The Upholstery Conservation Laboratory
The Upholstery Conservation Laboratory provides historically accurate upholstery for the Foundation’s collection of furniture. However, doing so is seldom as simple as it might seem. The frames of upholstered furniture often retain information about the original fabric that was used, the number of times the item was upholstered, and the way in which the upholstery was attached, even after the piece has been reupholstered. The clues can be small (tiny pieces of fabric caught in tack holes) or large (the patterns that nail holes make as they sweep across the piece). To reupholster the item using traditional upholstery techniques would require that new nails be driven into the frame. This would confuse the original nail evidence and also weaken the wooden structure. The challenge for the lab is to save the original evidence while still presenting the piece as it once would have looked.
To that end, Colonial Williamsburg’s conservators have developed a non-intrusive upholstery system based on a series of removable copper caps covered with acrylic foam to which show cloth is attached. The fabric covering looks as it should but no harm is done to the evidence beneath. This technique can be used for either bare frames or for items that retain their original upholstery. Creating these non-intrusive systems can take substantially longer than the traditional upholstery technique, but so much more is preserved for the future.