Sunday, January 6, 2013

Upholstery Conservation - Victorian Church Chairs

Objects Description: 3 Victorian upholstered chairs
Objects Condition: All three chairs needed structural regluing of legs. The webbing foundation on all three chairs was failed with springs projecting out the bottom. There is an approximately 4” tear in one of the show covers. A few of the top carved ornaments were loose as well as two of the apron details. The large chair has a missing piece from the proper right side top ornament. One of the small chairs has a piece of curved molding missing.

Objects Treatment: First, all three chair seats were completely de-upholstered being careful to lay materials aside for later reinstallation. The failed second generation webbing was discarded. All loose joints were disassembled, scraped, and reglued using animal hide glue. After glue was dried, upholstery was reinstalled. With a few exceptions of hard to reach areas, 3/8” staples were used for total re-upholstery in order to minimize damage to frames. Additionally, whenever fasteners went through original material, acid free cardstock strips were placed between them and the fabric. This was to spread out the holding capacity of staples minimizing potential for future fabric tearing and also to facilitate future removal.

New webbing was installed while retaining original webbing in place. Original webbing that was detached and degraded was sewn onto new webbing. Coil springs were returned to original position and lashed in place with Italian ruby twine. Burlap was tacked over the springs followed by the original filling materials finally covered by another burlap layer. The second burlap layer was stitched to filler layer around edge roll as well as in the middle. The next layer in the sequence was a small layer of horsehair followed by the original muslin.

One of the show covers had to be repaired before installation. This was performed by using 3M 90 spray adhesive to adhere a backing strip of cotton duck. Before adhesive setting, the gap was manipulated to be as closed as possible. After dried, the show cover fuzz was harvested from the underside of the folded over edges. Adhesive was laid into gap using a dental pick and fuzz was set in place with tweezers.

Finally, the original show covers were installed with the pink acid free cardstock barrier strips. Finally, the original gimp trimming was reinstalled using molten EVA.

Missing components were molded from in situ examples and casted using a urethane resin. Cured casted components were fitted with sandpaper and chisels. After a hide glue barrier was applied, pieces were installed with epoxy. Installed pieces were inpainted with shellac, NGR dyes, and earth pigments.

After Treatment


  1. Nicely Done, Joshua.....Bravo.

  2. I like your work. What did you use for in missing part? Shellac and woodfibers? I have always recut fit and carved in a wood slip.
    A very nice job!

  3. Thanks, John. I used Smooth-Cast 321 urethane resin for the fill. It's made by Smooth-On. I added NGR dye to it while mixing it up so that would give me a jump start on the inpainting process.

  4. That's awesome Josh! I can't believe this is what you do. I am so jealous of you and your artistic ability!

  5. I don't understand the decision to reapply the show cloth. Were these chairs never expected to be sat upon again? Your other upholstery efforts strongly imply so, but what was gained by reusing the faded gimp? How many more years of use can you expect that velvet to endure?
    I also notice that you use staples. Are there special staples for such conservation work? I think it was clever how you simply reapplied the edge roll, but how do you justify reusing the original muslin? Was there enough material to adjust it all back into place after it had been trimmed down? Was the webbing cloth tape or burlap?

  6. Potomacker,
    The upholstery foundation layers were retained to preserve evidence of the original. The show cover and gimp was retained because the only damage in the show covers on the three chairs treated was this one tear. If it couldn't be repaired, then new fabric would have to be purchased and also the chair backs could not be left undisturbed. They decided to invest in the labor to attempt the repair. Worst case the covers can be changed in the future. The old muslin went into place just fine. The webbing was jute just like the original. Thanks for your interest!