Deadlines: A Re-post from Kate’s Art Site

Kate has a site where she posts about her art journaling.
Of course, our work is often a subject… This is from her post at  dkatiepowellart.

Deadlines are stressful, and partly it is because of my age;
I am simply not as young as I used to be, and when hand stitching an item like the sofa,
my arthritic hands feel it, as I am going through several layers of thick gimp and silk.

Thankfully I get to stitch side-by-side with Mitchell;
we stitched together at opposite ends of the sofa.
We listened to Michelle Obama’s autobiography, read by her!
(A great read, and having little to do with her life as first lady.)

I thought you might like to see the real thing this time…
The actual antique sofa below, and earlier sketches.

It is wonderful to have this visual remembering!

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Hunzinger “Lollipop” Chair

Our armchair, affectionately known as the “lollipop” chair, was made circa 1880.  George Jakob Hunzinger (born 1835 in Tuttingen, Germany), was a progressive designer out of New York who was often influenced in his designs by machinery.  This is a family piece.

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The chair needed re-upholstery,
as the seat was failing.
Our clients chose a leather
similar to the original leather,
which our client remembered.

There were issues with
the mortise and tenons at
all four leg stiles, front and back.

As is often done,
previous upholsterers
and repair people had
“made do” in their repairs,
using screws and and nailing
through tenons instead of
creating a proper repair.

EXCAVATION, a Slow Strip!

As always, we begin with a deliberate slow excavation.
Excavations are often rushed by inexperienced upholsterers,
but there is so much to be gleaned from paying attention
to everything as you take apart each layer.

The chair is turned upside down: webbing is removed,
and the springs are set free to bounce!

“The underside of a chair is often neglected
because it is the least seen and therefore often taken for granted!
It’s importance, of course, is
the foundation for support and comfort of the sitter, but it is also, from the standpoint of the engineer, the focal point for the distribution of load.
Springs had not been used in chairs more than a few decades
before Hunzinger built his chair and the introduction of
their buoyant properties revolutionized upholstery!  The introduction of springs to upholstery frames created a stress dynamic which most designers and upholsterers now take for granted, and those stresses from lateral motion of the spring under tension impact the way a frame performs, especially if careful thought has not been taken to include bracing: the frame must withstand the stresses.

Notice how modest the depth of the seat apron is
relative to the actual height of the coil spring.
The springs are four times the height of the seat frame!
Their coiled energy was expertly compressed within the modest seat frame,
attached between basket woven jute webbing and linen lashing cord. 
This technique added comfort and versatility to objects created
for both an aristocratic class and a now burgeoning “middle” economic class
who desired both grace and comfort.   This chair has given 150 years of comfort
and is just now begging for attention. Now it is important to make
thoughtful repairs to this modest frame so it can withstand another century,
or more, of spring compression through daily sittings”  ~Mitchell

From the top, the current show cover is removed to expose the previous
show cover, a woven coral cotton-rayon from the early 20th century.

The “second stuffing” (term used in the industry) cotton topper and hair are lifted.
The hair is carefully vacuumed through a filter.
Most of the fiber will be reused when the re-upholstery is performed.

The primary seat stuffing foundation’s flax-straw pod stitching is released,
and the fiber pod is carefully set aside for conservation.

The canvas dust membrane which covers the jute webbing is vacuumed;
we find more information about the chair’s history.
Bits of green fiber beneath tack heads and embedded in the stuffings
show at least one previous show cover.

“Modern upholsterers used inappropriately large tacks,
which are seen next to the smaller tack, and this is a common mistake. 
The entire frame is also peppered with too many holes.
If not properly repaired, they will in time make upholstering impossible
without causing catastrophic damage to the frame.” ~Mitchell

The last bits, the springs, are dangling from the frame.
We measure and set aside.

The frame is ready for reparation, next post.

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Written by Kate Powell  ©MPF Conservation.
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.

Posted in antiques, art, chair, conservation techniques, decorative motifs, Interim Report, preservation, process, reparation, restoration techniques, upholstery, wooden objects | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Crown Chair, Ca 1955, Los Angeles

The chair was made in
Los Angeles, California,
by the father of our client.
He was an  upholsterer
at the Crown Company
in downtown lalaland.

All the innards were
cleaned and restored exactly
as they were originally.
The new showcover
is reminiscent of the
original fabric from 1955.

The original fabric was intact; MPFC salvaged some from the outside back of it to make pillows for our client, allowing a bit of the history to be played out in the conservation.

 ©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use,
Feel free to share but please refer to our blog.

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A Folding Journal of an MPFC Project

Guest post from Kate’s Art Blog, dkatiepowellart.

I don’t enter many competitions, but the Sketching Work competition
for the Centre for Transformative Work Design out of Perth AU was easy for me
as I sketch our lives and work quite a lot, and was thrilled
to create a pen + ink + watercolor folded journal.

I kind of didn’t want to send it; the images were sweet.
I have never had an entry returned, but thankfully, when I lost,
they did the honorable thing and returned it!

The winning entries are lovely!

The point of the competition was to tell the story of a workplace,
what it did and what made it a joyful place to work… Instead of assuming I knew,
I took Mitchell seriously as a subject and interviewed him.

The interview was sent separately, and is below:

Mitchell and I work together in our conservation firm,
MPF Conservation. 
Mitchell bought his brother-in-law’s upholstery shop at 23. Fascinated with traditional forms (unlike his brother-
in-law), he hired skilled European traditional journeymen to amend his training. Several men trained him to become the conservator of museum antiquities he is today. 
It was really fun interviewing Mitchell; some of the answers surprised me!

“I love uncovering ingenious historical fiber filled structural forms (sofas + chairs). I enjoy taking soft materials (hair, cotton, coir) and turning them into structural elements with proper flex, comfort, and decorative beauty. A bit like making a cake!”

“I love that each project is completely different; unusual objects walk in the door all the time! I work on a mid-century modern piece one month and a 200-year-old piece the next, tassels and fringe one week and a leather bellow the next.”

“Sometimes I wish I occasionally worked with other talented upholsterers for the camaraderie and swapping skills. It can be lonely working every day by oneself. Having the shop cats, good friends, keeps my heart happy. It is a perk of owning the business. They can’t always be in the studio — they are banned when we have  museum projects, or if a client is allergic or if the show-cover is silk, though they have their nails trimmed weekly.”

* We are often in different rooms, and they are well-trained. *

“While projects last from 3-8 weeks, in each phase I’m doing something different. Woodworking, tailoring, hand-stitching, upholstering, and traditional finishes. The job is physically demanding, standing long hours, pulling heavy threads, hand-stitching, moving furniture, so as I get older, it can be taxing, but it also keeps me in shape!”

“Throwaway furniture has changed the demand for our skills, which means we must be competitive to obtain projects. “Average” folks don’t know that today’s “expensive” furniture is still shortly destined for the landfill. They don’t realize a lovely restored old sofa is less expensive than many they will buy & toss out within 2 decades! Our throwaway society has also made it difficult to obtain proper supplies in the USA; items are bought from France, Germany & England.”

“My most memorable project was conserving the Flemish Sofa that resides in the Hearst Castle Library. The most challenging was the first time I conserved an original mid-century Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen ca. 1960… An engineering feat!”

(Flemish Sofa and Egg Chair!  Guess I better sketch them soon!)

I am sending you to my page of the competition but warning you that unfortunately
the scanning process for my competition entry was incorrect.
If you look at other’s work know that this may be so for them as well!
The colors on this page are accurate.

I love my entry; I  wish I’d won.  Our journal now lives on in the reception area!

By the way, Kate is available
for hire as an artist! 

Do you have an event or
keepsake or place you want sketched?

To hear about classes, follow me on Facebook
or check out my new, improved

Posted in antiques, chair, conservation techniques, French Furniture, preservation, process, restoration techniques, tools, traditional varnishes, upholstery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thursday Throwback: A Family of Lawsons Graces the Farm

This is our continuing Throwback series where we post items
that were in our studio before we had the blog.

Grandpa’s Lawsons are born again for an orchard in Southern Oregon;
Grandpa was on hand for delivery day, and even had the first sit!

From dilapidated to stunning.  Excavated to the frames; frames refitted as necessary.
All interior buildup was conserved.  Coil-Spring backs and seat decks, and spring core cushion — which by the way, are the most comfortable cushions ever built!
Traditional upholsterers and conservators restore and preserve the interior buildup,
which is a much better “sit.”  Most upholsterers do not know how to do this work:
they remove the original buildup and re-stuff seats and backs with foam.
This causes early breakdown of internals and is not nearly as comfy!

BTW, the ottoman both have fitted washable coverlets on them —
this is a working farm, and dirty boots are not uncommon!

The original fabric was intact, though if you sat on them you felt as if you would
hit the floor!  The grown-up kids wanted to freshen the look entirely.

 ©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use,
Feel free to share but please refer to our blog.

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Ode to the Upholsterer, Reprise

W00 HOOKERS COUCHHe’s stuffed a chair on every street,
or hassocks on which to put your feet.
A fainting couch for Ms Récamier,
looking Grecian but really fey.

W02 EGG AFTER 5 MPFCA modern Egg for Madmen there,
Took ten thousand hand stitches to be fair;
An Eastlake love seat whose threads were bare
Was given new life, it’s only fair!


Mattresses made of coir and hair
His long needle made them square,
And before he bought his trusted Pfaff,
He had to keep a larger staff.

W13 EASTLAKE SOFABED AFT 4MPFCYou take for granted what you see,
But behind the saddle, the sofa, the seat,
Is a person who understands upholstery,
Who has a flair for passementerie!


Tassels thrill him with delight,
and not the ones that twirl in the night,
An unusual man I’ve got as my mate
Because he talks of gimp when on a date!

Real upholsterers still spit tacks
And use hide glue to mend frame’s cracks
He knows that biscuits make tufted backs,
His best friend’s are puppies and cats!

Upholstery conservators are a dying breed
The old skills falling out of fashion
But when you’ve sent new sofas to the dump
And you’ve paid a yen for the uncomfortable lump,
The foam’s collapsed, and left a lump,
And your family’s in a frump.
His trade will again be a needed deed,
And he’ll come racing on his white steed
Or you’ll be stuck in your cheap contraption.

For those of you who dare think twice
Who doubt his worth
Who’ll send them into dearth
It’s your buns who’ll pay the price!

~ by Kate and Mitchell Powell

American Antebellum Sofa

American Antebellum Sofa

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use ONLY,
not for use on blogs without permission.

Posted in antiques, chair, conservation techniques, funny funny, process, restoration techniques, tailor, upholstery | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Fu Dogs Treatment

Our client brought his small carved wooden guardian dogs to us for treatment.

Pairs of Chinese guardian lion statues are decorative, symbolic elements at the entrances to structures in many Asian countries.  Each is different, and should come in. pairs,
one sitting on each side of an entrance.  Simplistically, the male leans his paw
upon a ball representing power or supremacy over the worldly manifestations, while
the female often has her paw on a cub representing nurture.  They are yang to yin.

The term “Fu” may be a transliteration to 佛, pinyin: fó or 福, pinyin: fú, which means Buddha or prosperity.  In Asia they are seldom referred to as “dogs”, but are considered Lion statues, as lions are protectors of Dharma, or the sacred teachings. Having owned Chow-chows, and wondering about lions in China, I always assumed they depicted Chows dogs, who are fierce protectors of their families and were used as warrior dogs.

The small statues were quit dirty, having never been cleaned to his knowledge.
Kate began cleaning all the tiny crevices with cotton swabs.  Dust, followed by embedded grime probably from normal household environments, was loosened and removed.

We then coated the wooden statues with a blend of warmed waxes and resins.

Between each coat they were allowed to thoroughly dry under warm lights.

Each statues lovely carvings and personality brightened.
The original finish was enhanced and protected, not refinished.

©MPF Conservation
May be printed for your own use ONLY, not for use on blogs without permission.

Posted in antiques, art, conservation techniques, decorative motifs, preservation, process, reparation, restoration techniques, shellac, traditional varnishes, waxes, wooden objects | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments