This week on YouTube, we’re starting the cushions for Aunt Bea (watch the video – don’t forget to like and subscribe!)
Rumor has it, back when Minneapolis VoTech had a degree program, the first thing students had to do was sit down and sew a cushion.
By which point, a certain percentage said forget it, I’ll just change majors.
If you’ve sewn a few cushions, in particular your FIRST few cushions, you can no doubt understand.
Learning to sew cushions is frustrating.
You’d swear the fabric is possessed, or the machine is, or both.
Your corners don’t line up, or the stitching shows, or both.
You rip out almost as many stitches as you put in.
You run over zippers. You run out of bobbin.
Isn’t upholstery fun?
Cushions are technically challenging, and a poorly sewn cushion is awfully hard to ignore.
But if you want to do furniture, you just can’t get around ’em: You gotta get up to speed.
When it comes to cushions, I’ve had the good fortune to be both student and teacher.
The patterning method I demonstrate on YouTube, I learned from Diana Shroyer-Guenther, current president of the PUAM. It’s one of the most valuable skills I’ve ever been taught – I hope you’ll find it valuable as well.
And I’ve helped a lot of students through a lot of different cushions.
It’s an interesting thing to teach, because there are so many styles, and every style has so many steps and every step is part of this big plan that doesn’t make sense to a new student, and there are so many common pitfalls, and every once in awhile, someone invents a brand new way to screw up, 6 hours into their cushion.
It’s a hot mess.
But it’s taught me a few things about simplifying the process.
When it came to cushion options for Aunt Bea, we decided to keep it simple, sweetie.
Still, it’s always good to understand your options – so let’s take a look at a few common cushion styles. . .
This is the style we chose for Aunt Bea, and personally, I think there’s a lot to love about it. From a teaching/learning standpoint, it’s the simplest to break down into clear steps. You still get all the important check points – make a zipper, pattern your deck, line up your centers, square up your corners, figure your insert proportions – but eliminating the welt takes one huge challenge out of the equation. Believe me, it’s easy enough to add it in there – EASIER, in fact – once you understand all those other objectives.
In addition, I like plain seam cushions in home with pets or kids – without a welt cord, the seam won’t collect dust, hair or crumbs. I have plain seam cushions on my kitchen booth, because my teenagers can’t get dinner from plate to mouth without showering the whole world in food.
And last but not least: Plain seam cushions require less time and material than their corded counterparts. When I have value sensitive clients looking at custom cushions, one of the first suggestions I’ll make (if they aren’t screaming in my face about the cost of upholstery) is to eliminate the welt cord. You can slightly reduce the labor and material involved and still get a professional quality cushion – just simpler. I mean really, what’s not to love?
Ah, the boxed/welted cushion, the DEFINITIVE cushion – this is the style that students and clients come looking for. It’s the most “professional,” the most tailored, the most recognizable cushion.
Featured a welt cord (sometimes called piping) around the top and bottom, this style is very crisp and structured.
It’s also harder than you think.
Professionals get really good at sewing these, and really fast, but getting everything straight and square takes loads of practice – especially if you start mixing in jolly fun like patterns to match or contrast welt (which, by the way, acts like a magnifying glass on the teeniest, tiniest, most insignificant of wobbles. I know it looks cute in your head, but chill out, because we’re working with fabric here, not a CAD program)
I heard somewhere that the welt cord protects the cushion top panel and boxing from wearing through. I don’t know if I buy the theory. Is it any better to have a ratty, shredded welt cord? And anyway, fabric technology has come a long way: Most of the fabrics I use will likely never “wear out” in a client’s home:
From the Greenhouse Blog:
(learn more from Greenhouse about abrasion ratings HERE)
But functional or not, boxed/welted cushions look great. They FEEL custom and oh-so professional. You definitely, definitely, want to get good at them.
(Welt cord comes in different sizes and materials. For Aunt Bea, I’m using a 5/32″ fiber welt cord from Fabric Supply in Minneapolis. It’s my “standard” choice, but sometimes it makes sense to scale up or down, either for aesthetics or to adjust for a particularly light or heavy fabric.)
Knife edge/center seam
Weirdly enough, this was the style of Aunt Bea’s original cushions. It’s not terribly weird on the back cushion, but on a 4″ T-shaped seat cushion? Odd.
With a welt cord running along the center instead of the edges, this style is more rounded than a boxed cushion. When we DO see it in a seat cushion, it’s usually a thicker and simpler seat cushion. Even there, it’s somewhat uncommon. Where we usually see center-seams are in back cushions, which are softer, so rounded edges make sense.
This is an important cushion to know, but the construction is a little less . . . obvious. There are different ways to create the corners, depending on how soft you want them, and your math has to wrap around multiple faces. It helps to have a handle on the sewing machine and a few cushion basics in your pocket before you untangle this (or our next) cushion.
Another rounded style cushion, we see this one commonly in rattan and wicker furniture. It’s visually very simple, and even casual, perhaps that makes it a natural choice for sunrooms and three season porches.
It’s also very fast – once you get the hang of it! It has the least total sewing length all our cushions, and there’s usually no welt cord involved.
But a couple quirks to consider: Since the fabric is continuous your pattern will technically be upside down on one side of the cushion (and on the front, when your cushion is flipped)
This floral fabric looked good both ways, so the client wasn’t concerned (of course, we still discussed it!)
But if your next client walks in with a rolled cushion and a fabric that’s clearly directional, y’all are gonna want to chat.
The other trick is to check your measurement: that long single panel can often measure upwards of 54″ – can you guess what that means?
(pause for contemplation)
If the fabric is railroaded, you’re going to have to add a seam(s). This also is not uncommon – you’ll often find a seam hidden out of sight under the back cushion. But it takes longer, and if you have to seam the top panel, it’s generally wise to make sure you’re client is on board first.
(Need a refresher on the definition of “railroaded?” YouTube!!!!: LAYOUT AND CUTTING)
This isn’t really another cushion style – it’s an adaptation of cushion styles already listed.
An attached cushion (I usually say attached, some upholsterers say semi-attached) is stitched to the fabric that’s anchored to the frame. So it LOOKS loose, and can take on many different cushion styles.
In ottomans, we often see attached boxed/welted cushions. Some older rockers have a truly wicked attached/rolled cushion seat.
I most often encounter attached cushions as center seam backs. They can be a confusing and intimidating mess of pieces. (It’s something that comes up regularly in our advanced groups – but once you know how to break it all down, it’s way less scary, I promise)
A few considerations with attached cushions:
The upside is that you aren’t constantly fluffing and repositioning back cushions. They’re especially important in styles like your favorite recliner – you don’t want your loose cushions falling into the crack every time you lean back!
A few potential downsides: they’re non-reversible, which means that padding may settle into one position and be hard to replace or rework. A reoccurring example is when the cat or dog hangs out on the back of a chair, looking out the window.
There can also be a tremendous amount of strain on the seams that hold an attached cushion to the frame. Kids, and pets and sagging padding can end with that particular seam giving up the ghost. We see this frequently on very soft, loose back cushions, common in new furniture styles. In fact, it’s a fairly common repair inquiry on newer pieces. When an attached cushion is filled with more resilient materials, and possibly buttoned, this risk is GREATLY reduced, if not eliminated entirely.
Ready to take a look at a simple cushion cover? Head over to YouTube (this is a big one – you’ll need about 20 minutes to watch!!!!)
Aunt Bea will be back in January, when we’ll dive into cushion inserts. Sorry, upholstery fans! It’s the holiday season, and I have to get to work!!!!
Want to get hands on and in depth with the cushion process? Join me in North Carolina this spring! I’ll be teaching an open, hands-on three day workshop at the beautiful, new Workroom Tech, and I could not be more excited about!!!!!
The Funky Little Chair Upholstery Workshop
March 14-16, 2018
(this class is open workshop style – let’s take a look at what you’re struggling with. Not sure what to bring? Leave a comment or message me privately. I’m always happy to help you with project selection 🙂 )