Some furniture, such as state beds, may include furnishings from all three groups. Those items in group 1 may be independently considered by a textile conservator but those in groups 2 and 3 will almost certainly require liaison between conservators of textiles, upholstery and furniture.
Group 3, fixed furnishings, includes the widest range of structures and may be further grouped into simple structures and complex structures. Simple structures include cane, rush, woven, web or splint, cordage techniques and shallow fixed upholstered slings or platforms (see Figure 3.6). Simple structures may be supplemented with cushions. Complex structures include multiple layered upholstery using mixed materials such as hardware, loose filling (stuffing) material and the materials which encapsulate the fills (stuffing) within the structure, a top covering and trimmings. Four main types of upholstery seat structures are simple dome, stitched edge, sprung and pre-formed (see Figure 3.8).
For purposes of clarity, upholstered structures are normally described sequentially from the frame to the top surface. The first layer on a frame may be a web, a base fabric or a combination of the two to form a continuous surface upon which the rest of the upholstery is built. The last layer on a frame is usually called the top cover or the show cover (including trim if used). The layers between the base and the top are called fills and filling covers.
There may be a single fill, or multiple fills. Where there are several fillings these are usually encapsulated by a fabric which separates one from another. For simplicity, the fills are numbered from the frame. The first layer above the base is called the first fill and the fabric which covers this is called the first fill cover. It is rare to find more than three types of filling layers on a single unit. The layers may be shaped by ties or stitching (Figure 3.2). The layers closest to the frame are the firmest (for shape) while those closest to the user are the softest (for comfort). The final filling layer, called a skimmer layer, may be very thin.
Each layer within an upholstered structure has a function. The material chosen to fulfil that function may be selected because it best meets the needs of the function, e.g. ability to take up or resist shape deformation, because the material is traditionally used in that position or for economic reasons. Any of these considerations may apply to a given structure. It is entirely possible that a seat may be made out of best quality materials throughout but in reality qualities within an upholstered structure usually vary. Quality may be related to the material type (for example linen would be a more stable and more expensive choice for a filling cover than a jute product) or to the weight of the material (for example, closely woven jute would be more expensive than loosely woven jute).
An awareness of the qualities of upholstery materials should be developed so that informed judgements can be made about what lies between a top covering and base layer in an upholstered structure. However, one should avoid making assumptions. For example, although in conventional upholstery from a particular period it is common to find cotton fabrics as a layer directly below top coverings, this has not always been so. It is therefore only after examination that the names of specific materials should be ascribed to each layer within the structure.
For the purpose of explanation, it is convenient to describe seat construction but the same techniques are employed for arms and backs. The differences are marginal, usually being of horizontal or vertical plane and of strength of materials. For example, a sprung back is constructed in a similar way to a sprung seat but the tacks, web, springs and twine may all be of a lighter quality because they do not bear the same loads as a seat.
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