with fresh jute and burlap. In this application, using traditional materials makes sense. Natural materials breathe. Breathability is a big plus in a climate like Seattle, where mold and mildew can be a problem.

Properly fastening the springs to the webbing requires a technique called an ‘eight way tie’. This traditional method locks the springs in place. Finally, the chaise longue is draped in a woven chenille fabric, then welted to the frame at the bottom. A bolster cushion provides the final stylish accent.

Bedding for Yachts, Boats, & Commercial Vessels

Puget sound yachts, pleasure boats and commercial vessels count on Upholstery Seattle for comfortable, durable marine bedding. But, sleeping cushions for commercial vessels can differ from pleasure craft bedding. For example, style tends to be more important for most yacht and boat owners. Commercial fishers and crabbers are more price conscious. The manufacturing process begins the same way for both.

roll of ticking for cushion cover sleeping cover cut for starboard ship berth
Artificial Fabric Ticking Resists Mildew

Because every boat and bunk is slightly different, it's important to draw a pattern for each individual sleeping berth. Our designers use heavy kraft paper to trace the measurements and note any special characteristics. As a general rule, sleeping berths on small boats are beveled to fit the hull's pitch. Larger vessels, such as the commercial crabber which ordered this marine bedding, usually accommodates more standard shaped sleeping cushions.

After selecting a soft, polyurethane foam, we cut each piece to match the size and pattern of the individual bunk. The next step is to measure and cut the fabric. A marine environment can be demanding, so the ticking we selected for this bedding is made from artificial fabric. It's both inexpensive and mildew resistant. To keep costs down, we sew the zipper into the bottom of the side panel instead of the center. While this method requires that -- for comfort purposes -- the zipper side always remains down, it streamlines the manufacturing process and keeps the cost down.

Pros and Cons of Black Fabric

Upholstering a chair, sofa or pad in black fabric can add a touch of modern sophistication to a room. But before selecting black, it’s important to consider both the practical pros & cons of this dramatic color. The fabric we’re using to upholster these eight chair bottoms (below) is an indoor acrylic manufactured by Sunbrella®. It's called Canvas Black. Sunbrella® Canvas Black is an excellent choice for the pads on these dining room chairs because black tends to hide stains and dirt. Clean-up can be a snap when your upholstery is black.

seattle dining room seats before upholstery
Dining Room Seats Before Upholstery
dining room seats upholstered with Sunbrella® canvas black
Sunbrella® Canvas Black Upholstery
beware emma's sheds fur
Emma Sheds
chair upholstered in black fabric
Chair Upholstered in Black

On the other hand, pet hair and lint really show up on a dark fabric, especially black.

So, if you're a pet owner make sure to keep a lint brush handy. Either that or get a black cat or a black Lab!

How to Repair Torn or Damaged Vinyl

There is a right way and a wrong way to repair damaged vinyl. While it's possible to repair the tear itself, results are never satisfactory. For one thing, it's difficult to match the fabric's grain pattern. And even the best adhesive leaves behind a subtle "scar". What's more, the repair will never be as strong as the original vinyl; it can come apart anytime.

vinyl boat sundeck repair before
Before Vinyl Repair
repairing torn vinyl boat sundeck
Vinyl Repair
repaired boat sundeck
After Vinyl Repair

Instead of repairing the tear, the experts at Upholstery Seattle recommend replacing the section of vinyl associated with the damage. A pleasure boat's torn sundeck shows how successful this approach can be. After stripping the vinyl from the sundeck's base, we remove the damaged panel all the way to the seam.

Then we select a vinyl that matches the color, grain and durability of the original panel. Sewing the new vinyl in place and reattaching the cover to the base are the final steps. As you can see, it's a perfect match!

The important thing to remember is replacing the entire panel is only slightly more expensive that attempting to repair the tear. And it's a bargain when you consider that a repair will last longer and look better when you replace the entire panel.

Refinish Wood Trim

Let’s say you want a fresh look for your upholstered chair, sofa or love seat. Upholstery Seattle is a full service shop, so before custom crafting your new fabric & foam, we refinish the wood trim. It's important to refinish the wood to match the new fabric. For example, the trim on this 1960s side chair is too "red" for its new lavender & green fabric.

red wood finish chair back
Side Chair Trim Before Refinishing
refinished woodwork on chair
Side Chair Trim After Refinishing
chair after refinish & reupholstery
New Finish Matches the Fabric

After removing the old Herculon™ fabric & latex foam, Upholstery Seattle designers go to work on the frame and wood trim. In most cases we follow this procedure:

  • Carefully remove nails & fasteners making sure to repair any old damage. We strengthen the frame, then fix the seat springs if necessary.
  • We strip the old paint or stain from the trim. In this case, the old stain is so thick it hides the attractive wood grain.
  • If the old finish is too dark, it may be necessary to bleach the wood. This chair needs to be bleached.
  • Now it's time to apply the new stain. Because we want the wood grain to show through, we'll use a light stain with a "brown" tone to better match the new fabric. And instead of letting the stain soak in, it gets wiped-off immediately. It's important to have a light touch when applying the stain.
  • Our designers then apply a matte, satin or glossy finish. This chair gets a finishing wax to give it a beautiful low luster.
  • This process usually takes a couple of days.

After the trim is perfect, we turn our attention to the upholstery. When everything's done, the side chair looks better than ever!

How to Prevent Fabric from Unraveling

serging the welt repairing seattle boat's vinyl sundeck
Serging the Welt & Joining the Edges

Loose weave fabric, such as this light rust chenille, is perfect when you want upholstery to feel soft. But without backing material, a loose weave fabric can stretch out of shape and unravel. If you try to stiffen the weave by attaching a backing, you run the risk of glue seeping through the loose weave and destroying the fabric.

Upholstery Seattle recommends a different approach; attaching a welt and serging the fabric's edges.

We begin by wrapping a narrow strip of fabric around a length of cord to create a welt. We then strengthen the welt by surging the fabric's edges together. Serging is a way of sewing together fabric with multi-thread crisscross stitches. This method of binding helps prevent unraveling.

After serging the welt, we sew it into the fabric covering the pad. This welting, combined with mitering the corners, anchors everything in place. The result is a soft but sturdy window seat with clean box edges.