A very brief history of upholstery
Meet Rachel Axnix, Needle Rock‘s new monthly blogger. Ali and Rachel became firm friends whilst learning the many skills of upholstery in Hereford, through the Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers. Rachel provides a much needed upholstery service in Bradford, West Yorkshire and as a new hobby is currently studying creative writing.
What a great opportunity to merge the two talents, as well as using Rachel’s background in history. Needle Rock are delighted to welcome Rachel as the new blogger to give you a monthly insight into the history of upholstered furniture.
What is ‘upholstery’? In a nutshell, it is where padding or stuffing is fixed to a hard surface to make it comfortable. People have made cushions to sit on since ancient times, but these were not attached onto the chair until much later. It is only in the last four hundred years that true upholstered furniture has developed, where the paddings are an integral part of the piece.
Seating was not the only use of upholstery, and the first upholsterers made tents, mattresses and coffins. In fact, they worked with all manner of textiles and household goods. Many surfaces can have upholstery on them: beds, tables and carriages, even walls and doors. Chairs were scarce before the 1650s. Only the most important would sit on a chair (or throne) with everyone else on stools or benches.
As western society changed, so did the upholstery. For example, ideas of equality from the 1600s onwards meant chairs became more common. Anyone could now sit on one! Industrialisation in the 1800s created a middle class who wanted the luxury of upholstery. Thus, mass production in factories began. In the 1900s, two world wars meant a lack of money and resources. As a result, countries needed quick, cheap furniture. This continued throughout the century with the ‘disposable society’ and the idea that we should throw away worn-out items and replace them with new.
Styles of upholstered furniture also changed with the times. Chairs without arms could accommodate the large skirt of a Victorian lady, for example. Arms and wings made chairs easier to relax in. People gained more leisure time, so their furniture became more and more comfortable.
Without doubt, upholstered furniture is here to stay. Who wants to sit on a hard chair to watch a film? Current concerns for the environment mean that more and more people are interested in reusing and repairing their furniture to keep it out of landfill and reduce their carbon footprint. This is especially good if you can use natural and sustainable resources. What a perfect reason to have your sofa reupholstered!