Attaching a show-stopping show cover: Minimally invasive upholstery in the Conservation Lab

Jul 27, 2017

Historic New England’s Thomas Wightman couch, which we reported on earlier here and here, is finally completed and ready for photography.

What is minimally invasive upholstery? Each time a piece is traditionally reupholstered, there are several rows of tacks that are used to attach each layer to the frame. Each upholstery campaign can leave up to four rows of upholstery tacks, eventually making the frame look more like Swiss cheese than woodwork. A minimally invasive upholstery technique minimizes the number of holes that are put into the frame by stapling a material to the frame to which the show cover is sewn. This allows for the piece to be reupholstered many times without adding new holes for each campaign.

Nomex on the frame.

Upholstery being stitched to the Nomex.

Because upholstery is a fine art in itself, Historic New England hires professionally trained upholsterers to undertake the final steps of upholstery. Diane Welebit of Barset Furnishings and Upholstery in Arlington, Vermont, has performed many upholstery treatments for Historic New England and completed the upholstery of the Wightman couch. She very graciously shared some images of how the show cover is attached to the frame, which you can see here.

First, Nomex – a stiff, inert material– is wrapped in natural, unbleached linen. Linen has excellent aging properties and is very strong, making it an ideal material for use in conservation. Once the Nomex is wrapped, it is stapled to the frame with stainless steel staples. Staples are used for two reasons: they are very strong despite making very small holes and the hole pattern they leave is easily identifiable as different from historic tack holes.

See the incredible finished product..