History of the Upholder

Over the past few months since Spruce Stories began, I have been racking my brain to find a subject that will inspire my weekly blog write-ups. Before I started Spruce, I was constantly seeking a creative outlet. From crocheting to painting, I could not get enough hands-on projects. Now that I have my fill of creativity with upholstery, I find my inner historian seeking more cultivation. I suppose history is one of the many draws upholstery has to me, the opening of a piece of furniture that was put together 50+ years ago, unveiling outdated padding materials, fabrics, diagrams and signatures from upholsterers past. It’s all a way of directly connecting to history. So it was no surprise to me that history would become my inspiration, and what better way to start than with a brief history of the trade of upholstery.

Upholsterers were originally called upholders. The Worshipful Company of Upholders was originally organized in the 14th Century, however, was not granted a royal charter until 1626. It is based out of the UK and is still in existence. Visit the website here.

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The Worshipful Company of Upholders Symbol

Originally, upholders were responsible for all items dealing with textiles including bedding, floor coverings, draperies, furniture and even coffin linings. Responsible for most interior decoration, it was a well-respected trade and responsible for much of the innovation and creativity in furniture and interior design until recently.

Early upholstery consisted of cushions placed on top of wooden furniture to add comfort and support. Fixed upholstery did not come until later and usually consisted of little or no padding with leather, velvet, or tapestry covering the furniture frame. As padding became more prevalent, materials such as horse hair, vegetable fibers, wool and feathers were used. It was not until centuries later that upholsterers discovered metal springs and foam.

Eventually, demands in the industry as well as limited educational resources for the instruction of the comprehensive trade led the field to break into separate divisions. Upholstery became centered around the stuffing and covering of furniture, and soft furnishings, such as bedding and draperies, and floor coverings became separate.

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This would have fallen into the realm of the upholder. Carol Hannah's inspiration for the "Art of Fashion" on Project Runway

In more recent history,  I discovered that Jack White of the White Stripes was a former member of the Upholsterers, a band composed of White and Brian Muldoon, both upholsterers. See an interview with Jack White about his upholstery here.