The Iron Back Chair by Armand Verdier: Part 1

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In the wide world of upholsterers, there is a very wide spectrum of skills and know-how, from the very basic DIY-er all the way up to the master of all Masterful Upholstery.  In my ongoing quest to seek and magnify upholsterers of all kinds, there are the masters who are light years ahead of most of us who are operating on a whole different level and are creating true masterpieces, although to the untrained eye, you might never know it if you just see the fabric and not what’s under the covers. One such master of the craft is Armand Verdier who operates a small shop in Cheddington, Buckinghamshire, about an hour and a half Northwest of London.  This past week, Armand began upholstering what is known as a Victorian Iron Back chair and posted a series of photos that completely WOWED our Upholstery Club readers. We all wanted to see more. So he gave us more. Here in Part 1, you’ll see what goes into creating the base with hessian, springs, burlap, wire and how he begins to sculpt the base with coir and horsehair and lots of fancy hand stitching.

Here’s a little background on the iron back chair. According to sources, they’re not that easy to find these days, so if you have one, hang on to it.

“Ironwork originated in northern Europe.  These chairs were produced in large numbers in the mid-Victorian era. They were made for use in the bedrooms and living rooms. The use of metal lath and rods allowed curves and shapes to be produced which would have been heavy and cumbersome if made of wood.

The use of ironwork originated in northern Europe, some using iron rods and others produced from heated and forged metal strips. Many of these chairs have survived for over a hundred years of use and are being restored and re-upholstered today.”  –http://barleytwist.blogspot.com

The real challenge with these chairs is creating a strong and sturdy base around the iron frame. It’s not like you have a wood frame to staple into, you have to create everything by hand. It’s labor intensive and quite spectacular when done correctly.

Presenting Part 1 of Armand’s stunning work from our American Thanksgiving Weekend 2014.

Notice how the wire curves up and around the chair back and down the other side. This forms the structure from which Armand builds the inside chair back.

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He’s placed the hessian or burlap covering over the springs, stitched them in firmly in place and secured  the inside wire with meticulous hand stitching. UpholsteryClubArmandVerdier1_edited-1

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UpholsteryClubArmandVerdier5 You can see closeup how he’s created the first stuffing for the inside arms and back using coir, I’m assuming. UpholsteryClubArmandVerdier6

More perfect hand stitching creates even more of a sculpted edge on the inside back.

UpholsteryClubArmandVerdier7 The ‘frame’ for the inside arms and back have taken shape.  UpholsteryClubArmandVerdier8

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We don’t see if he added anything on top of the stitched springs and the cotton wadding. You can see that he’s filled in the inside back with more than one layer of cotton wadding to form the base of his deep buttoning.

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As is the case with all traditional upholstery, the materials used are natural and the work is extremely precise and requires specialized skills and experience.  Furthermore, the iron back chair frames require much more hand stitching than a traditional wooden chair frames.

Stay Tuned for Part 2.

Click here to see Hannah Stanton’s Iron Back Chair–The Show Pony.

Posted in chair, chairs, furniture, reupholstery, sewing, traditional, upholstery | Tagged | 2 Comments

2 Responses to The Iron Back Chair by Armand Verdier: Part 1

  1. Thanks for writing about this! I once spent a year rubbing elbows with an old-school upholsterer. Amazing what can be done with burlap, hog’s hair and some curved needles! Live rolled decks built on the piece from scratch were a study in applied simplicity. He also showed me how to ‘spit tacks’, but I was never as fast as he with the hammer.

  2. Gary West says:

    Have been an Upholsterer from the age of 15 ..working in England ..mainly leather buttoning ..Chesterfields, Wing chairs Etc. moved to Australia at the age of 21 and obviously missed out on learning the skills that Armand Verdier has mastered and at such a young age, I had no idea there were craftsmen still around with his level of skills I suppose that’s a result of moving to the other side of the planet! I’ve always considered myself to be a very good at what I do and am totally jealous every time I see a post he has made on his F/B page.
    The amount of skill and quality workmanship required to restore this chair is incomprehensible to the average person I know because I have done such a piece and although the finished product was a perfectly good looking chair it did not in anyway resemble the inside of this one!