Upholstery is basically the fabric that is added to old furniture to make it look new or different.
Often the apparent age or period of a fabric-covered piece can be altered
just by changing the upholstery fabric. An example would be the relatively
square tuxedo-style sofa that has been common since the 1920s.
The basic style and shape have remained basically unchanged but the dust ruffle
has been in and out of style and floral pints have come and gone. There are two
ways that the fabric covering for stock furniture is normally altered. One is by
slipcovers and the second is by reupholstering. Both are common in theatre.
A slipcover is upholstery fabric which is tailored to fit a particular type
or piece of furniture. It is applied over the existing upholstery. Normally
slipcovers are used on fully upholstered furniture and not on pieces that have
wood exposed. They should be used only if the underlying fabric, padding, and frame
are in good condition. Since the existing upholstery material is left in place,
slipcovers can be used on borrowed furniture.
Removing the existing fabric covering and replacing it with new fabric is
what is involved in reupholstery. The existing fabric should be removed
carefully so that it can be used as a pattern
to cut the new material. Once the old fabric is removed, the padding, springs,
and webbing need to be inspected and repaired if necessary. The padding might
be horsehair, cotton batting, or urethane foam, it all depends upon the
age of the piece. Any damaged or compressed padding should be replaced, whenever
possible, with the same type of material. The padding should be covered with
muslin before the new upholstery fabric is applied. The muslin does three
things. It holds the padding in place, allows the upholstery fabric to move
freely without snagging the padding, and serves as a base for any future
Limited experience in a scene shop
Gillette, J. Michael. Theatrical Design and Production. 4th ed. Mountain View: Mayfield, 1999.