Restoration & Conservation

Nursing Chair Reupholstery

David demonstrates his years of experience with the reupholstery of a 19th century nursing chair.

In Reupholstery the old ways are often the best

When we talk about traditional upholstery methods in relation to reupholstery this chair sums it up.  Dated around 1860, mid-Victorian era, this nursing chair displays the upholstery methods of the time, many of which Peter Hall & Son still use today.

With reupholstery to approach the piece in the same manner it was made, by hand, using traditional upholstery methods.

Furniture makers and upholsterers used the materials that were available to them and in turn these materials shaped the design of furniture.  Take this nursing chair, for example, where the seat and back comprise several layers.  Straps or ‘webbing’ are tacked to the wooden frame, which is often made from beech, a hardwood that is resilient to tacks. Springs are strung on this webbing and held in place by a covering of canvas to form the base.  During the Victorian era and before, when horses were very common, horse hair was used as padding for upholstered furniture.  Despite the large numbers of horses, it was still an expensive commodity and so makers utilised other, more affordable materials where they could, to reduce prices and make more profit.

In this case, hay and straw have been used to form the next layer of cushioning followed by another layer of canvas.  Finally a layer of the expensive horse hair has been used as the top layer of filling to make a cushion with comfortable longevity.

Cotton flock has been applied between the horse hair and the top cover on the back to provide a softer rest for the sitter.  This was again a by-product of the cotton industry, which was in full force at the time.  The flock comprises leftovers from the spinning process and is swept up and rolled into sheets.  Its soft, warm properties make it ideal for use in upholstery

Finally the covering layer has been applied, in this case not original, yet in need of replacement.

Where antique items are concerned we try to conserve their history as much as possible. Rather than completely replacing the upholstery fill, David re-fitted the filling above new webbing and covered it with hessian.

More horse hair was added to plump up and shape the chair to give it its original form.

Shaping the Future

Using hay and horse hair as the filling often dictated the shape of the chairs of the time. The horse hair had to be supported by the covering fabric to maintain its shape. Concave curves were possible only by stitching in the fill to the webbing before covering. With the invention of modern foam, many more chair shapes became possible. Foam can be glued to a form to make complex shapes like the famous Egg Chair, which would have been far more difficult before.

To meet current safety regulations and to give a smoother surface for the covering fabric, a fire-retardant calico wrap is applied over an additional thin layer of horse hair for extra comfort.

David mapping out the covering fabric.

The cover is stapled to the frame rather than tacked. This helps to protect the frame as the shape and size of tacks would leave large holes and the frame would be irreparable. The small staples mean that this chair will last for many more generations.

Applying the back under-cover.


The edges are finished with matching lace known as gimp.

The edges are finished with matching lace known as gimp.

Finally the base fabric is applied.

Renewed and restored back in its home, this nursery chair will give the sitter a cosy place for many more years of restful reading and engaging conversation.

If you have a cherished piece that needs the care and attention that Peter Hall & Son can offer, why not get in touch and discuss it with our team?

Contact Us today

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