There is a story we have all probably heard several times about a man who drove down to the border into Mexico to get a bargain price on having his auto seats recovered. On the trip back he was smiling to himself at how much money he had saved over having the work done at his local upholstery shop. He was so pleased with himself that he didn't even mind the long wait at the boarder in the 100 degree heat for customs inspection. When it finally got to be his turn and he drove up to the inspection booth, the customs officer took one look at his car and asked What's wrong with your back seat mister? The man turns around to take a look. Before his very eyes the seat on his brand new upholstery job was caving in. When he got out of the car he noticed that the seat he had been setting in had also sunken in and was giving a new meaning to bucket seat. The customs officials insisted on tearing the seats apart. Out of the newly upholstered and stuffed seats they pulled out fresh cabbage leaves. Well they had been fresh that morning but they were pretty wilted by now, having cooked in the 100 degree weather for the last two hours.
This just goes to make a point that an upholsterer can use many different things for a stuffing material but not everything is going to hold up under usage. If there is any one area where our trade has been guilty of negligence , poor workmanship, cost cutting and in some cases fraud (as in the cabbage leaves ) it is in the improper use of padding materials. If we are to establish ourselves as craftsmen/craftspeople and professionals then we must learn more of the facts about the materials we use.
The skill of stuffing a piece of furniture used to be considered a craft in itself. The upholsterer working in a factory in the days of our great grandfathers would spend years learning the art of stuffing before he would go on to learn trimming ( working with fabrics) Stuffing involved thr /ee distinct functions and was described in terms of 1st Stuffing, 2nd Stuffing and 3rd Stuffing. The need for those thr /ee separate functions remains today but only the terminology has changed.
The 1st Stuffing refers to the insulator layer. It is installed immediately over the burlap that covers the seat springs and inside back springs. It was a densely packed layer that is there to absorb the cutting action of the springs and to protect the softer layers of padding above it. Edge rolls are another form of stuffed insulators. They are used to protect against the cutting action of frame edges and the spring edge wire on spring edge constructions.
The 2nd Stuffing is the body and shaping layer. It can be recognized because of it's bulk and resiliency. It's role is two fold, to provide comfort by adapting to the shape of the person sitting in the furniture and to give the furniture an attractive shape of it's own. It is this layer that the upholsterer sculpts the furniture into an existence. By changing the type and arrangement of the body and shaping layer, upholsterers are able to Diamond tuft one piece, Channel back the next and produce a third with a completely separate back pillow all in the same frame style.
The 3rd Stuffing is the layer of soft felted material ( traditionally cotton batting) that went on just before the fabric. It was there to make the furniture soft to the touch and to keep wrinkles out of the fabric. It's important to know how and where to use these thr /ee distinctly different categories of stuffing materials. Keep in mind that the main reason that mankind invented furniture was to have something more comfortable to sit on than the floor. The main reason for our existence as upholsterers is to use stuffing materials to make furniture comfortable to sit on. Too often we are more concerned with just making it look good. The skill of stuffing involves many aspects. For an example, by using more or less padding on the inside Backs, an upholsterer can change the measurement of the finished seat dept. this is one of the most critical measurements on a piece of furniture. If it's too short, the customer will feel like they are sitting on a narrow ledge and being pushed right off the front of the chair or sofa. If it's too long, there won't be proper support for their back. They will slump while sitting and end up with a backache. So it is not only important to know which stuffing material to use but how much as well.