Fabric & Leather Repair

People frequently ask us how to repair cosmetic damage in furniture. There's no easy answer. It depends on a couple of things: how do you want the item to look after the repair and how long do you want the repair to last.

colored tapeIf the repair is temporary or strictly for functional purposes, a few strips of colored cloth or vinyl tape is a popular fix. Of course, the brand of tape, its adhesive properties, the location of the tear and the fabric color make a big difference.

superglueOne thing is certain: at some point, the tape will tear or its adhensive will go bad. Then you'll have to "repair the repair". Removing old tape can further damage your furniture. We don't recommend this approach.

If the damaged section is tiny and the fabric edges are still in good shape, you can try Super Glue or Gorilla Glue; pull the fabric edges together, then apply a bead of glue. A strip of tape may be necessary to hold the fabric edges together as the glue dries. When done correctly, this sort of do-it-yourself repair works fine if you're not concerned with appearance.

vinyl repair kitThose vinyl repair kits and leather repair kits you sometimes see advertised on late night TV promise perfection, but rarely deliver. Using a repair kit requires a keen eye for detail and an artist's touch. Not only do you have to match the color of the damaged section, you have to properly mix the chemicals and then apply the correct texture before the substance dries. In many cases, the texture options provided in the kit won't match the damaged section. Colors can be problematic, as well. They can fade, wear off or simply go bad.

As a practical mater, it's just about impossible to repair anything other than a very small tear with a repair kit. The repair may hold, but we've never seen one that looks right. This is how one product reviewer describes working with a repair kit, "I'm not sure what I expected, I guess too much, or perhaps this just delivers too little. Its basically like fixing your leather with painted duct tape that has better stick than actual duct tape".

repair torn furnitureYou can also repair a small tear by stitching the fabric together with an upholstery needle and thread. This approach works if you don't mind your sofa looking like a darned sock or Frankenstein's forehead.

After decades of doing this sort of thing, we believe there's only one truly effectively way to repair damaged furniture. You have to replace the entire section of fabric surrounding the tear (left). Often times we can find fabric identical to the original material, which makes color and texture matching a breeze, unless the furniture is sun bleached. If you care about the appearance and durability of your furniture, this is the best way to go.

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Flamboyant Fabrics

When upholstering furniture bound for the glitzy Côte d'Azur, you do things a little differently.

One of our customers recently sent us an exceptional collection of furniture, including an early 19th century chaise lounge, to be upholstered and then shipped to Monaco. If the pieces were being upholstered for a Seattle home, we might have recommended more toned-down fabrics. But, this furniture was destined for the south of France where flamboyant colors and Byzantine furniture fit right in.

Small Stools
Fabrics Used For Project
Large Stool
Large Stool
Upholstered Bench
Upholstered Bench
Antique Chaise Lounge
Antique Chaise Lounge
Embroidered Fabric For Sette
slip cover
Slip Cover

The project took several days to complete. As you can see, everything turned out great. Fabrics used for the slip cover and settee posed the only significant challenge. Brightly colored, embroidered fabrics such as "Spain #76J6041" and "Spain #53J6041" by JF Fabrics are typically used for pillows, seatbacks and other accessories. Maintaining fabric alignment while matching an intricate pattern across the entire settee is literally impossible. Fortunately, the rich bullion braid covered many of visible seams, minimizing alignment issues.

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Diamond Tufting Antique Chair

You'll often find decorative diamond tufting in fine antique furniture. When restoring one of these chairs or sofas, we're careful to match the tufting pattern with materials that mimic the original look. For this project we're using a durable eggplant-colored microfiber. The fabric's thick, old fashioned pile is perfect for tufting.

Tufting needs to be done carefully or results can be disastrous. Begin by measuring precisely. The primary row of buttons should be centered near the midpoint of the seat. Divide the seat length by the number of rows. Use the resulting number to evenly space the rows. The one closest to the midpoint will serve as the primary row.

Space the button holes -- in this case five -- evenly across the primary row. Repeat the process for each row.

preparing foam for tufting
Buttons Holes Properly Aligned
finger-sized hole
Finger-Sized Button Hole
dacron wrap
Dacron Wrap To Soften Seat
aligning fabric with hole
Smoothing Pleats

This chair's tufting pattern is a little tricky because the button count on each row alternates between odd and even numbers. This is when high school geometry finally serves a purpose! We draw a series of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines on the foam to make sure each button hole is positioned properly. After the button holes are measured and drilled, we wrap the seat in Dacron to enhance softness. Then we fabricate buttons to match the material and begin the actual tufting process.

sliding buttons into place
Threading Button
setting button
Setting Button
anchoring buttons under seat
Anchoring Buttons Under Seat
tufted chair

Eggplant Velvet
United Fabrics
$53.90 YardUnited Fabrics Marathon-33-Eggplant

Drape an oversize layer of fabric over the foam. Using a finger or pencil, push the fabric covering the first hole all the way down. Align and smooth the resulting pleats. Repeat the process in the holes beside, above and below the first one. These four holes form a diamond shape. Dress-up the pleats, then thread the buttons.

Using a long tapestry needle and heavy coat thread, pull each button into place. Anchor the thread to clumps of durable cotton batting beneath the deck. Make sure the buttons are set to the same depth.

The tufting process sounds straightforward, but getting it right requires experience and a feel for fabric, foam and furniture. Diamond tufting is not for the faint of heart.

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Repairing a Champion's Blanket

arabian horseThe Arabian horse is one of the oldest and most recognizable breeds in the world. Relatively small and refined, Arabians are prized for their intelligence, agility and temperament. They compete in all sorts of equestrian events, including walks, trots, canters and long distance riding.

Quilted blankets are often awarded to winning horses. These distinctively embroidered blankets are treasured by riders and horse owners. When a North Seattle owner recently discovered her championship blanket shredded by rats (below left) she was horrified.

Tossing the blanket was out of the question, so she brought it to us.

damaged horse blanket
Damaged Championship Blanket
patched horse blanket
Blanket With Patches

Canvas Navy
by Sunbrella
$45 YardSunbrella #5439-0000

After fixing the damaged Dacron padding, we suggested two repair options: 1) restore the blanket to its original condition by replacing each of the damaged panels with matching fabric, or 2) limit repairs to damaged areas. The customer chose option number two.

Selecting the proper fabric to patch the damaged areas was pretty straightforward. The color had to match the blanket and the fabric had to be heavy-duty. Canvas Navy, manufactured by Sunbrella, turned-out to be the perfect choice. Despite the difference in texture between the two fabrics, the patches blend well with the blanket (above right). And full restoration is always an option down the road.

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Custom-Designed Headboard

Traditional headboards go in-and-out of style. Today, they're making a comeback.

A headboard is typically coupled to the side rails of a bedframe, allowing the bed and headboard to move together. This custom-made headboard (below) is engineered for a different purpose -- to fit inside an alcove specifically built for a queen-size headboard. Instead of being connected to the bed, this headboard will attach directly to the wall.

wooden headboard frame
Custom Headboard Frame
foam padding
Scrim Covers Foam Padding
corner application
Scrim Rolled Over Top
Scrim & Dacron Covers Base

Before designing it, the contractor consulted with us. We recommended covering the surface with two-inches of polyurethane padding. With that in mind, he built a two-inch gutter to accomodate the foam. After fitting the foam, we draped a pink, quarter-inch scrim over the facing then added a Dacron wrap for softness. This resulted in a smooth, seamless surface on which to fasten the fabric.

sizing foam
Sizing Fabric
padded headboard corner
Fitting Top Corner
Stapling Fabric To Base
Attaching Fabric To Base
fabric attached
Fabric Aligned

The fabric is a blended weave selected to match room decor. We're careful to align it so the pattern angles-up around the edges. Since the headboard fits snugly inside the alcove, the sides won't be seen. Even though they're not visible, we sew snug corners all the way around to keep the fabric from wrinkling. When finished, the headboard is a fine addition to an elegant bedroom.

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Vintage Husky Tailgater

Aladdin Travel Trailers, originally built in Oregon from 1963 through 1969, were King of the Road in the sixties and seventies, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Most were built to be affordable, using relatively inexpensive materials and manufacturing techniques. Owners were sometimes called "Tin Can Tourists". For obvious reasons, you don't see many of these 50-year-old trailers on the road anymore. Most are either long gone or in pretty bad shape.

This vintage Aladdin from Omak was all but abandoned when J.E., a University of Washington alumnus, had a brainstorm -- transform the old thing into a state-of-the-art tailgater for Husky Football games. What a great idea!

Vintage Aladdin Travel Trailer
Vintage Aladdin Travel Trailer
Dining Nook
Dining Nook
Bright Fabrics
Fun Fabrics
Husky Purple Pillows
Husky Purple Pillows
Sleeping Loft
Sleeping Loft
Bright Fabrics
Fun Fabrics

by Duralee
$55 YardDuralee Fabrics #20879-204

It took lots of elbow grease to get the old Aladdin back together, not to mention roadworthy. By the time it reached the parking lot of our shop, it looked fresh off the production line! Well, maybe not that good...but, J.E. had done an excellent job renovating it.

With the trailer back in shape, it was time for new upholstery.

Instead of restoring the interior upholstery to its original look, she decided to have a little fun. Husky Purple -- in a nice assortment of prints, solids, and faux alligator leather -- was a must. Add in some eye-candy green and blue and you end up with a tailgater even author Ken Kesey might have envied. Then again, who cares about Kesey? He went to the University of Oregon.

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Upholstering Cupped Surfaces

One of the more challenging tasks in our craft is upholstering a concave or extremely cupped surface. It's not the sort of project we see every day, but when furniture with a severely rounded surface does come through our door, Upholstery Seattle takes special care to upholster it properly. This curved restaurant booth is a great example of how its done.

pre-cut foam
Pre-Cut Foam Pad
fabric for crown
Fabric For Cushion Top
sewing crown
Sewing Sections In Place
attaching fabric
Sliding Fabric Over Foam

The first thing we do is order a specially shaped slab of polyurethane foam. It's pre-cut to match the foam it replaces. There's little room for error, so we measure carefully and work closely with our foam suppliers. When the foam arrives, we turn our attention to the critical piece of fabric on a concave surface, the cushion top. This section is cut to precisely match the curve in the foam. If it's not just right, the fabric will pucker and wrinkle.

Using the curved fabric as an anchor, we sew the other sections in place, then slip the upholstery over the foam like a glove.

gap over cupped surface
Gap Over Cupped Surface
tugging fabric
Tugging Fabric
steaming wrinkles
Steaming Wrinkles
sunning fabric
Tightening Fabric In Sun

by Spradling
$45 YardSpradling WHI-2121

As you can see, the fit is a little loose at first. There's also a big gap between the fabric and the cupped surface (bottom row, left). This is where years of experience counts. We tug the upholstery so it's flush with the foam, then staple it to the base. This has to be done with just the right amount of tension; too much and the fabric tears, not enough and it wrinkles.

A judicious application of steam erases all but the tiniest flaws. After steaming the fabric, we bake it under the afternoon sun for a couple of hours. This shrinks the gap between the fabric and foam resulting in a perfect fit.

In the end, the restaraunt booth turns out just right!

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Powered Recliner

You may think the recliner was invented by the same guy who dreamed up the TV remote control and pull top beer can. The concept actually goes all the way back to 19th Century France and Emperor Napoleon III. Early recliner designs were loosely based on the chaise lounge, another French invention.

old motorized recliner
Old Powered Recliner
lift mechanism
Recliner Lift Mechanism
massage unit
Recliner Massage Unit

If Napoleon III was alive today, he'd probably demand a powered recliner with all the bells and whistles; something like this motorized recliner equipped with a built in heater, a mechanical massager and a control panel worthy of the Starship Enterprise.

recliner stripped to frame
Stripped to Frame
control box
Control Box
reupholstered power recliner

by Charlotte
$40 YardCharlotte Fabrics #6877

This top-of-the-line powered recliner retails for roughly $5000. With that much money invested in comfort, you don't want to cut corners on upholstery.

As you can see, everything but the kitchen sink is built into this thing. The chair weighs more than an NFL linebacker. Moving it takes plenty of manpower, but the hardest part comes when we get inside the shop. Before reupholstering the recliner, we have to literally take it apart. Carefully dissasembling all the mechanical and electronic parts takes nearly a day.

After stripping everything off, we reupholster the recliner in a heavy duty Acrylic/Polyester Chenille. The foam is in good shape; all it needs is a Dacron wrap and we're done.

A few hours to reinstall the mechanical bells and whistles, and the powered recliner is out the door looking better than ever.

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