Sunday, 22 March 2015

Upholstery: all that you don't see...

I have been privileged this week to be invited into two homes to give quotes on some re-upholstery. Both pieces of furniture - a lovely Georgian two-seat drop-arm sofa and a 1920s arm chair - were of great quality and definitely worth the expense of upholstering.

And that is just it - upholstery does seem expensive... at first glance.

Re-uphosltering an arm chair can cost approximately £350-£600 depending on the state it is in and the complexity of the chair and then there is the cost of the fabric, which can range from as little as or as much as you would like to spend. This lovely Ian Mankin organic ticking costs £29.50 per metre...

Ian Mankin in Iris

Ian Mankin Cocoa used on this chair

This Brunschwig & Fils 'Les Faisins' costs in the region of £250 per metre and it is certainly not the most expensive available.

Brunschwig & Fils 'Les Faisins'

Caned ball & claw chair in 'Les Faisins'

So you can see that the cost of upholstery does begin to mount up. Yet, there is an immense amount of work that goes into bringing a chair back to life and the skill involved should not be under estimated; most of which you don't see. Also, there is the added knowledge that most of the pieces are much better quality and made more skilfully than a lot of what is on the market today.

The chair is stripped back to the frame and webbing attached.

Webbing on an over-stitched seat
Springs are then hand sewn onto the webbing and 'lashed' in.

{Photo from}

Then the first stuffing is hand sewn in. This involves bridle ties, hair stuffing, hessian, more hand sewing of through-stuffing ties, blind stitching and then more stitching of the edge roll.

First stuffing
A second stuffing is then added along with cotton felt, a layer of calico, polyester wadding and the top fabric.
Finished chair in Designers Guild 'Varese' in fuchsia (rrp £50 per metre)

Re-upholstering a chair is labour intensive and you are really paying for all that you don't see. That is why I was fascinated when I came across the 'Seeing beneath the surface' at Knole project from the National Trust. A team at Knole have recently spent some time x-raying the furniture to see what is underneath. Here are some of the photos {courtesy of the National Trust} and the full article can be found here.

Next time you are in the market for some upholstery and the quote is given, think back to all that you don't see and the price may not be as expensive as you first thought, especially for bringing something of great quality back to life...

The x-ray equipment being set up. ©National Trust
X-ray of the leg of the sofa in the above photo {photo from the National Trust}

Arm of a piece of furniture {photo from the National Trust}

Monday, 19 January 2015

Passementerie (aka trim)

Passementerie, or trim as it is commonly known, on upholstery seems to divide the masses but there is no denying that the right trim on a piece of furniture completes it. It is like a painting with the perfect frame. The art of making passementerie is centuries old and is highly skilled. And there are certain pieces of furniture (and places) where only traditional passementerie will do like the ottoman at Versailles (below).

An ottoman at the Palace of Versailles {via Pinterest}

 However, it seems to have grown a reputation for being outdated and old-fashioned, not to mention expensive (especially if it is really beautiful). I was lucky enough to be in Paris in May last year. I was merrily walking along when I found myself on Rue de Mail. I was overcome with joy when I realised the entire street was filled with fabric shops. I seriously thought I had died and gone to heaven. The display window of one shop particularly caught my eye. There is nothing outdated or old-fashioned about either of these...

Display window at Declerq Passementiers

Declerq Passementiers

But as beautiful as I think these are I would be too scared to have them in my home and most certainly would want to frame that blanket rather than use it! Yet, we can still have our cake and eat it too (see, I'm keeping with the Versailles them :) ). The pieces we work on need to be useable. So what works in our busy lives where all we really want to do is plonk down on a lovely chair or sofa with a nice cuppa? Well, there are a number of different options.

All of my students at Hessian & Twine know that I am partial to a little double piping. I think it looks neat and elegant.

Double piping on a headboard
 And it is versatile. It can also be made on the straight of the fabric for an interesting contrast (and to save on fabric).

Double piping made on the straight for a chaise lounge

I do know though that double piping is not for everyone (or every chair). Another option is flat piping as seen here on Sarah's modern chair with white gimp pins.

Or studs are quite a popular choice.
Modern yellow fabric with piping and studs {via Pinterest}
As is pleating in the same fabric for a skirt. Very elegant indeed.
{via Pinterest}

The pleating on the skirt can take the place of bullion fringe, although it too can look fabulous on the right piece...
Ottoman with bullion fringing (and chairs with stud) {via}

Most of the major fabric houses design passementerie or trim each season with their new collection of fabrics. No exception is Nina Campbell and Osborne and Little

As with anything in this wonderful world of upholstery, we are only limited by our imagination (ok, and our wallets). I leave you with some more inspiration.


Pink gingham and fringe {via Pinterest}

Pleats and a flat trim {via Pinterest}
Piping and baubles {via}

Friday, 9 January 2015


After a lovely Christmas and New Year break I am very excited that upholstery classes at Hessian & Twine are starting again. Tomorrow is the first of the Saturday workshops and the Tuesday evening and Friday morning classes start next week.** There are some spaces left so if you are interested please do send me an email. I am looking forward to seeing my students and meeting the new students who have signed up. I can't wait to see the projects my students will be working on in 2015 and the beautiful fabrics that will be chosen to cover them. Katie Finch at Griffin Interiors has the new Colefax and Fowler and Jane Churchill collections in stock if you are looking for some inspiration.

New season fabric books at Griffin Interiors

Some photos below to inspire you also...

Florals and stripes (from Ben Pentreath, London)

Chair and a headboard (from Instagram)

Mix-matched dining chairs (from
Pretty green and white for Spring (from Instagram)
Happy upholstering!

** If you are interested in upholstery classes during the day on a Tuesday or Wednesday please visit Jan Donley Upholstery.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A change in blog direction - Hessian & Twine

Duck House started out as a record of our house renovations and quickly descended into a painstaking review of how slowly things were progressing. The renovations were not moving as quickly as I expected - the actual parts of the building that was occurring were all infrastructure and quite frankly all a bit boring. I wasn't that concerned with how the cables should lie in the roof... My attention was well and truly attuned to the interior decoration side of the renovation. This focus was aided and abetted by my hobby of upholstery. I started learning upholstery eight years ago and fell in love with the way a chair could be transformed with skill and a beautiful fabric. I was addicted. Through a series of events my hobby of upholstery has turned into my business,  Hessian & Twine. Please visit the website where you can find the full story. So, as the guilt rose about my lack of posting on Duck House and my interest in sharing my love of all things upholstery increased too I decided to make some changes to my blog with the start of 2015. I will still try to document our renovation process and the (many) lessons we are learning while at the same time moving the focus to the interiors side and incorporating a little more Hessian & Twine (note the change to the blog title). I hope you enjoy this new(ish) blog and I look forward to hearing from you.


Before and after of some old dining chairs.
Completely transformed with a splash of paint and some Pierre Frey fabric!