A George III Style Mahogany Wing Chair

Wing chairs must be one of the most popular chair designs of all time. Factories have churned out (usually very poor) ‘reproductions’ of them by the thousand and judging by their proportions, an awful lot of them must have begun life on a draughtsman’s drawing board using an  industrial book on ergonomics as inspiration.

I have made dozens of wing chairs of various styles over the years; all copied from original eighteenth-century chairs. This wing chair was copied from a circa 1790 chair that required some restoration prior to reupholstering. I usually have the conviction to choose a fabric for the finished chair, but if I’m not inspired at the time, I upholster the chairs in calico or linen and leave the choice of cover fabric to an enthused customer.

One of my regular customers called one day to enquire about a couple of comfortable chairs and I mentioned I currently had a good Georgian wing chair in calico in the shop. I loaned the chair to the customer and about a week later, he called to tell me how much he and his wife liked the chair and asked if I could also supply a second wing chair. I didn’t have another on my radar at the time, which was met with disappointment, so I suggested I could make a similar wing chair, or if he preferred, I could make an exact copy of the one he had trialled. The following day I received an order for an identical chair. It’s a good thing I took photos and dimensions of the original.

The Georgian wing chair stripped of all its upholstery.

Chairs of this age often exhibit signs of multiple reupholstering. A previous restorer of this chair had the good sense to reinforce several inherently week areas with linen. Dampened linen is laid over the wood and stippled with glue in much the same way glass fibre is laid-up. Linen is made from the flax plant which produces exceptionally long fibres. It’s the length of these fibres that makes linen infinitely stronger than calico. As the linen dries out, it shrinks, tightening around the wood, strengthening the frame.

Some of the linen patches have been applied to friable areas that were riddled with tacks and nails, typically around the front of the arms where the plackets are traditionally finished off with dome-headed nails. The linen and glue solidify these areas, ensuring new upholstery tacks will hold firmly.

Linen strengthening patches signify previous reupholstery.

The new wing chair frame awaiting ageing and polishing.

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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2 Responses to A George III Style Mahogany Wing Chair

  1. Michael Anderson says:

    I note that here – and elsewhere in your wonderful notes – your suggestions about reinforcing linen overlays prefer the normative “north-south” approach to both cutting and laying fabric as reinforcement and a compound component to the finished furniture piece. My experience (from historical costume/garment design) suggests that cutting “on the bias” (i.e. at 45 degrees to the natural weave of the cloth) means that you have twice as many fibres working towards maintenance of your joint/junction problem as you would have by pasting over a linen strip torn conveniently from the fat comfort of a big roll.
    If top-laid linen reinforcement strives to reinforce shagged and overnailed members, and provide a truly useful role, it should offer omnidirectional stability. Any couturier will happily advise that bias-cut fabrics drape achingly well over complex curves (such as those offered by the human body). So bias-cut linen strips should have a better capacity to mould over complex shapes (tick!) and offer significantly better reinforcement (tick!) to hidden joints, in repair of over-stuffed items.

    But I’m sure that the esoffieres thought about this already…

    Cheers, Michael A.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack Plane says:

      You are not wrong. Having made a number of coats and other garments, I am familiar with bias structures and bias binding.

      Linen has a natural ability to conform to odd shapes and compound curves and especially so when wet. Strength is relative and when restorers/upholsterers laid warp- or weft oriented glue-soaked linen over weakened or damaged chair frames, the results were perfectly satisfactory.

      Incidentally, the weight of linen preferred for this type of repair work is too stout to be torn off the roll: It would require slitting along a pulled weft thread.

      JP

      Liked by 1 person

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