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Upholstery is the work of providing furniture, especially seats, with padding, springs, webbing, and fabric or leather covers. The word upholstery comes from the Middle English word upholder, which referred to a tradesman who held up his goods. The term is equally applicable to domestic, automobile, airplane and boat furniture. A person who works with upholstery is called an upholsterer; an apprentice upholsterer is sometimes called an outsider or trimmer. Traditional upholstery uses materials like coil springs (post-1850), animal hair (horse, hog and cow), coir, straw and hay, hessians, linen scrims, wadding, etc., and is done by hand, building each layer up. In contrast, modern upholsterers employ synthetic materials like dacron and vinyl, serpentine springs, and so on.
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An automotive upholsterer, also known as a trimmer, coachtrimmer or motor trimmer, shares many of the skills required in upholstery, in addition to being able to work with carpet.
The term coachtrimmer derives from the days when car frames were produced by manufacturers and delivered to coachbuilders to add a car body and interior trimmings. Trimmers would produce soft furnishings, carpets, soft tops and roof linings often to order to customer specifications. Later, trim shops were often an in-house part of the production line as the production process was broken down into smaller parts manageable by semi-skilled labor.
Many automotive trimmers now work either in automotive design or with aftermarket trim shops carrying out repairs, restorations or conversions for customers directly. A few high-quality motor car manufacturers still employ trimmers, for example, Aston Martin.
This is the type of upholstery work offered to businesses. Examples would be restaurant seating consisting of booth seats, dining room chairs, bar stools, etc. Also churches, including but not limited to pews and chairs for the congregation, hospitals and clinics consisting of medical tables, chiropractic tables, dental chairs, etc. Also common to this type of upholstery would be lobby and waiting-area seating. Upholstered walls are found in some retail premises.
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Marine upholstery differs in that one has to consider dampness, sunlight and hard usage.
Stainless-steel hardware such as staples, screws must be used for a quality job that will last. Any wood used must be of marine quality.
Usually a high-resiliency, high-density plastic foam with a thin film of plastic over it is used to keep out water that might get by the seams. Closed-cell foam is used on smaller cushions which can double as flotation devices. Dacron thread must be used in any sewing work. Zippers should be of nylon.
Upholder is an archaic term used for 'upholsterer' in the past, although it appears to have a connotation of repairing furniture rather than creating new upholstered pieces from scratch (c.f. cobbler vs. cordwainer).
In 18th-century London, upholders frequently served as interior decorators responsible for all aspects of a room's decor. These individuals were members of the Worshipful Company of Upholders, whose traditional role, prior to the 18th century, was to provide upholstery and textiles and the fittings for funerals. In the great London furniture-making partnerships of the 18th century, a cabinet-maker usually paired with an upholder: Vile and Cobb, Ince and Mayhew, Chippendale and Rannie or Haig.
In the USA, Grand Rapids, Michigan is a centre for furniture manufacture, and many of the best upholsterers can still be found there. These craftsmen continue to create or recreate many antique and modern pieces of furniture.
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- Chalk (upholsterer's chalk or tailor's chalk)
- Needle guards
- Rubber mallet
- Sewing machine
- Staple gun
- Staple knocker (staple puller)
- Upholstery hammer
- Upholstery needles (round point curved needles and button needles)
- Upholstery regulator
- Webbing stretcher
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- Partridge, Eric (New ed of 4 Revised ed edition (5 Sep 1977)). Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. Routledtge. p. 3633. ISBN 978-0-415-05077-7.
- James, Upholstery, p.13