“Bishops Chair” Upholstery Conservation #5: Buildup + Upholstery + Finished!

 by DKP (Interviewing Mitchell)

The first step in upholstery conservation is inspecting all the existing parts previously excavated, and cleaning all reusable parts.  One of the things we like about this is that it supports a “green” business, part of our mission statement.  Less waste goes to the landfill, older innards were usually not treated with pesticides and so are healthier, and they sit better and last longer than many petroleum-based modern foams.

In the case of a piece that is in service, rather than a museum piece, the parts must be in working order.  In our German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860, many of the original innards were restored, and Mitchell simply added to the hair or Algerian to bring the piece back to appropriate loft or style.

Upholstery build-up began with new jute webbing applied in a basket-weave pattern to the repaired and finished frame.  The jute webbing shown below is a European jute styled closer to the traditional webbing, which was worn beyond its ability to be used in a functional piece.

The existing springs were in good condition, shown below.

Mitchell hnad-stitched the springs to the webbing using flax twine, in the same configuration originally used.

The springs were then tied in a double four way tie using waxed spring twine.  Below, the first course, running front to back, is installed.

The cross ties create the “four-way” tie, above.  Burlap covered the top of the springs to create a spring deck, and flax twine secured the springs to the deck, below.

The original seat pod, below, was placed back onto the spring deck as part of the fauteuil’s history.  The historic pod was hand blocked, below, then set aside while the buildup continued.


Mitchell topped the conserved spring deck with Algerian, a north African shredded palm leaf, which is traditionally twisted into hanks, above, after shredding by the maker, and then untwisted by Mitchell until its natural curl asserts itself, below.

Mitchell stitched the Algerian onto the seat deck with waxed twine, above.
The original Algerian filled pod is cleaned, and inspected, below; the damaged edgeroll was repaired.

The original pod is topped with burlap to ensure its preservation, tacked into the conserved frame, above, and hand-stitched into place using the same stitches originally used in the same configuration, below.

The seat deck is completed, and is flat, or devoid of a crown, which is the historic style for this chair.

Curled horsehair buildup begins, below, held in place with waxed twine.  Hair is hand-carded and applied slowly in a concise pattern, on top of the seat deck and along the sides.

Layers of old and new innards can be seen as a sandwich to create the sturdy restored seat.  The sandwich of old and new hair, Algerian, and burlap were ready for a deck topper.

100% organic 50/50 cotton was applied and feathered, above, then lightweight organic cotton broadcloth is used as a dust membrane, below.

The arms are rebuilt using the original pods, which were cleaned and repaired. New hair and Algerian was added to complete the arm buildup, below.

The buildup is complete, above, and ready for the new show cover.  Our clients chose a French Liseré fabric that was not historically accurate.  Traditionally, this style chair would have been upholstered in a tapestry with a solid linen or velvet outside back.  Mitchell carefully chose the presentation of the pattern motif and balanced the floral design, an important part of the upholstery process fine upholsterers are particular about.  Outside back, inside back, seat and arms are coordinated with the pattern presentation.

The outside back is upholstered, above.  The inside back buildup begins, below.

A cotton topper is placed onto the seat, above, between the seat deck and show cover, and the show cover is placed onto the seat, below.

The inside back buildup is completed, above, and the show cover is applied, below.

Nice side view, above.

A cotton topper is placed onto the arm pods, above, and the arm show covers are upholstered, below.

Not quite completed!  Gimp trim is carefully applied, below.

The bottom dustcover is tacked, and metal glides are placed onto the feet to protect the old wood in case it is dragged over a wooden floor.  The German Gothic Revival Fauteuil is completed, below

German Gothic Revival Fauteuil ca. 1860 After Treatment.

Fauteuil Front Stretcher, Fully Repaired.

Back of Fauteuil Front Stretcher, Fully Repaired.

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

About MPFConservation

We are a conservation and restoration firm located in the Pacific Northwest, specializing in objects: furniture, but also other objects; wood, stone or metal furniture or objects; lacquered and painted furniture or objects; traditional finishes on furniture or objects; quilts, beaded objects, and some textile reparation and interior architectural elements, such as leather or upholstered walls. When you think about conservation, equate it to restoring the furniture or object the best way possible for the history, life and value of the object. We are fully qualified to perform museum-tectbook treatments, but also flexible enough to work with private clients to allow for daily use of objects. We work West of the Rockies from Canada to Mexico, and once in a while venture beyond the West for specific treatments. Kate and Mitchell Powell are partners in work and in life; we each have our specialties in work and in our marriage. Mitchell is the cat charmer in both! To see our work visit our official website: http://www.mpfconservation.com
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2 Responses to “Bishops Chair” Upholstery Conservation #5: Buildup + Upholstery + Finished!

  1. …”curled horsehair buildup…held in place with waxed twine…” does Mitchell use a curved needle for this application? If so, how far into the buildup does he go in order to secure the horsehair?
    This looks like very hard wood – what kind of tacks and tool is used to secure all of the fabrics and how do you avoid tacking into already in place tacks in the various layers? What kind of tacks are used for the final gimp trim?
    I loved reading/seeing this! Wonderful although the fabric choice seems too light for the heaviness of the chair design, Nice result though. You rock Suzanne

    • Hi Suzanne! Asking Mitchell, as he is learning how to use the blog . . .
      No, 6-inch long light needle . . . and he goes in “a skoosh, just far enough.” Different sterilized tacks for different applications, and yes, he spits them, like all good bench-trained upholsterers, and uses a tack hammer — he has a few of them.
      On this piece they did not want exposed tacks, so he blind-tacked, hand-stitched and used craft glue (on a tack strip.)
      Fabric is not traditional — besides a tapestry, a velvet might have been used, and royal colors would have been nice. Occasionally, a woolen gross-point. Mitchell uncovered the original fibers, which were consistent with a tapestry on the front, and a velvet on the outside back.
      Wait until I get the repair and the finish pages up . . . amazing! You rock to Ms. W.

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