Upholstery 101 - Intro, History & More

The technical description of Upholstery is - the process of covering furniture or other items with fabric, leather, or other materials to provide a new look, added comfort, or to repair or restore the item.

Which is great to know, but that doesn't really explain much about the When's, Why's and How to go about learning the trade skill of of Upholstery. Lets talk a little bit about the history of upholstery and then get in to the here and now.


Early Origins of Upholstery 

The art of upholstery has a long history that dates back to ancient times. The earliest known examples of upholstered furniture are from ancient Egypt, where chairs and beds were often adorned with intricate carvings and covered with richly colored fabrics.

During the Middle Ages, upholstery became more prevalent in Europe, particularly in France and England. Upholstered furniture became a symbol of wealth and status, and was often commissioned by nobility and royalty.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution led to the mass production of furniture, which made upholstery more affordable and accessible to the general public. With the availability of new materials and technologies, such as coil springs and webbing, upholstery techniques evolved and became more refined.

Today, the art of upholstery continues to evolve, with contemporary designers and craftsmen using innovative materials and techniques to create unique and beautiful pieces of furniture.


How is Upholstery Taught

The teaching of upholstery has varied over time and across different cultures, but traditionally it has been taught through apprenticeship programs, where a skilled master upholsterer takes on an apprentice and teaches them the trade over a period of several years.

In an apprenticeship program, the apprentice would learn the practical skills of the trade by working alongside the master upholsterer. They would learn the basics of measuring, cutting, and stitching fabric, as well as more advanced skills such as the use of specialized tools and the techniques for shaping and fitting foam, batting, and other cushioning materials.

In addition to learning practical skills, apprentices would also learn about the business side of upholstery, including how to estimate the cost of a job, how to interact with clients, and how to manage the administrative aspects of running an upholstery shop.

Today, upholstery is still taught through apprenticeship programs, as well as through vocational schools and community college programs that offer courses in furniture design, upholstery, and related fields. There are also online tutorials and instructional videos available that can help beginners learn the basics of upholstery.


Is an Apprenticeship the only option for learning UPHOLSTERY ? 

No.....No........ a thousand times NO! Apprenticeship can be a hot topic in some circles, but even if it is an unpopular opinion...

I feel strongly that an apprenticeship is NOT your only option for learning the trade of upholstery 

In this day and age there are countless ways people are able to learn any number of skills. YouTube alone has changed the education game when it comes to being "self-taught" Being a person who struggled with traditional forms of education, but also had a bottomless curiosity to learn new skills... I can vouch for the "you can learn anything if you work hard and put your mind to it" mentality. 

Here are a my top five "self-taught" avenues for learning the skill of Upholstery.

5 ways to start learning upholstery

  1. Read books on upholstery techniques and materials. I have a great list of some of my favorite books HERE
  2. Research online tutorials and courses on upholstery basics.
  3. Join a local upholstery class, workshop or classes through a community college
  4. Watch videos on upholstery techniques, tips and tutorials on YouTube.
  5. Join upholstery forums or online communities to connect with other students and teachers.


Steps & Skills Used in Upholstery
There's no ONE List of steps to follow for Upholstery projects because they will vary wildly from piece to piece. A wingback chair might have 30 steps, where as a dining chair with have 3 or 4, but I've made this list of skills & steps that are broad enough to help you understand what goes into an upholstery project. 

  1. Prep Work: Before diving in it's important to take before pictures, measurements of each area as well as notes about unique features or areas that will need special attention. Knowing what needs replacing ahead of time can help make the process go smoother. 
  2. Tear Down or Stripping a Piece: Once the prep work is finished you will need to remove the old fabric and possibly padding. Again it's important to go slow during this process, take addition pictures as needed and keep any sections in tact that will be needed for pattern making later on.
  3. Sewing: Basic sewing skills are important for creating fitted covers, patterned pieces, welt cord, box cushions and more. Knowing how to do some basic sewing on a sewing machine as well as hand sewing will be extremely helpful. 
  4. Stapling: Upholstery staples are used to secure the fabric to the frame of the item being upholstered. An electric or pneumatic staple gun is typically used for this task, but a hand driven staple gun can also be used.
  5. Adding padding: If the item you are upholstering needs extra cushioning, you may need to add foam or batting to the frame before attaching the final fabric.
  6. Finishing details: Once the fabric is attached, trim any excess fabric and add finishing touches such as decorative trim or buttons.


Remember that upholstery is a skill that requires practice and patience. Start with small projects and work your way up to larger items as you gain confidence in your abilities.  xoxo ~ Lindsey

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