At the start of the 17th century, more traditional upholstery began to appear. This is due to it being fashionable for the wealthy to have luxury items in their homes such as padded chairs. The padding in the chairs was actually stuffing and comprised of a number of basic materials including animal hair, grass, sawdust and feathers. Here, The Upholstery Workshop takes us through the history of furniture stuffing.
Algerian fibre is a type of stuffing which comes from palm grass leaves. The leaves will be shredded by a machine and then carefully dried by the sun. This is a process which can take a few months to complete. Once the fibres or strands are dry, they will be twisted to form ropes.
The natural colour of these fibres will be green, but it is often dyed black to sterilise it and remove the presence of a tiny mite which is commonly found in the fibre. Algerian fibre is a very strong material and will keep its resilience for a prolonged period of time.
Curly Black Fibre
A derivative of Coir Fibre which is found in the space between the outer skin and internal shell of the coconut, curly black fibre has been treated to create spring, strength and flexibility. This is generally used in doormats, mattresses and brushes. The availability and dexterity of this fibre have caused it to replace Algerian fibre as the first stuffing in upholstery.
Alva Marina is a type of seaweed which is found along the Baltic coast and the south coast of France. The Victorians were the first people to use this as a source of filling for upholstery. However, over time, the seaweed will dry and become brittle. It will then start to break into small flakes. This is one of the reasons why it is no longer used in commercial upholstery.
The feathers that are most commonly used in upholstery are down, chopped, milled and curled feathers. Down comes from geese, ducks and swans, but the latter is now a protected species. These feathers are the undercoating found under the outer feathers. Down used to be considered the best for upholstery because it is soft and it will commonly be found in top-grade furniture and cushions.
Mill Puff was a common filler for bedding and upholstery in the 18th century. Over time, inferior grades of cotton wool were used, but the name stayed the same. Cotton is produced across the United States, Europe and Australia. When the cotton is picked and collected, it will be processed and the first passing through the cotton gin separates the seed from the fibre.
At this stage, the cotton can be used for spinning and there is no wastage as the seeds will be passed through an oil mill then cleaned to remove any of the short fibres that remain. These fibres will be unsuitable for spinning and the seeds will be washed then crushed to extract the oils. The machine used for this process will be the linter.
When starch is sprayed on a layer of teased cotton, a skin will form over the cotton creating a bond which holds all of the fibres together. This is known as skin wadding. Skin wadding is most commonly used to top other upholstery fillings such as calico, open or lined with horse hair. Skin wadding is very strong and will protect the outer surface of the furniture from protruding hair. This will also create a soft and comfortable finish.
Interlaced Matting Or Padding
This filling is actually made from various materials including horse hair, coir and fibre which is carded and cross laid on a hessian base material. This will then be passed through a needling machine which gets its name from a large number of sharp barbed needles set in rows that it contains. The needles will move up and down to force the fibres through the hessian on the down strokes. The fibres will be released for the upstrokes so the underside of the Hessian is penetrated only.
This is a common type of filling which is found in bedding and in some types of upholstery. Many upholsterers favour this because it is time efficient. The strength and interlaced padding will also make it perfect for placement over spring units.