Buttoned back Chesterfield (my peace and calm)

The most interesting and exciting thing about my job is getting a sofa that looks like it should be on the tip. Then turning it into a thing of comfort and beauty. From the moment a piece of furniture comes through the door of the workshop I’m itching to get on with it. I always have a vision of how it will look when I complete it, and that is the thing that I will always strive to achieve.

So, in March I collected a beautiful chesterfield that looked like it had had a good life with many a tale to tell. Man, it was bad, rips and worn with springs sticking out. Now at the “upholstery doctors,” it got the kiss of life and a new bill of health for the next 100 years.

When you start stripping a sofa back to frame it is always a good idea to take note of the way it had been done before. In case there is something to learn or some amusing twist that you wouldn’t expect. I reckon this Chesterfield was reupholstered in the 70s or 80s. By a bloke (and yes it would have been back then) dressed as a clown. certainly, his upholstery made me laugh.

After a bit of a wrestle getting all the old covers and stuffing off, I got the sofa back to the frame. What a treat stood before me – an amazing frame, at least 100 years old. Not one loose joint and all in perfect condition. You would expect the need for some cramping and gluing of the frame. Not on this occasion, brilliant.

Now all upholsterers are different, but I always start on the back first. Webbing and springing a corner pocket spring and adding a caned arm edge. This all helps with the longevity of the upholstery of the sofa. It’s then onto the hessian and hair, there is a huge amount of stitching and working of the hair. Of all the things I do in my job, this is the part I love most, it can be so calming and relaxing. The finished result of a hand stitched edge is a thing of absolute beauty. It gives me the deepest sense of satisfaction.

Next is the skilful task of putting the fabric on the button back sofa. This is a time consuming job, requiring much patience. The deep buttoning process is called Van Dyking. The fabric is cut and joined under the pleats, making the join invisible. A Chesterfield will typically have two or three joins, depending on its size.

Writing about this makes me realise how difficult it is to convey the sheer amount of time this all takes. I usually allow ten working days for this kind of job. It’s rare that my day is less than ten hours. I’m not saying this for sympathy cos I love what I do, only to express how much time is involved here.

Once the fabric is on the back of the sofa, I can start on the seat. This involves more webbing and springing. Using heavy duty and larger seat springs. The seat front has an independently sprung edge. As the name suggests, which allows the front of the seat to move and give a good deal more comfort. After more hand stitching, the seat edges are ready for the final top stuffing.

we then place a white felt (soft padding) then fabric goes on the seat. no buttoning this time. Finally, the outside arms and back are put in place with supporting hessian.

There is a sense of huge satisfaction when completing a long job such as this its almost sad to say goodbye.