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Difficult, plaid fabric on wingback

Started by cajunpedaler, December 28, 2013, 05:01:56 pm

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I've been an upholsterer for over 25 yrs.  Been in and out of the business end.  I hung my shingle back up last year and business has been ok.  Presently I have two wingbacks that are giving me fits.  The chairs are classic wingback, with very prominent and curvy wings.  The fabric is not helping matters.  It is a plaid, the feel of the fabric is crisp and tight, with absolutely no give going around any curves.  The plaid issue is huge, matching vertical and horizontal and I am bonkers. 
Has anyone ever told a customer that a particular fabric just won't work on a certain style?  I've only done that once before about 20 yrs ago...
I am losing sleep over trying to figure out how to make fabric lay smooth and still match stripes, plaid coming and going...
I can take and post photos too, if anyone has suggestions.
If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.


Have you considered covering first with muslin so all you have to do with the final cover fabric is align and place? That would be my approach as the muslin is taking up the strain leaving the other placement less difficult to align.



December 28, 2013, 05:40:14 pm #2 Last Edit: December 28, 2013, 06:02:54 pm by cajunpedaler
Muslin, precovering, doesn't help.  I think this is the perfect storm of excessive curves in the very prominent wings and the extreme tightness in this fabric.

One of the things I always say to myself as I'm working is this.."what am I asking this fabric to do?".  The answer to that question in this scenario is I'm asking the fabric to turn several directions AND maintain straight cosmetic lines AND matching..

This fabric has the same feel, tightness in its weave as Sunbrella..

If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.


December 28, 2013, 10:01:30 pm #3 Last Edit: December 28, 2013, 10:03:39 pm by gene
Yes. Some extremely stiff and/or no stretch fabrics, such as microfibers, will not lay properly on certain curvilinear surfaces.

Stephen Winters had a video showing how he matches plaids. I can't find it but you could probably email him to see if he still has it online.  http://www.winterssewing.com/

You could buy one of these, but then if you could afford this machine you probably would be retired.

I do feel your frustration. I find that these types of projects take a tremendous amount of time. Pre planning to decide where you want the plaid to line up helps - something that Stephen shows in his video.

I also find that continuous do and redo is a part of the process and I try not to let this get me too frustrated.

Straight vertical lines and straight horizontal lines trumps matching of the plaid, I think, if you have to make a choice.

Best of luck.



I have done, and re-done these wings at least 4 times.  Each time, I address something different.  (so that I'm not doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, the definition of insanity, say some)
I have literally worked with a level and even with lines being perfectly straight, with all the curvature on these wings, the large plaid looks like it's going downhill. 
I've done the most meticulous relief cuts ever, and still looks like garbage..
I've given up on matching the entire chair, all the elements, at this point, I would be happy if I could just match the IB, the IW, OW and OB..
I have been able to match a vertical benchmark and keep it straight. 
At this point, I'm just trying to gather my thoughts on how I'm going to tell this customer that this really isn't going to work.  And not have her think that I'm insulting her taste. 

I actually have a pair of wingbacks in my shop that are mine, and I am willing to trade hers for mine, and recover the traditional non-curvy wings, it will tolerate the large plaid nicely.
I hate stuff like this.
If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.


In spite of what some may say it not possible to totally match up an IB and IWs on a wing chair. The back runs at an angle and the wings do not. Running the wings on an angle as the back is might be helpful but I don't think this is where your having the trouble. Sounds like the inward curves on the front of the wings. Pictures would be helpful. And if this is the only place there is issues just do it the best you can, make them all the same and be done with it. If the customer complains and I doubt they will explain it to her. Some things just aren't possible.
Minichillo's Upholstery

west coast

You gotta wonder why people put squares on curvy furniture eh. If it's a nightmare I always match down and forward, find the centre and match it that way forget side to side matching you will never get it right. Cut the piping on the bias so it looks like a candy cane otherwise we will be visiting you in the asylum with you bobbing your head muttering squares squares must match squares.



Call the customer, have them come see whats going on, educate them, then see if they want to pick a different fabric. It is much better to be honest with the customer then doing it and they might no be happy and then there goes your repeat business. I also would match going down the chair and through the cushion to the front. Also don't be afraid to put pleats in the wings and don't try to get all of the curve it not possible. But I would call the customer. Most people don't know fabric like we do. Ha, I used to take all the plaids out of my books, now I just charge more.... Live and learn

Good Luck and lets us know how it turns out,

Chris berry


I really appreciate all the comments.  This fabric and these chairs are the perfect storm of how to make a job look really shi**y.  I would rather let my sewing machine rust and my scissors cut paper than to do a bad job. 

I think (I know) my dilemma now is how to present this to the customer...I do not want her to think that I am challenging her taste.  They *are* beautiful wingbacks..and the fabric is nice too.  But together, they will not give her the result that I think she wants.

I do (because I collect wingbacks) have a matching pair of wingbacks that I will trade her for hers..mine will work beautifully, they are much straighter wings and the front cap on the arms is waaay more simple and easier to match stripes, plaids. 

Like I said, I've been doing upholstery for over 25 yrs and this is something that doesn't happen often.  (like maybe once every twenty years.)

At this point, I am not going to make any money on this job, and that's not the issue..I just want to do the right thing for our craft AND the customer.
Any suggestions on how to open the conversation would be appreciated.
If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.


You just need to be honest with her on what you are dealing with on these chairs.  I think most people will be most understanding once they come down to your shop and show them what you are trying to accomplish.  But you need to have an solution laid out of what would be the best way to handle the wing part of the chair.  If you can get the vertical lines to match that would be great and where ever the vertical lines end up, that is what it is.
Once they come out and see they will be more understanding.
Good luck.


One problem with explaining to a customer why a particular fabric will not produce good results is:

They probably have a friend or associate who is telling them "I know a guy that can do it with no trouble."......... Or "My upholsterer does it all the time".

Sometimes, trying to explain to a layman that a job isn't feasible is like trying to tell your grandmother why you can't loosen a tire with a cordless screwdriver. If they've never tried.......they just don't get it.

Hopefully, your customer is sensible. Good luck.
"Perfection is the greatest enemy of profitability" - Mark Cuban


Is there a vertical center line that can be the center of the IB, the bottom cushion, and the front of the deck under the cushion (assumed reversible), then do that.  That is the vertical match.

As far as matching inside arms and inside wings (the side to side to match), the fabric has to be symmetric about the horizontal or vertical lines in order to begin.  If that is a no, then match the fronts as best you can and don't worry about it.  I don't think the customer will fret over it, maybe there is worry about nothing.



Most of the folks on this site strive to do the best job they possibly can but once in a while you need a reality check.

Mr Hammerandhand posted this link last Feb. The auther is a craftsman just like you and me. It gave me something to think about.

There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.


Wow!  Thank you all for the input.  Today will be the day that I will contact her and approach the situation.  Thankfully, I have the two straight line wingbacks that will be just fine.  My first question to her is going to be "Which is the main factor, the CHAIRS?or the LOOK?, the FABRIC?"  My gut tells me it's the fabric, the look. 

One of the posts addressed the perfection issue..I've come to terms with that years ago, and always do the best that I can do, understanding that I am a mere mortal.  However, this plaid and these curvy lines on these chairs will be beyond upholsterer OCD nitpicking.

To give myself peace of mind, I got off those chairs and am working on a nice Henredon chair and ottoman set, and a tasteful geometric small print..no matching..and it's good therapy..

I will post the outcome.
If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.


Whew...I pondered how to present this scenario to the customer.  I heard back from her this morning that she will take my suggestions.  I do have the two matching wingbacks in my personal stash that will work with this fabric SOOOO much better than her curvy Victorian style...
Thanks one and all for advice, moral support, food for thought..
Upholstery...ain't it grand?
If at first you don't succeed, redefine success. If at first you fail, redefine failure.