Category: Upholstery techniques

Picking the right upholstery fabric

Picking the right upholstery fabric can be a daunting process, but it should be seen as a fun opportunity to express your own taste. When picking the right fabric there are a number of elements that need to be considered with upholstery. The fabric needs to be more durable than the standard dress fabric, ideally with a rub test of 30,000 or more. The other key point is fire retardant, I’ll cover these points in more detail later in this post.

The fabric choice can transform the furniture piece, so it is worth contemplating what fabric would best suit the piece. When choosing a patterned fabric a large print would be more suitable for a large piece of furniture as the print can be lost on smaller items.

If choosing striped fabric keep in mind that horizontal stripes create an illusion of widening and vertical stripes elongate the piece. In some cases this illusion can be applied to visually enhance a piece.

Plain fabrics can often be as effective in creating a dramatic finish but are often overlooked. It is worth considering a range of colours from complementing to contrasting. The intended use of the piece is important as if the intended use is for heavy use a durable fabric will be required, also worth noting that a long pile fabric may not be suitable as it will flatten over time.

picking the right upholstery fabric

1960s easy chair

Ideally you consider the piece of furniture and the desired look. Whether you want to stay true to the piece or create a completely different look. An example of this is the 1960’s easy chair previously mentioned on the website. I wanted to maintain the 1960’s feel so opted for a fabric that was reminiscent of the era. Choosing a yellow fabric with a slight warm tone to avoid an acidic appearance but keeping a brightness.

So have fun with picking the fabric, as having a piece of furniture upholstered is an opportunity to put your own stamp on a piece.


For those who require more information regarding abrasion test. I have created a quick outline:

Thread count refers to the number of threads in a square inch of a fabric. The higher the thread count the closer the weave is in the fabric. A thread count of 150 is considered low. For upholstery use a recommended thread count would be 400 to ensure durability. When working with deep buttoned furniture it is more desirable to use a fabric with a high thread count as it creates far better results.

A rub test confirms the durability of a fabric. A sample of the fabric is placed in a martindale machine and rubbed in a circular motion, the test ends when two threads break or there is a noticeable change in appearance. A guide for recommended uses based on a rub test are:

Decorative – less than 10,000 rubs

Light domestic – 10,000 to 15,000 rubs

General domestic – 15,000 to 25,000 rubs

Heavy duty domestic – 25,000 to 30,000 rubs

Commercial grade – 30,000 plus rubs

To ensure a durability to reupholstered furniture it is advisable to be cautious and recommend only fabric of 30,000 rubs plus unless it is a surface that is not going to come into contact with wear such as a back of a chair.

Colourfastness to light

Colourfastness test measure the colour permanence of a fabric when exposed to UV light. The test results are graded as follows:

Grade 5 – no fading

Grade 4 – slight fading

Grade 1 – a high degree of fading

For upholstery use it is recommended to use a fabric with a minimum grading of 4, irrelevant of the final use.

Flammability in compliance with The Furniture and Furnishings(Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (as amended in 1989 and 1993)


As a rule it is advisable that the chosen fabric is fit for purpose, has a rub test of 30,000 rubs plus, a thread count approximately 400 with a colour fade grade 4-5. In order to assure fire safety a barrier cloth is advised unless working with antique furniture and the requirement is to retain the historic process.

The benefit of traditional stitched upholstery

tradtional stitched upholstery


Traditional upholstery maintains a historic craft and a long standing tradition, to create a result that cannot be replicated with modern techniques. Unlike modern upholstery techniques, traditional upholstery utilises traditional materials and techniques to create the form of a piece. Using hair or coconut fibre encased in scrim as a filler. The material is then stitched to compress the filler to create firm rigid forms. The techniques provide comfort and avoids the need for wood blocks to create height and shape. The craft has been developed over years to ensure a technique that is durable and long standing.
There are various traditional techniques applied to upholstery to create a firm angled corner. Stephanie Harris Upholstery utilises a stitched corner to create a firm, well defined corner. The benefit of stitching a corner provides structural support to prolong the life and shape of a piece. The upholstery technique creates a firm base and guide for the stitches to follow.
The following stitches vary depending on the required shapes and results. There are a range of stitching techniques that are applied to sculpt the filling to the desired shape. Just like a sculptor the piece is transformed into a practical art form, with each stitch having a purpose.
Different stitches create various result, they are chosen depending on their purpose and use. A blind stitch or edge stitch creates additional support without compressing the top too much and at the same time creates a firm wall of support along the sides. Alternative stitches can create a firm wall along the side but also on the top surface. Creating a sturdy, firm foundation. Ideally suited for a seat to maintain the shape. Finishing the rows of stitching with a firm roll stitch, that is the defining skill of a traditional upholsterers technique. This stitch creates a firm roll along the edge to create a firm form, providing the support required to maintain the form. Ideally suited for firm crisp edges.
The final result is a piece that maintains a long standing tradition, comfort and durability. If well maintained the piece can be passed down through generations, creating a family heirloom.

The seven stages of a traditional upholstered sprung chair


Stephanie Harris upholstery specialise in the craft of a traditional upholstered chair, using time honoured techniques and materials,  to create a classic furniture piece that is durable and can even be passed through generations. The skilled process is time consuming and built up over stages.

original frame of a chairThe first stage stripes the chair back to its original skeleton frame. The frame restored to its original beauty to ensure a sturdy base for the upholstery. Each stage taking a respectful approach to the piece applying techniques in keeping with its age.

webbing and springs on a dining chairThe second stage applies webbing to the underside of the seat and springs stitched in place. The springs lashed and strung to the frame to ensure stability. Stephanie Harris upholstery provide the options of British and Continental lashing techniques based on the clients requirements.

To create the shape of the seat coconut fibre is sandwiched between tarpaulin and hessian. Alternative option of linen scrim and hair can be provided for the finer antique pieces. The filling is regulated to create the basic shape as the seat starts to take form. It is only when the upholstery stitches are applied that the defined shape is visible and becomes rigid. This third stage sculpts the seat into the tradtional stitched coir layerrequired shape echoing the form of the chair, using both British and Continental techniques.

hair and skin waddingThe fourth stage creates comfort by applying a hair layer. This layer is evenly regulated and held in place with stitches. To increase the comfort of the seat a fifth layer is applied over the hair using either cotton felt or skin wadding.

The sixth stage creates a barrier between the upholstered material and the top cover fabric. Barrier cloth is applied to create a smooth finish on the seat. A layer of dacron is applied before the seventh stage to reduce friction against the top fabric. The seventh stage is the application of the top cover fabric and any required trimmings.

stephanie harris upholstery sprung dining chairThe final result being a smooth, comfortable, durable piece that maintains a sense of history and craft.