Much of the demands for upholstery with flair during the 17th Century was attributed to the growing demand during that era among the wealthy who wanted luxurious furniture in their homes with high-end fabrics and padding. Feathers, animal hair such as wool and horse, sawdust, and grass was among what was used for filling. Here, The Upholstery Workshop take us through the history of furniture padding.
The fibre is made from palm grass leaves that are shredded by a machine before being sun-dried in the open. The production of Algerian fibre can take a couple of months. Once dried, the palm grass strands are then twisted and fashioned into ropes. The stands lose their natural green colour and turn black during the drying process. The drying also sterilises them getting rid of any bugs such as mites that may be hidden in the fibres. Algerian fibre is one of the top choices for upholstery because it is robust and resilient, maintaining these qualities for an extended period.
Curly Black Fibre
Curly black fibre is made from the fibres found between the outer skin and the inner shell of a coconut. It is treated to enhance its spring, flexibility and strength. It is one of the primary material used in the manufacture of mattress, brushes, and rugs. Curly black fibre is a readily available material highly praised for its dexterity hence why it is a preference over Algerian fibre when it comes to stuffing.
Alva marina, made from seaweed found along the Baltic coast as well as the French south coast, was once the high-end filling of the 17th century and a popular choice of the Victorians. But the seaweed reign was quick and short because it would harden when dried and become brittle, breaking into tiny flakes. As such, it lost its place in the upholstery market.
Down feathers, milled feathers and well as the curled and chopped feathers are among the top picks for upholstery. The down type is from swans, duck and goose (but it is no longer obtained from swans since they are a protected species). The down feathers are very soft and are locked benefit the outer layer of feathers. It is the softness of down feathers that makes them a popular pudding material in most of the top grade quality furniture over the centuries.
Mill puff was used during the 18th century as a filler for bedding and various upholstery and this continued for some time even with the introduction of cotton wool of an inferior grade that is still produced in Australia, Europe and the United States. The production process starts will the picking and collection of the cotton balls that are taken to a gin for separation of the fibres and the seeds. The fibres at this stage can be used for spinning as the seeds move on to be processed in an oil mill where they are cleaned and any short fibres removed. Afterwards, the seeds are crushed, and oil is extracted from them in a linter hence the name cotton linter.
Teased cotton develops a layer when starch is sprayed over the cotton; the layer is a kind of skin that bonds the fibres together; the process is called skin wadding. It is used for the production of a topping for other filling products such as open (lined) horse hair and calico. The layer is remarkably strong and acts as a protective shield that prevents the hairs from protruding yet creating a soft and comfortable cover.
The carding and cross-layering of fibres such as coir or horse hair onto a light hessian based material that is then passed through a needling machine. The equipment has many sharp barbed needles that are intricately spaced and aligned in rows. The needles run up and down forcing the horse hairs or coir through the hessian fabric when they press down and then release the strands when they move up. The motion results in a hessian fabric with horse hairs or coir only on the underside. The procedure is used in the production of some bedding and is also used in some upholstery. It is a time-efficient option favoured by most upholstering specialists over the stuffing materials that quickly become loose fillings. The interlaced padding is often placed over spring units due to its robustness.