Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Upholstery 101: Cushion Fill

Furniture cushions can be stuffed with latex or poly foam, Dacron, cotton, springs, wool, feather/down blends or a combination of any two or more of these products. At Michael's Custom Built Upholstery, we work with each client on an individual basis to determine what type of filling will best suit their needs. Our goal is to individualize our client's level of comfort to ensure that their furniture is as comfortable as possible for them.

• Poly/Down seats cushions have a foam core with an envelope of 25/75 down. The foam provides the support, the down provides the "awww" when you sit down. At Michael's we custom cut, sew and stuff each envelope for each individual piece of furniture. By using different thicknesses and densities of foam, we can customize the cushion for each client. We can also use a spring insert in place of the foam insert. This produces a cushion with a medium to firm density.
• 25/75 Down backs are a solid down cushion. At Michael's we custom cut, sew and stuff each back cushion for each individual piece of furniture. The cushions fillers are made from 100% cotton down proof ticking and include individually sewn baffles. The baffles keep the down in it's own section of the cushion providing even support throughout. This also helps to keep the cushions from looking soft or lumpy since the down is separated into areas of the cushion so it cannot settle at the bottom.  This enables us to make a cushion that provides the ultimate support and comfort at the same 

• Foam and Dacron seat cushion are a latex or poly foam with a wrap of Dacron batting. Foam is available in a variety of densities and thicknesses. Foam by itself looks hard and flat. At Michael's we use a wrap of Dacron or wool to take the hard edge off of the foam and to provide a bit of crown or belly to the cushion. The foam products can be expensive but are also easy to work with and do not require as much labor as a down cushion.
• Foam and Dacron back cushions are created in the same manner as a seat cushion using a softer density foam then one used for seat cushions.
• Dacron back cushions are created using a fabric casing that we cut and sew with baffles in the same manner as the down blend cushions. We stuff the casing with a cluster Dacron fiber. The cluster dacron resembles small soft snow balls. Similar to the down, we are able to adjust the density of the cushion by adjusting how much fiber is put into the cover. The cluster Dacron is a good alternative for down to people who have down allergies. The Dacron is also good for outdoor use since it does not mildew if it gets damp or wet.
At Michael's we never use the worst filling combinations but we do a lot of work with our clients fixing and replacing the fill in the cushions on their furniture. We see cheap foam, Dacron inserts with no separate cover, down blends of 5% feather and 95% down (lots of long quills-not very soft and resilient) and the worst combination of all, a combination of a down blend mixed with Dacron.
This Dacron/Feather blend is commonly sold as a "down upgrade" and what we find most unfortunate, is that the clients don't understand exactly what they've upgraded to, it just sounds good. What happens with this type of filling is that the Dacron clumps up, the feathers stick to the clumps and the whole cushion gets lumpy, bumpy and uncomfortable.

At Michael's you can be sure that we'll figure out what is in your cushions now and then help you decide what filling we should use to replace the old fill. We will work with you and your budget so that you go home with comfortable cushions made with quality products that will last years of regular use.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Furniture Upholstery 101: how to select an upholsterer

If you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area (where Michael's Custom Built Upholstery is located), here are some tips in selecting a furniture upholsterer.
When looking for a shop to reupholster your furniture, you want to find a business that you feel comfortable working with. Reupholstering your furniture can be a costly project and for most people, one that they're going to be living with for some time. 
First, I'd ask around. See if you can find a family member, neighbor or friend that has had upholstery work done locally. Ask at local fabric stores or a carpet and furniture cleaner to see if they have a shop they can refer you to. If you are still in the dark about what shop to use, here is what you should expect from a good reliable upholsterer:
• Ask for a quote in writing. Ask how long the job will take. Most pieces are in our shop for less then 3 weeks. I don't want to store furniture so we try to schedule our jobs carefully and get the pieces in and out as quickly as possible. Furniture that requires frame or spring repairs, all new filling or wood work may take a about a month.
• Ask to see some of their work. We have a large photo portfolio but we don't keep many pieces here in our shop on display. What we do have is ongoing projects in the shop. If you were to stop in, I could show you pieces that we haven't started, pieces that are being worked on as well as finished pieces waiting for delivery. We welcome our clients into our work area (not wandering freely because we have lots of sharp edges and all) but I take people back regularly and show them what we do. You should be able to really look closely at a piece of furniture to check out the craftsmanship.
• When you look at the finished furniture, you want to look for smooth seams, no unnecessary puckers, bumps or bulges. If there is a pattern (a stripe or a floral etc), the pattern should match on the front seam of the cushions, stripes should line up.
• Ask the shop if they remove all of the old fabric. Our shop removes the old fabric (sometimes multiple layers) and then we repad the frame with a layer of Dacron. If needed, we can entirely repad a piece, stripping all the way down to the frame. This is not usually necessary but if a piece has been damaged by water/mildew or pets then we strip away all of the old padding and start new from the frame. We also include wrapping the cushions with a layer of Dacron in our labor price
• Ask about spring reties and rewebbing. We reweb with jute webbing, going over the existing webbing. The springs are then hand tied from above. This involves peeling back the burlap and other padding on the seat deck area. This padding then has to be put back into place before the new fabric is put onto the furniture.
• There should be evidence in the shop of new filling (foam/Dacron/down). Some shops cut their own foam and make their own down inserts, other shops order their new fillers from an off site company. You should be able to see some new cushions. Ask to see samples of different types of fill. We have samples for our customers to test sit on. If they don't have samples handy, you should be allowed to try out different fillings on your sofa before you commit to one type.
Our shop is a bit unusual because we have an office staff with training in interior design. We help our clients select fabric, make style changes etc. Most upholstery shops are run by the owner/upholsterer and while they may be very good at what they do with your furniture, customer service may not be their strength. 
We do our work on site so that our clients can visit their furniture while it's being reupholstered. If we are repairing the springs on a chair of sofa, I will have the client come in to test sit cushion samples after the repair is finished.  Avoid businesses that are sending your furniture somewhere where you can't check in on it. You want to make sure that you can either talk directly to the person who will be working on your furniture or talk with someone who is managing the shop (most of my upholsterers were not born in the US) but if you speak Spanish or Mandarin, then you are welcome to speak directly with my upholsterers!