We sometimes get calls from customers who have questions about a project or repair, but aren’t quite sure how to explain what the problem is. With this in mind, we’re going to do a continuing theme of upholstery terms and products entitled “How to Talk to an Upholsterer”.
While the title suggests that you should be calling with rampant praise and flattery (and this does work!), our intention is to provide a sort of glossary to help our customers describe problems with their furniture.
This time we will be starting from the bottom: Webbing
When you look at the underside of most furniture what you see is a piece of black fabric. In antique pieces, this is often a sheer piece of black woven linen, which by this time is most likely very brittle and discolored. Cheaper furniture manufacturers will use a heat-bonded fibrous material in a black or dark grey. Most manufacturers use a lightweight black fabric similar to landscaping cloth, which is called ‘cambric’. Around the shop we tend to call it ‘bottom cloth’ or ‘dust cloth’, since its original purpose was to keep compacting cotton or burlap fibers from shaking out onto the floor beneath the furniture. Anymore, this product is intended to give a uniform look to the mostly unseen part of the furniture.
We’ve lost count of the number of calls we get with people having questions about “straps”. In our industry, straps are typically pieces of metal used to support coil springs, and not many pieces of furniture have straps. The correct term is ‘webbing’ and there are several kinds that are used in different types of furniture.
Jute webbing has been in use for over a century to support coil springs in seats and backs. It can also be used on its own to support cotton, horsehair, or foam padding in a chair seat. When the seat in your antique starts to sag, this is usually the culprit, as this product will become brittle and tear when it gets quite old or dry.
Callers who are requesting replacement “leather strapping” typically have mid-century furniture, and what they’re looking for is actually rubber or Pirelli webbing, which is made of natural rubber. This can be used on its own as a slightly springy seat, or suspension for cushions to sit on. It can be either brown or tan, and sometimes will have clips on the end that fit into a groove in the frame. As you can see from the picture, the straps lose their stretch when they age, and start to flake. Because it is made from natural rubber, Pirelli webbing is significantly more expensive than other types of webbing.
An alternative to Pirelli webbing is a product known as elastic webbing or Elastaband (brand name). This is a heavy-duty elastic, which is similar to the elastic found in garments, only thicker and less stretchy. There are two types: one is stretchier and intended for use in chair or sofa backs, the other is less stretchy and intended for seats. We see this product a lot in imported furniture, and as a replacement for the rubber webbing in larger projects, or pieces that have a thin profile that doesn’t allow for springs.
Now you know what to say when you call your friendly neighborhood upholsterer wanting to fix the webbing in your furniture.
Stay tuned for our next installment: Springs!