Dolls House Upholstery in Miniature Part 4 - Cotton Fabric & Buttoning

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30 May 2012
imports_HAC_main-photo-1-_02002.jpg Dolls House Upholstery in Miniature Part 4 - Cotton Fabric & Buttoning
Very useful techniques on building and finishing a lovely Victorian button backed nursing chair in 1/12th scale for the dolls house nursery or bedroom. ...
Dolls House Upholstery in Miniature Part 4 - Cotton Fabric & Buttoning Images

The hand craft of upholstery continued to prosper into the 19th century and construction techniques stayed the same until the 1830's when coiled springs were invented for use in upholstered furniture and machines began to replace hand labour. Machine introduction was slow, and even with the aid of mechanisation, hand work continued to be used for certain processes.

Upholstered furniture styles changed and cushions became deeper and bulkier to accommodate the new coiled springs. Legs became shorter to account for the raised level of the seat.

With mass production after the mid 19th century, home furnishings became much more affordable. Voluptuous and highly embellished upholstery was popular as it was believed it gave the appearance of wealth. The Victorians loved thick and strongly coloured fabrics with ornate trims.

The upholstered technique of deep buttoning was also fashionable with buttons sewn through deep padding at regular intervals and fastened tightly at the back to form a diamond shaped pattern on the front.

The nursing chair we are making here without arms, was also known as a ladies chair, as previously the absence of arms allowed ladies wearing voluminous skirts to sit down without danger of creasing. Sewing chairs were also similar in style and design. This button backed nursing chair has been upholstered in cotton fabric. I recommend you use either a plain or printed fabric which doesn't need the pattern matching when it is joined up.


To create buttoning in miniature you will need to make a template from thin card or paper, the same size as the back of the chair and mark out a symmetrical and evenly spaced pattern for the button positions. The template is then positioned behind the wadding and fabric. Using a needle, you take cotton thread through the card at marked points and make a small stitch back through, creating a buttoned effect. This technique is not quite as effective in miniature upholstery as it is in full size, and could be remedied by using thicker wadding; however, using thicker wadding on the back of furniture can unbalance the scale of the piece. Choosing a contrasting coloured thread can further accentuate the buttoning.

Materials Required

From 3/16" thick obechi wood:

  • 1-7/8" x 1-5/8" for base

From 1/8" thick obechi wood:

  • 2-1/8" x 1-1/2" for back


From 1/16" thick obechi wood:

  • 1-7/8" x 1-5/8" for cushion


From 3/16" x 3/16" square obechi strip wood

  • 2 x 1-1/8" lengths for back legs


Also Required:

  • 2 x 3/16" square white wood spindles for front legs
  • 2-1/8" x 1-1/2" piece of white card for buttoning
  • 2-7/8" x 1-15/32" piece of white card for back tidy
  • Cotton fabric - approx. 7" x 5"
  • Wadding, 270g weight, approx. 4" x 2"
  • Cotton sewing thread
  • 7" x 1/2" length of micropore tape
  • Tacky Glue
  • Sanding paper & Emery Board
  • Masking tape
  • Mahogany wood stain
  • Beeswax polish (or varnish)


Step 1

  • Take the cushion piece and cut to the shape shown in the photo below. It is now slightly wider at the front than the back.
  • Dimensions are 1-1/2" at the back, 1-5/8" each side edge, and 1-7/8" at the front.
  • Repeat with the base piece.
  • From the base piece only, cut out 3/16" squares from each corner (see 2nd photo below).
  • Cut first against the grain, then with the grain to avoid splitting the wood.



Step 2

  • Position the two pieces together. Do not glue them together!
  • Sand the short edges (back edge) on each to a slight angle which will allow the back of the chair to recline at a later stage.
  • Mark the edges of each wood piece with a small arrow to indicate the top of each piece.



Step 3

  • Take the back legs and sand each end to an angle of 75 degrees.
  • Tape the legs together with masking tape to ensure that they are sanded to the same angles. (See 1st photo below)
  • Cut the two spindles to 1-18" long.
  • Any style of spindle may be used provided it has a square section to fit into the top of the construction.
  • Cut these so that there is a neat finish to the bottom of the leg, leaving some portion of square at the top.


Step 4

  • Stain the legs and the underside of the base piece with mahogany wood stain.
  • Once dry, polish with beeswax polish.
  • Slightly angle the cut out sections at the back of the base piece using a small file or narrow emery board for the back legs.
  • It is important to keep dry fitting the back legs until the angles tally. (See the first photo below)
  • Position and glue the legs int othe cut out sections on the base.
  • Once dry, sand the tops of the legs so they are completely level with the top and side edges of the base piece.
  • Avoid sanding any pieces which will be on show - or you will have to re-stain and wax these areas.



Step 5

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  • Secure some wadding on top of the cushion piece.
  • Leave a 3/16" gap at the back of the cushion without wadding.
  • Trim to size.
  • Ensure it is placed on the correct side by referring to the arrows on the edge you drew earlier.
  • Cut a piece of fabric to measure about 3" x 3".
  • Place the cushion wadding side down on the underside of the fabric.
  • Roughly trim off the corners.



  • Glue the fabric to the wood behind the wadding.
  • Glue the opposite edges of the fabric neatly to the underside of the wood.
  • Allow a little tension without flattening the wadding.
  • Make sure the corners are neat by folding the fabric to the sides of the cushion before gluing the remaining fabric to the underside of the wood.
  • Position and glue the cushion on top of the leg construction and leave to dry.



Step 6

  • Creat your own buttoning template.
  • Or use this diagram below.

  • Place a piece of wadding on the opposite side of the card template and lightly glue in place.
  • Trim the wadding to the same size as the card.
  • Position a piece of fabric about 2-1/2" x 3" right side down with the wadding/card centrally on top.
  • Double thread a needle, and insert it through the central point on the card.
  • Make a tiny stitch on the front and pull the thread back through the card, and knot the thread.
  • Continue diagonally stitching over each mark, without knotting the thread.
  • Continue in a diagonal motion, taking care not to pull the thread too tight.
  • Secure the last stitch with a knot and a blob of glue on the back of the card.



  • Position and glue the back wood piece to the buttoning card.
  • Fold and glue the excess fabric to the back of the wood.
  • Ensure the fabric is folded neatly in the corners.


Step 7

  • Run a line of glue along the bottom edge of the back.
  • position on top of the cushion at the back.
  • Lay down flat whilst the glue starts to dry.
  • Before the glue fully dries, stand the chair and recline the back slightly.
  • Rest this against something to hold the position until the glue fully dries.


Step 8

  • Cut a piece of fabric 7" x 13/16".
  • Stick a length of micropore tape along the centre.
  • Fold 1/4" of fabric over widthways and lightly glue.
  • Repeat with the other side to make a strip measureing 5/16" wide.


  • Position the fabric trim around the outside edge of the base.
  • The bottom edge should be flush with the underside of the base piece.
  • Secure to the front, then bring round the sides and glue in place, with the ends round the back.



Step 9

  • Finally, take the back card tidy.
  • Cut a piece of fabric to measure 3-1/4" x 2-3/4".
  • Cover the back card tidy with fabric, WITHOUT wadding.
  • Secure the fabric neatly to the back of the card.
  • Position and glue to the back of the chair.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 5

Part 6 (Coming Soon)

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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