Morris Chair Upholstery

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Dear Group, Albeit, slightly OT, but does anyone out there have some experience and possibly words of advice, concerning supplying cushions for a Morris Chair? Talking to upholsterers, I'm probably looking at $300 minimun and WAY UP for the work. I would like to do a nice job on these, but not break the bank! What is the going rate for a couple of decent cushions? I don't even mind doing them in cloth instead of leather. As a complete neophyte in the upolstery arena, can I do this myself? Anyway,........you get the idea! Your own experiences? Wooden slats? Spring seat? Woven webbing? Any thoughts on the subject would be appreciated! Thank You, Michael
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Hi Michael, You are in luck. The recent edition of Woodsmith vol.26/ # 155 gives revised plans plus a plan for the upholstery. Actually the upholstery item is on line at Woodsmith's web site. Cheers, JG www.woodsmith.com mrmortise wrote:

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If you have the skill to build the chair then yes, you can upholster it yourself. But... you'll need an industrial sewing machine (the clutch and other internals will quickly be destroyed by doing this heavy work on a domestic use model) with a walking foot. After paying for a rebuild on my wife's machine I decided to get my machine out of storage or just hire the work out to a competitent upholsterer.
I have an on again/off again source for whole hides. I can do something the size of a Morris chair for less than $100 in materials but the colors are limited to overstock materials on first class airline seats. Right now the colors du jour are light blue and cream. Not the best selection.
BTW...$300 for a good job with leather cushions isn't at all bad. -Rick
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On 3 Nov 2004 22:57:40 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@verizon.net (mrmortise) wrote:
There's at least one professional upholsterer who has been known to read this group (Perry). I'd very much appreciate their comments.

What's a "Morris Chair" ? The Stickley #369 ? A reproduction of one of Morris', with traditional upholstery ?
$300 doesn't sound unexpected, if it's really the grade it claims to be. Upholstery is the meeting point of two expensive costs; high materials costs and large amounts of one-off skilled hand labour. In the 18th century, upholstery could be 3/4 of the total price of a finished piece. As a good commercial #369 lists for $2500 - 3000 these days, $300 doesn't sound all that bad ! (I appreciate this isn't an accurate comparison).
Do you have a breakdown of this price ? What were they offering, and how much was being spent on materials vs. work ?
Upholstery is getting rare these days. Cheap stuff is banged out by the truckload with huge production-line processes applied to it. Custom work is very much a niche market, and most of it's for re-fitting bars and commercial premises - lots of work in a big run, which is economic for a workshop to produce. A one-off chair done in a commercial workshop is going to soak you on price, no question and the upholsterer might still not be making sensible money on the deal, because of the one-off nature. You can improve this by being flexible to the upholsterer. Don't demand it that week, let them influence the materials choices (within limits).
For a Stickley Morris, you're talking about cheap work done on an expensive hide. There isn''t much to do, either just two loose cushions on a slatted base, or a cushion and a slip seat -- but the material quality is enormously visible and so you'll be spending top dollar for single large pieces of high quality leather.
Talk to your leather supplier. Tell them what you're doing. Selecting two excellent panels for the visible sides and two lesser panels for the back and sides can be a worthwhile saving - but make sure the colours match. Some people have made the back cushion invertable, "to equalise wear". This is a bad idea, IMHO - it's unnecessary, it needs top grade hides on both sides, and the wear patterns of the rerar slats will appear on the front.
Gustav Stickley wasn't an upholsterer. He got a bit wound up in his "Every man his own cabinetmaker" attitude and so his upholstery work was unadventurous, simplified and not especially comfortable. The original cushions for a Stickley Morris were a sprung slip seat in the base, and an envelope-sided bag for the back.
Slip seats are very traditional. Any book on upholstery restoration will tell you how to make one. It's a simple insert frame (usually beech or ash, with screwed half-laps). This is then filled with woven hessian webbing, coil springs are tied to the webbing and various layers of hessian, calico and soft paddings are laid over this and tacked in place. The materials aren't cheap, simply because there are so many layers, even good padding fibre is expensive, and the hand work needed to make it is pretty lengthy.
An alternative to the slip seat is to make a loose cushion and place it over a slatted base. This is how I'd probably do it (on a big recliner anyway). A slip seat is fine for an upright dining chair, but they don't work desperately well for deep seats on angles that you sink into.
The slatted base is crossways ash slats. For a chair these can be quite wide and the front and back slats should definitely be wide and butt against the front and back rails - otherwise the cushion can tend to bend down and be lost. The cushion itself is a simple foam slab, which is much cheaper than making a sprung seat. Use Dunlopillo natural latex rubber foam, if you're doing high grade work. Talk to your foam supplier (not just a small shop with no range) because it's crucial to use the right stiffness grade. You _can_ use good quality PU foam, so long as you get real upholstery chair-seat grade, but I can't claim to like this stuff. Many foam slabs are actually laminated (soft surfaces on a firm block), to control stiffness. For a #369 I'd think seriously about laminating a tapered strip of firm foam across the front edge, to better retain the shape.
The original back cushion was an envelope of hide, loose filled with a soft batting. These soon slump into an ugly bag. The real way to do it is to make an inner envelope of hessian, pack it with fibre and then stitch through from face to face to retain it in place. This can then be wrapped in batting and calico, before being slipped into the hide envelope. To avoid slumping, this should still be slip-stitiched into the top of the hide covering. The original cushions were held up by leather straps stitched into the side seam, then looped over the rear posts of the chair. If you extend these on the inside, then you can stitch a shoft length of webbing to them (before sewing them up) and this can be used to slip-stitch the inner bag to, after assembly. Some people favour a flap in the top seam of the cushion, held on the frame by press studs, as they're less obvious than the loops.
For comfort, I just wouldn't do this. I'd go with a latex foam slab. Done right, this will give less trouble with slumping and it's much easier to do it right.
The original cushions were envelopes, with a single side seam. I might well make a box seam, with a separate edge strip. I'd probably make a D cushion though, where the face and top edge were one piece, just to avoid a seam on the most prominent edge.
I wouldn't make authentic Stickley upholstery. Like so much of Gustav's work, he's just doing it wrong ! If you're the modern Stickley company, or you're doing completely accurate reproductions, then you may not have the choice. Latex foam is out of period ('20s to '60s) but it's still one of my favourite materials. Easy to work with, not too expensive, gives good results.
Fireproofing is an issue for upholstery. So long as you buy the materials through the right trade, then it's no problem to achieve the standards. You may need to note these though, and maybe attach the relevant labels.
For a Victorian-period Morris chair, then traditional upholstery is really the only option. You'll also have to search to find real covering materials. If these are authentic (tapestry isn't impossible) then they'll cost more than $300 alone, or else a chair might be constructed especially to display some material that has been made for it.
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"Andy Dingley" wrote in message

Unfortunately, the righteous hereabouts likely ran Perry off when her dog got sick and she accidentally xposted in desperation trying to find a remedy.
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Mea culpa 8-(
That's quite possibly my fault. I once worded something badly and she took great offence at it (entirely unintended)
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On 3 Nov 2004 22:57:40 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@verizon.net (mrmortise) calmly ranted:

Yes, if you can learn to do proper woodworking, you should be able to learn proper upholstery, too. When I heard "$700-1,000" for cushions, I had an easy decision.

Slats are easiest and probably best for posture, webbing is softer, and I've heard that sinuous spring can be a real bitch.
For the price of a couple upholstery jobs, you could buy one of HF's brand new industrial sewing machines and tables, learn how, and do it yourself. I'm eyeing that option myself right now.
Alternatively, you could buy material off Ebay, buy cut foam pieces from http://www.foamrubber.com /, and have a local piece-worker sew the covers for you. I found a great upholstery book by W. Lloyd Gheen titled "Upholstery Techniques Illustrated" for $4 on www.half.com a while back. Look for that and "Upholstery: A Complete Course" by David James at your local library if you don't want to purchase them. I perused quite a few others and none had the clarity, range, or depth these two did, at least to me.
I found decent foam at Fred Meyers in a 30x72x3" size for $12.99 which will work for the backs. I need a thicker, firmer foam for the bottoms of the Craftsman couch I'll be building soon. I just signed up with a local (2-hr drive or free delivery on Wednesdays) wholesaler of upholstery materials in Eugene, OR. since I have a business, so I get better pricing for the things I can't find on Ebay or Yahoo. I buy rolls of thin foam, binding, nylon, and glue for my line of laptop glare guards now, so this will be an easy addition.
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On Thu, 04 Nov 2004 08:26:02 -0800, Larry Jaques

I'd second the recommendation for that book.
But sinuous springs on a Craftsman piece ! Wash your mouth out !
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On Thu, 04 Nov 2004 17:21:24 +0000, Andy Dingley

I preferred the Gheen book but James covered the frames a bit deeper if I recall.

Well, he asked. <g> I don't know if he wants a real copy or just a comfy chair.
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snipped-for-privacy@verizon.net (mrmortise) wrote in

I've taken a couple of upholstery classes at a local fabric shop. Both classes were taught by a professional upholsterer who was moonlighting. His approach was to have students bring in individual projects (the only limitation was that you had to be able to carry your project in yourself, e.g. no sofas). We got good one-on-one instruction because there is so much hand labor that he could teach you a technique and you'd stay busy for quite a while before you needed more help.
The best part (aside from learning enough to upholster a couple of chairs on my own at home) was that really trick parts were done by the instructor, whose philosophy was that it was better to have him do the hardest parts and have the student finish the project rather than having the student get frustrated and quit. Some students were obviously more advanced and he would gladly teach some of the more esoteric methods to those interested. For example, leather upholstery on a complex chair frame.
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My antique Morris chair that I am sitting in as I type, has coil springs in the base that are tyed, and covered over with webbing, and fabric over the webbing. The cushons are foam, covered with fabric, that I saved from another chair. I had a friend in the upnolstery business re-tie the springs, and do the webbing.
Cliff
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On 04 Nov 2004 21:50:03 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnospam (Over40pirate) wrote:

Is that Stickley upholstery ? Could I trouble you to ask how many springs they used ? (you can usually feel them from beneath).
It's hard to find accurate details of Stickley furniture in the UK. He's near unheard of, and it's rare to see examples, let alone get the chance to properly study them.
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The Morris chair has 9 conical coil springs under the seat . The bottoms of the springs are supported by metal straps that cross at the center spring, and are attached to the chair frame on the sides. Not sure what Stickley upholstery is, so I cant tell if it is or not. If anyone wants a picture of the springs etc. let me know. Have fun
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By the way, I tied my own springs and did all my own webbing. Did all of the work, in fact, except for a couple of tricky corner details on one project, which trained me enough to tackle them on the next.
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replying to Hitch, dbj wrote:

You tied your own metal springs to the base of the morris chair? HOW? A picture would be fantastic! Thanks. PS I realize that I'm on an archeological dig here. The comment I see is from 10 years ago.
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On Monday, January 12, 2015 at 7:44:03 PM UTC-6, dbj wrote:

I don't know what/how the foundation (wood base/framing) is for the seat of a Morris chair, and I've never upholstered a true Morris chair, but I'm pr esently upholstering a somewhat similar type chair (outdoor/patio, metal fr ame).
As with this outdoor furniture, I suppose a Morris chair has either a woode n base or a jute webbing base, that the springs rest on, are attached to. The springs are, then, tied to each other and to the base (or to the perim eter framing the jute webbing is attached to). These patio chairs have a 3/4" (treated) ply base.
Surely you realize we are speaking of tying coil springs, not K-arc (zigzag or "S" shaped) springs. Additionally, attaching coil springs to jute webb ing is done with Klinch-It fasteners (you'd need a Klinch-It tool).... It c an be done with hog ringers, but is kind of hard to do so; and they can be tied/attached with wire or twine, also. On my my chairs, I used wire and 1 /2" crown molding type staples to attach the coils to the ply.
I'll take pics later today.
Sonny
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replying to Sonny , dbj wrote:

Yes, the frame is oak and it had jute webbing long ago. There's a minimum of string holding the coils together, which are hefty. Heftier than other outdoor furniture redo's that I've seen, but maybe the tying part is the same principle. I think there was jute webbing on top and bottom of the coils-no plywood. We have a hog ringer, according to my husband. Can't wait to get going on these old beauties. I got 2 of them cheap at an auction for a winter project.
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On Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 4:44:03 PM UTC-6, dbj wrote:

There was probably jute webbing on the bottom, only. Burlap above the spri ngs.
Stretch your jute webbing, as tight as you can, across the span of the fram e, say front to back. Don't be affraid to stretch it really tight, as tig ht as you can. For left to right strands, weave the strands over & under t he front to back strands; Again, stretch the Lt to Rt webbing as tight as y ou can and attach to the frame.
You're going to have lots of difficulty attaching the springs with hog ring ers. You might want to use small paper clips (wires), hooked/looped throug h the jute webbing, over the spring coil, then back through the jute webbin g. Twist tie them. Tie each spring, to the jute webbing, at four points. Your coil springs likely has a large coil at the top and bottom of the spr ing unit. The pics I'll show has a large coil at the top and a small coil at the bottom.
My pics show 2 methods of tying: The 8 point tying method (preferred) and the 4 point method (not the preferred method, but works in a pinch). Also note, in the pics, between the coils, the twine is tied to crossing strands of twine, part of the fully tied configuration, fully 8 point tying at all possible tying points. Re: the first 4 pics on the opening page. The fi rst pic shows pretty much what your seat should look like before covering y our springs.
When tying your springs, tie them so that they are in a slightly compressed posture (slightly spring loaded). You don't want them to be fully extend ed and tied in that fully extended position.... but make sure they are not compressed too much, not compressed such that the seat contour looks disfig ured when it is upholstered. Does this make sense?
https://www.flickr.com/photos/43836144@N04/
Cover the top of the springs with burlap and attached the burlap edges to t he seat frame. *If it were my chairs, I would next add a layer of 1/4" fel t, just on the topside of the springs (not along the sides, if applicable), and hand stitch it (along the edges) to the burlap. Add cotton padding un til you can't feel the individual springs, then a layer of fiberfill (quilt type batting). Then you are ready for your upholstery.
Tying the springs: Pic 2 shows one end of the twine attached to the ply/fr ame, then it is draped over the springs, then there is 2' length of twine b eyond the edge of the spring unit. You'll need about 2 extra feet of twine for all the knots you tie, so that, after tying all the knots, you'll have a tag of twine for attaching to the other side of the wood/seat frame.
Any questions? Concerns?
Sonny
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My local community college almost always has an upholstery class listed in the catalog. I've been eyeing it for awhile and will sign up when my schedule allows.
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On Thu, 04 Nov 2004 22:26:10 -0800, Fly-by-Night CC

I've seen a lot of variation in the quality of upholstery classes. It's an expensive subject to teach (materials costs) and there's a tendency for the classes to be very low-end, just to keep their operating costs down. Even if you're prepared to pay for real materials, it can be limited by what's available.
One of the biggest problems for the part-time upholsterer these days is just finding the tools and materials. It's getting rare, even in big towns that were once noted for furniture making. www.jamilton.co.uk shows some promise for UK mail-order, but I haven't dealt with them myself (just waiting for my first order to arrive)
I didn't much like the Gheen book myself - seemed very stuck in 1950's styles. "Traditional" materials, but not accurate or detailed enough to cover high-end restoration work. The "modern materials" content was pretty low-end too - James has a better explanation of just what good foams could do, and how to choose them.
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