17 March 2012
Jane Harrop explains the process of upholstering miniature furniture with fabric, making and covering a classic Regency dolls house sofa in a sumptuous silk dupion. ...
The craft of upholstery prospered during the 18th century. Construction techniques for making the new styles and shapes of furniture were more or less the same, but methods used for upholstery were continually being improved.
Furniture was made to be practical as well as stylish and tended to be more comfortable. Chairs were made using a variety of designs for the backs and arms, and were completed with elegant shaped legs. Upholstery covers in the homes of the wealthy were magnificent. Silk and velvet fabrics were fashionable and were often brocaded with gold and silk threads. Needlework was also popular, and frequently other furniture like fire screens and stools were covered to match. Trimmings were regularly used to improve the shape of upholstered furniture.
Sofas were made from around 1690, but became more fashionable at the end of the 18th century, and were then regarded as one of the most important items of furniture. This well-known low backed form of seating remained popular throughout the 19th century, although designs became heavier as the century progressed.
Working with Silk Fabric
Silk is a natural material and once processed can be woven into a variety of fabrics. Silk dupion is probably the most widely available silk fabric and is produced in a wonderful range of colours. It is ideal for upholstering in miniature. The only drawback is its natural slub, which can give the fabric an uneven textured effect and cause slight colour variations. If you buy the fabric from a trader who specialises in selling fabrics for miniaturists, you will usually find they sell a smooth and good quality woven silk fabric. Small pattern silk brocades also work well when upholstering in miniature.
Here is an array of coloured silks available from The Silk Route
From 1/4" thick obechi wood
- 4-1/8" x 2" (base)
- 4-1/6"x 1-31/32" (for seat cushion)
From 1/8" thick obechi wood
- 4-1/8" x 2" (back)
- 2 x 2-1/8" x 2" (sides)
From 3/16" x 3/16" square mahogany strip wood
- 6 x 1-3/16" (legs)
- A4 thin white card
- Silk Fabric (approximately 12"x12" square)
- Wadding (approximately 13" x 3")
- 4-1/2" x 3/8" micropore tape
- Thick tacky glue
- Beeswax polish
- Mahogany wood stain
- Masking tape
- Fine and coarse grain sandpaper
- Cut a 3/16" x 3/16" section centrally out of the base piece on one long edge.
- Cut a 1/4" x 3/16" section centrally out of the back piece. See the photos below.
- On the 2 side pieces, shape as follows:
- Cut out 1/4" up and 3/16" across notches from the bottom two corners.
- Measure in 3/4" in from the top back of the side pieces.
- Measure 1" in from the top front of the side pieces 1/4" lower than the back.
- Angle the difference between the two lines.
- Cut the shape as indicated in the photo below.
- Put the two sides together and hold with masking tape.
- Very slightly round off the corners of the top shaped section to match. See photo below.
- Put the 2 sides and back piece on top of the card.
- Draw around the shapes individually leaving a gap around each one.
- Cut out these 3 pieces, and retain for later use.
- Back on the card, draw a horizontal line.
- Position the pieces next to each other on the line leaving a gap of 1/8" between each piece.
- Draw right round the entire shape - do not include the cut-out sections - leave the shape whole.
- Cut out the entire shape as one piece and retain for later.
- Take 4 of the legs and cut out a 1/4" x 1/16" section from each.
- You can taper the legs if you like with sandpaper at this stage.
- Polish or wax each of the 6 legs ready for step 6 below.
- Position and glue the side and back pieces to the OUTSIDE edge of the base piece.
- The cut out section is at the front of the base.
- The cut out section is at the bottom of the back.
- Make sure all the outside edges are flush.
- Stain the underside with mahogany wood stain to match the colour of the legs.
- Slot and glue the legs into place.
- Ensure that the front middle leg is flush with the base piece.
- Take the cushion wood piece and gently round one long edge.
- On the underside draw an arrow pointing towards the rounded edge.
- Lightly smear the side without the arrow with glue.
- Cut and position the wadding to the same size as the wood.
- Lay the cushion wadding side down on the fabric.
- Cut out a piece that is about 1" larger all the way around.
- Make sure the grain of the fabric is running straight and in the same direction for all your pieces.
- Roughly trim the corners of the fabric.
- Glue the opposite edges neatly to the underside of the wood.
- Allow a little tension without flattening the wadding.
- Turn over and make neatly folded corners.
- Glue the remaining fabric to the underside of the wood.
- Always trim excess fabric from the underneath to avoid bulk.
- Take the 3 card pieces you made in Step 3 and trim to fit neatley inside the sofa.
- Measure and mark 1/4" up from the bottom edges of the pieces as shown.
- Glue a piece of wadding to each piece.
- Make sure the wadding does not go below the 1/4" line.
- Position the 2 pieces of side card on the silk with the bottom edge flush with the template.
- Leave 1/2" fabric around the rest of the template.
- Make sure both sides are a mirror image.
- Glue the fabric to the higher back part of the card template only. 2nd photo below.
- Glue the fabric carefully to the card below the wadding only.
- Take one side piece and position the neat folded edge into the corner of the sofa.
- Glue the card into place.
- Take the excess fabric on the front and top edges over the wood and secure neatly to the outside edge.
- Make sure you spread and glue the fabric out wider on the top corner to cover all the exposed wood.
- Repeat with the other side.
- Take the central back piece of card and check it fits. Trim if necessary.
- Place onto the fabric wadding side down as before with the long edge flush with the fabric at the bottom.
- Cut out allowing about 1/2" round the sides and top.
- Carefully glue the fabric to the card below the wadding.
- Fold and lightly glue the fabric to the card at either side, leaving the top fabric unattached.
- Position and glue the card into the sofa.
- Neatly take the remaining fabric over the back and secure at the back.
- Spread and glue the fabric out wider at the top corners to cover any exposed wood.
- Cut a piece of fabric 4-1/2" x 5/8".
- Stick a piece of micropore tape along the centre.
- Fold down 3/16" from the top and lightly glue.
- Repeat the procedure with the bottom, resulting in a strip that now measures 1/4" wide.
- Position and glue the fabric trim around the front edge of the sofa base.
- Overlap the ends around the sides of the sofa.
- Take the piece of card made at the end of step 3 above.
- Check the fit around the back of the sofa and trim to fit.
- Cut a piece of fabric larger than the card template all round by about 1/2".
- Cover the card with the fabric, this time with NO wadding.
- Glue the excess fabric neatly at the back/inside of the card.
- Position and glue around the outside of the sofa.
- Secure the cushion on top of the base ensuring that the arrow on the bottom faces forward.
- Before the glue dries, very gently ease the legs out at the back of the sofa to a slight angle.
This method can be used to upholster or re-upholster any piece of ready-made furniture.
Part 6 (Coming Soon)
Silk Fabric - Hazel Dowd - Tel: 01925 291667 - Website: www.hazel-dowd.co.uk
Silk Fabric - Little Trimmings - Tel: 0118 947 1100 - Website: www.littletrimmings.com
Printed Fabric with Historical Accuracy - Susan Bembridgge Designs - Tel: 01262 676951 - Website: www.susanbembridgedesigns.co.uk
This feature was originally published in Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine. If you like making miniatures, why not buy yourself a copy of the magazine. Or better still take out a subscription so you never miss an issue. For fans of Facebook and Twitter, or to email, print or comment on the feature, please use the buttons above to share with your friends.
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