… or… an Event of Unhealthy Patterns
When I retired in 2002, my son inherited my hand tools and I sold off all the machinery, timber and veneers etc. The only things I retained were my furniture patterns. I have hundreds of patterns which represent an enormous investment in time. Each pattern part was either traced directly off an extant piece of furniture (such as chair back splats, legs etc.), or painstakingly measured with rulers, squares, callipers and laths and then transcribed onto either card or hardboard.
Some patterns were made for purely nostalgic reasons – the patterns (and in some instances, a few accompanying photos) were the only tangible records I had of some superb pieces of British furniture that had either been restored and returned to their owners, or sold through the shop. Others were made for the purpose of constructing copies of such popular items as wing chairs, sofas, dining tables and tripod wine tables. The demand for good quality examples always out-stripped supply and, in the case of fully upholstered seating; many customers were quite content with accurate copies rather than shelling out for more expensive antique examples which would invariably require reupholstering to their tastes at any rate.
Hardboard obviously makes for more robust patterns than card, but with components such as pierced back splats, requires greater effort because island shapes can’t be cut out with a scalpel or scissors as is the case with card. A number of the patterns were made for the one-use restoration of a singular piece of furniture and therefore didn’t ostensibly warrant being made of anything more substantial than card. However, the majority of the patterns were taken from some of the most pristine examples of fine furniture I encountered as a restorer and later, as an antiques dealer and rather short-sightedly, I also made many of the latter category from card!
Not knowing what was to become of all the patterns that hung around the walls of my workshop, they were taken down at the time of my retirement and carefully packed away in wooden cases. There they remained until this week when I dragged one of the cases out and unscrewed the lid. The mothballs had done their job for the most part, but some insect attack was evident. The damp though had buckled a number of the patterns.
A weary looking collection of patterns.
In my retired state, I probably won’t use many of the patterns, if any, to make furniture from again, but they are as much an historic record of fine antique British and Irish furniture as any book written on the subject. It would be a shame to lose the collection of patterns to silverfish and the damp. I decided therefore to spend some time reviewing the patterns and transcribing those made from card onto MDF and hardboard. When completed, I will seal the patterns with shellac to further protect them.
Of the many chair patterns in the box, I selected that of a c.1725 George I walnut side chair of possible interest as a candidate for making shortly.
The George I side chair pattern.
A single chair is a feasible job in my small garden shed and I just happen to have some English oak and a stack of rather nice English walnut from which to make it. The original chair was of solid walnut except for the vasiform splat which typically, was quartersawn oak, faced with a substantial walnut veneer.
The back of the slightly bevelled oak splat.
Photos of the original chair show additional details.
The front left cabriole leg and applied ear.
Apart from its obvious charm, this particular chair interests me because of its atypical rear feet. Chairs of this ilk normally exhibit plain square, plain chamfered, or square-round-square, back-swept lower rear legs, however, this chair’s rear legs are chamfered from the seat rail down, sweeping backwards, but then re-sweep, terminating vertically at the floor.
The chamfered, re-swept rear legs.
I bought a quantity of 3mm (1/8″) thick sheets of MDF and nested the card patterns as best I could on each sheet and carefully stuck them down with low-tack masking tape. I then began the copying process, transcribing any notes and other details.
Notes written on the pattern pieces provide all dimensions and construction details.
The carefully cut-out and fettled pattern pieces.
I suppose the logical course of action would be to digitize the collection.