When is a welt not a welt?

Interior decorators and designers and furniture sales people speak English, the same language I do. But sometimes I get the idea that they don’t.

When they say a couch has welts, I immediately think of the angry red marks the boys bragged about after a visit to the headmaster’s office! 

What they are talking about, is the covered cord frequently used to strengthen or decorate a seam on a couch or form the edge on cushions. It’s the same word with two different meanings. Every profession develops its own jargon, its own use of words and its own terminology. You may think furniture salespeople are talking about a violent wrestling match when they speak of knock-downs, corner blocks, convoluted springs, arm stumps and a distressed finish. Actually, they are only speaking in the language of the industry – the upholstered furniture industry.

Just as with travelling, it’s always more fun to visit a country where you understand the language. Once you know how to talk like a furniture salesperson, you’ll be better able to recognize a value when features are described. You can talk like a furniture salesperson with the aid of this glossary of commonly used upholstered furniture terms and words.

Furniture Glossary

Acetate– A man-made cellulose fibre. It is a colourful soft fibre. Used in limited quantities in upholstery fabric blends but seldom used alone because of its low resistance to wear, particularly in flat weaves.

Acrylic– A man-made fibre with a soft, woolly feeling; fair resistance to sunlight. It has good cleanability characteristics and takes vivid colour well. Acrylic is normally used to create velvet, plush looks.

Arm caps– Fitted or unfitted protective covers for arms in matching fabric. Sometimes available with furniture.

Arm stump– The vertical front of an arm which you see when looking straight on at a couch or chair. Attached pillow – Back cushions made to resemble loose pillows but which cannot be removed.

Back rail – The wood frame section which supports the back springs and/or cushioning material.

Backing– A coating material used on the reverse side of the upholstery fabric or cover to give it more strength.

Ball casters– Round metal, rubber and/or plastic balls which fit inside a swivelled cup attached to base of furniture to make furniture easier to move.

Base rail – The part of the wood frame lowest to the floor.

Baseball stitching – A double row of sewing which runs along both sides of a seam. It is used for a decorative effect but also strengthens the seam.

(fabric) – A simple, plain, flat fabric which gives the appearance of a woven basket.

Blended(fabric) – A fabric woven with yarn of one or more different fibres, each bringing its own special properties to the finished fabric.

Brocade(fabric) – A heavy, flat fabric with a raised design, usually made with a satin yarn.

Brocatelle(fabric) – A heavy, flat fabric similar to brocade but with a more highlyraised design.

Button-tufting– The use of buttons to decorate or accentuate tufting. (See tufting.)

Casters– Small wheels on swivels used in place of legs of furniture to make it easier to move. Some styles could call for legs and casters.

Centre match– When a fabric has a pattern and a section of the pattern appears in the same place, in the centre, on all back cushions and all seat cushions.

Chintz (fabric) – A flat, brightly coloured, polished fabric, usually printed.

Club chair
– An upholstered chair with a low back.

Coil springs– When resilient spring wire is coiled into a cone shape. Such springs are used in multiple rows for good seating comfort.

Contrasting welts– When welts are either a different colour or material than upholstery material. (See welts.)

Convoluted springs– An S-shaped spring made of resilient steel spring wire. Used where full coil springs are not required by the furniture design.

Corduroy(fabric) – A pile fabric with the pile usually cut into ridges.

Core– The inside of a seat or back cushion, usually polyurethane foam.

Corner blocks– Triangular pieces of wood used to reinforce joints in the wood frame.

Cover– The upholstery fabric used as the outer covering of a sofa or chair. A cover can be either fabric or vinyl.

Cut velvet(fabric) – A pile fabric with the pile cut into different levels.

Damask(fabric) – A tightly woven, flat fabric with a woven-in design. Made on a Jacquard loom.

Deck– Foundation or base on which loose seat cushions rest.

Denim (fabric) – A tightly-woven,  plain weave flat fabric.

Density– Weight of a polyurethane foam cushioning material. Low density foam will flatten out soon when sat upon while high density foam will support more weight for a greater duration of time and is usually more comfortable.

Distressed– The artificial aging of wood so that it will look used or antique.

Divided back– The back of a sofa is given the look of detachable pillows or cushions.

Double dowelled– Two wooden pegs inserted into both sides of a frame to make for stronger construction dowelled,

Dowels– Wooden pegs used in quality furniture to hold frames together. They are best used in pairs and glued when pounded into place.

Down– Duck or goose feathers (or feathers from any water fowl) used for padding; available from some manufacturers but not common today due to high cost.

Dust cover – Also called cambric. It is material covering the bottom of a couch or chair.

Edge wire – A special heavy gauge wire which acts as a support framing for coils.

Eight-way hand-tied springs
– Coil springs which are actually hand-tied to keep springs in place. Modern production provides for the use of machine applied metal clips and wire stabilizers to keep coil springs permanently in position, instead of hand-tying.

Envelope arm – A fold-over arm design. The arm padding rises from the seat and flows over the arm with no seams.

Exposed trim
– Any wood showing on an upholstered chair or sofa except legs. It may be part of the actual frame or construction or added for decorative purposes. Trim can be metal, wood or plastic.

Fabric protective finish
– Many manufacturers offer their customers the option to purchase a fluorochemical soil-resistant fabric treatment for upholstered furniture. This soil-resistant fabric treatment is applied to the entire upholstered piece and carries a manufacturer’s written warranty. The fabric treatment is odourless and does not affect the feel of a fabric. What it does is increase the cleanability of a fabric but does not affect its wearability or durability. The best known protective finish is ScotchGard™

Filling– Material(s) of any type used to soften or pad upholstered furniture.

Flared arm – An arm which slants or curves away from the seat.

Flat weave– Fabric with no pile such as tweeds, twills and satins.

Flounce– A strip of fabric gathered as a curtain, or pleated, and applied to the base of upholstered furniture, a feature popular in Early American styling.

Foam– Material used for cushioning or to pad upholstered furniture. Foam is short for polyurethane foam in general use today. It is used for seat cushions or in thinner sheets for arm, side and back padding.

Frame– Basic structure or skeleton of an upholstered couch or chair. Kiln-dried hard wood is best for durability in wooden frames.

French seam– (See inverted.)

Front rail – The wood frame part lowest to the floor, and at the front of the piece.

Glides– Buttons of plastic or metal applied to bottom of legs to make furniture easier to move around.

Glue blocks– Triangular pieces of wood used to reinforce joints. Glued in place after being applied to frame.

Hand(or handle) – Term used to describe the feel of a fabric such as soft, rough, or smooth. Hard edge – (See tailored edge.)

Helicals– Small, tightly coiled springs used to add extra comfort. Used, for example, to attach flat spring on all sides of material and frame for sleep/sofa.

Hidden casters– Recessed casters used to totally conceal the use of casters.

Inverted seam– Seam joining underside of fabric with no welt. (Also called French seam).

Jacquard(fabric) – A method of producing elaborately patterned weaves on a mechanical Jacquard loom on which the roller gives design instructions instead of musical notes.

Kick pleat– Tailored pleated skirt on the bottom of upholstered pieces. (See skirt).

Knock down (or k-d) – Unassembled or self-assembled furniture which you buy that way and put together yourself at home.

– A furniture style in which arms are lower than the back. (See tuxedo).

Left-facing – The left-hand side of a piece of furniture when looking at same from the front. (See right-facing).

Loose pillow construction– A style of sofa or chair which features separate detachable pillows for back support. Match (ing) – Positioning of a pattern, stripe or plaid, so that it flows continuously down the back across the seat and down the front of a sofa or chair. Not all fabrics may be matched. (Also see centre match.)

Matelasse(fabric) – Tightly woven flat fabric with a quilted puff effect. Modular(s) – (See sectionals.)

Mr & Mrs chairs– Two matching chairs of the same style – one larger for him, one smaller for her.

Nail-head trim– Decorative head nails or a simulated nail-head strip used to accentuate a style, usually used on arms and rails.

Nap– Raised fibres in a pile fabric such as velvet.

Nubby– Fabric with yarns of different thicknesses giving an irregular hand to fabric.

Nylon– Generic name for an important man-made synthetic fibre. Among the most durable synthetic fibres used for furniture fabrics.

Olefin – Man-made synthetic fibre, good properties of strength, and resistance to abrasion, excellent cleanability.

Ottoman – Footstool, or the footrest attached to a reclining chair.

Padding– (See filling.)

Pedestal base– Base placed under the centre of a piece of furniture. Commonly used on recliners and swivel rockers.

Pile weave– Fabric with raised nap like velvet, corduroy and fake furs.

Polyester– A man-made fibre. Most like cotton in its appearance and physical properties.

Polyurethane– Man-made synthetic foam used for filling and for cushions. Rigid polyurethane can also reproduce wood trim or make entire frame.

Print– Any fabric on which a design is printed on the surface rather than woven in.

Pull-over back– Furniture design in which back padding wraps around and over the back rather than being squared off and trimmed with welting.

Quilting– Process of taking two layers of flat fabrics with light padding in between and sewing them together with an over-all design. Fabrics used for quilting are often prints or plain satins. Two types of quilting are used: 1) Loom quilting which produces any overall design on a fabric; 2) Outline quilting in which each element of a design (a lily for example) is outlined.

Rail– Lowest part of the wood frame. There are front, back and side rails.

Rayon– A man-made cellulose fibre. Dyes well with high lustre. Works well in dense pile or closely woven fabrics. Usually used in a blend with other fibres.

Reversible cushions– Seat cushions which may be turned upside down or reversed for durability. Vinyl cushions, however, cannot be reversed because a bottom fabric panel is needed for ventilation.

Right-facing– The right-hand side of a piece of furniture when looking at same from the front. (See left-facing).

Rocker– Any chair which tips back and forth in place. Traditional rockers have arched supports on the legs. Platform rockers move on springs on stationary bases. There are also swivel rockers and rocker recliners available.

Saddle arm – An arm style which looks exactly as if you had placed a saddle on the arm. It dips down and wraps over the arm.

Saddle stitched– A decorative form of sewing the cover. Used more for ornamentation. It is not required for a good seam closure.

Satin(fabric) – A tightly woven, high lustre flat-weave fabric.

Scallop– An ornamental border on a skirt of small half circles.

Scotchgard – (See stain-resistant finish.) Self-covered seat deck – The area above the seat springs on which loose seat cushions rest is the seat deck. When covered in the same material as the exterior of the piece, it is called self-covered. Thus if cushions move apart, you see the same upholstery fabric underneath rather than the customarily used beige denim fabric. Self-welting – When the welting is the same fabric and colour as the rest of the piece.

Shantung(fabric) – A flat weave fabric with slub yarns. Achieved by using yarn of varying thicknesses. Large slub yarn, particularly, could catch on children’s shoe buckles or jewellery.

Side rail – (See rail.)

Skirt – A strip of fabric which carries the sofa or chair design down to the floor and hides legs or casters. A skirt is sometimes also called a flounce. It can be gathered or pleated.

Sleeper couch– A sofa or couch which can be converted into a bed.

Slub yarn– Yarn which is irregular in size.

Snaps and straps– A pair of straps sewn to the seat deck; on the end of each is a metal lock snap. This fits into a ring on a cushion to hold it in place.

Special-order cover– Some manufacturers offer the consumer an alternate colour selection of the same fabric. Colour 46 furniture and fittings  charts are displayed with items that have alternate colour selections available. Spindle – A round piece of wood, usually turned or carved. Used as exterior wood trim on arms and stumps in Early American styling.

Spring edge– Springs carried to the edge of a seat to provide resiliency to the edge.

Springs– Metal springs used to give interior support and resiliency to seat and back construction. Rarely used inside seat cushions today. Springs consists of two general types: Coil or cone and convoluted flat springs.

Stain-resistant finish– Fluorochemical finishes which retard soiling and increase stain resistance on fabrics.

Stump panel– Panel on the front of an arm stump which is the vertical panel facing you.

Style– Description of the general design category of furniture. For example: Early American, French Provençal, Traditional, Contemporary, Modern are all styles. Consult design reference books for the definitions of periods and specific styles.

Suite – A couch and a chair or a combination of a number of couches and chairs in a matching design.

– A sample of upholstery fabric, often shown with other pieces, in what is called a Swatch Book. If displayed on a rack in a store, it is called a swatch handle.

T-shape– A seat or back cushion shaped roughly like a T in a chair. The ends extend beyond the arm or back giving an appearance of greater length.

Tailored edge– When seat springs are contained within the wood frame and do not extend to the outer edge. The front panel of wood, softened by padding and fabric, is directly under the seat cushion.

Tailoring– The overall appearance of the furniture. It refers to the neatness of sewing or the visual detailing.

Tapestry– A flat fabric in which the pattern is an illustration depicting a story.

Taslan– A soft fluffy yarn used in an upholstery fabric.

Trim– A decorative design applied to the outside of furniture. It could appear on arms, back or base. It can be made of wood, metal or plastic.

Tufting– The process of drawing a cord through a deep cushion giving high puffs of padding and small low valleys where the cord is drawn. Names are given to tufting describing the shape of the tuft such as diamond, biscuit, or square. Buttons are often attached to cords to highlight the tufting design.

Tuxedo– A style in which the arms are the same height as the back.

Tweed (fabric) – A flat weave usually of heavy yarns in a moderately tight weave.

Twill– A very tightly woven flat weave.

Urethane– (See polyurethane).

Velvet(fabric) – A pile fabric with a clipped nap. Before clipping, the nap is a loop.

Weave– The manner in which cloth is woven both in terms of tightness and in terms of texture.

Webbing – Strips of material used as a base for padding.

Welts – Fabric or vinyl covered cord used to strengthen or decorate a seam, as opposed to an inverted seam.

Wing back– Wing-like projections from the side of the back, often found in Early American furniture, where wings were used during early pioneer days as protection against draughts.

Wrapped cushion– A seat or back cushion which contains an inner core, usually polyurethane, and an outer wrapping of fibrefill for greater softness and a more down-like appearance.

Source: www.neirc.orgwww.neirc.org