Upholstery and soft furnishings
The provision of furniture, especially seats, with padding, springs, webbing and textile or leather covers (upholstery), and the making of cushions, curtains and other soft furnishings.
This craft uses products derived from animals – please read our ethical sourcing statement.
|Historic area of significance||UK|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK|
Even though the craft of upholstery has been practiced since the Middle Ages (with some historians believing it originated from tent making), the beginnings of what we now view as modern traditional upholstery dates back to the Elizabethan Era, having originated between the late 16th and early 17th Century. The term describes the fabric furnishings which are applied particularly to the upper layers of the design.
While early upholsters were responsible for all aspects of interior design of rooms decor, their focus then shifted to soft furnishings of furniture (chairs, sofas, beds etc.), floor coverings (like rugs), mattresses, tapestries, car and boat interiors. Upholstery is still a popular craft in the UK, particularly associated with companies who offer reupholstering services and functions alongside carpet fitters and soft furnishing professionals.
Traditional upholstery uses solid wood or webbed platform, and it can involve the use of springs, lashings, stuffings of animal hair, feathers, grasses and coir, wools, hessians, scrims, bridle ties, stuffing ties, blind stitching, top stitching, flocks and wadding all built up by hand. Often, the outer layer of upholstery is patterned and embroidered for a special aesthetic effect. Currently, the material used most widely is Polyurethane foam. Because of the richness of the styles, techniques, materials used and variety of objects upholstered the craft operates a broad terminology such as tufting, buttoning or webbing.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Training issues: Skill shortages caused by lack of training and apprenticeships over last 25 years.
Training issues: Apathy of the educational system to teach vocational subjects, pushing children into meaningless degrees when they should be entering a craft.
Training issues/funding issues: Lack of funding and joined up policy on apprentice training.
Craftspeople currently known
- The Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers has a list of members on its website.
- The Guild of Traditional Upholsterers also has a list of members on its website.
- The Wendy Shorter Interiors website also has a list of upholsterers and soft furnishers.
In 2018, the Worshipful Company of Upholders launched the Upholders’ Travel Bursary inviting applications from a wide variety of training, craft and heritage organisations relating to its traditional associated trades of upholstery, soft furnishings, funeral directing, furniture conservation and the bedding industry.