A Guide to Furniture Tufting: Types of Tufting and Their Origins

Button Tufted Chair

Furniture Tufting is a timeless look and craft that can be found everywhere because of its versatility. Maybe you have some in your home or restaurant right now. But have you ever thought in-depth about why certain types are chosen or their histories?  

The shapes tufting produces create dimension and definition, and add elegance to any space. The versatility is incredible. Show off minimalist pieces or go for the full Victorian look as you'd see in period films. 

Gorgeous velvet tufted furniture is a symbol of wealth and luxury. Carved wood often accompanies this fabric and together give you a piece of artistry worth putting in a museum. We're reminded of classic Victorian-era paintings and ballrooms.

Now you can have any style of tufted furniture, as an accent or focal point, made with modern techniques. These new pieces are sturdy and reliable and made with impeccable craftsmanship, whose styles can be centuries-old, classic, modern, mid-century, or contemporary. Open your mind to the possibilities.

What Exactly is Furniture Tufting?

The process of tufting requires the application of anchoring stitches. These are put in place to make sure the cushioning and upholstery fit snuggly in place. They must be secured reliably to perfectly to the frame. 

Showcasing the plushness of the padding and the strength of the fabric, tufting is a marvel in furniture design. The effects can be simple and elegant, yet almost hypnotizing by design -- your eyes want to follow the lines over soft hills, like water rushing over a waterfall. 

The art of tufting itself is an experiment in the combination of visual opposites, resulting in pure aesthetic genius. You are given tension and flow, curves and fixed points, freedom and intention, looseness and punctuation, hills and grids -- all the while honoring the fabric -- giving it a place to show off its texture.

Variations on this sensuous style application are featured on several kinds of upholstered pieces --  many types of headboards, sofas, ottomans, and chairs, to name a few. It's everywhere, yet preserves its mystique, and if you're a traveler, you've seen it all over the world, from European castles to martini lounges.

Each look is achieved by using various layers of fabric, stitched into a pattern depending on the technique. The stitches form indents, which are evenly spaced, resulting in those raise areas you see, called "tufts". The depressions can be secured with a button, knot, or ribbon, and some are left bare.

Let's explore 5 tufting techniques.

History

Although this style was born in the Victorian era, whose style still holds strong, the world has seen the morphing and evolution of tufting styles -- branching out, being tailored and altered, all the while preserving its inherent distinguished look when done well. Rising in prominence in Victorian England, it was first utilized as a way to keep the filling in place.

Take, for instance, the classic British design of the Chesterfield Sofa -- a large couch with rolled arms equal in height to its back. Using deep nail-head trim and button tufting, the lore says it was first created when the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Stanhope (1694-1773), commissioned such a sofa in the mid-18th century.

However, many disagree, and hold that button tufting as we see on the Chesterfield didn't emerge until the 19th century when the flourishing middle-class desired furniture that was both comfortable and ostentatious. The coiled spring was patented in 1828, resulting in a revolution in soft, cushy chairs., and tufting was an attractive and effective way to keep the horsehair stuffing in place.

These days we see the technique as more of a style element versus a supportive one. This is because of the new, advanced processes in furniture design. However, it remains, as we discussed, a feature that has several aesthetic and functional reasons to exist. 

Tufted furniture not only brings subtle elegance to a room but also enhances comfort and cushioning. There are five commonly used tufting patterns, now chosen mostly for the added style and professional finish they give to furniture and room.

This style has remained popular for many reasons --  comfort, versatility, and it possesses a beautiful, tailored feel. We'll get into more specifics so you can become familiar with the various style options and their histories.

5 Techniques

We find that there are five main tufting techniques upholsterers use. Have you ever noticed the variety of shapes that different styles create? How many can you name without reading ahead? 

They may seem similar and subtle, but each has its special, unique characteristics that contribute to a room's aesthetic. Which one will compliment your style? Dare to change your home or business' current look and see how the behavior of the visitors change in response.

Diamond

Being one of the oldest and most popular techniques, it's used in many types of furniture including, but not limited to chairs, sofas, and chaises. With this, the fabric is pulled, tightened, and secured to create diamond patterns in the upholstery. It features more cushioning than others, on each tuft, creating a cozier physical experience.

It creates a more plush look, and arguably the most comfortable, plush seating experience. This tufting can seem more inviting to guests than the others, depending on the design and layout used in the room, of course. 

The zigzag path provided by the diamond shapes keeps the eye a tad more interested than straight lines. Sometimes seamed panels or pleated folds are utilized to bring out the characteristics of the fabric, such as its thickness and texture, and to add variety to the line elements.

The most decadent fabric we see used with this technique would have to be velvet or satin -- classics used over millennia. Needless to say, its timeless quality, rivaled only by Sea Island cotton, vicuna, alpaca, or cashmere within the luxe fashion industry. 

We think of romance, luxury, beauty. It brings memories of classic movies, riches, and royalty, yet somehow it's humble enough to display in and lend immense personality to, any room when displayed with the appropriate accompanying pieces.

Its staggered dimples, giving us the diamond-shaped pattern, is the most traditional tuft. It is versatile in that you can use it effectively with or without buttons, depending on your taste.

Button

As we can see, with this method, buttons are attached and secured on the fabric indentations. This style usually skews toward a more traditional look, and as we talked about earlier, was seen first on the classic Chesterfield sofas of the 19th century and holding.

The button technique will form the "biscuit" or diamond tufting. The buttons will usually match the fabric and color, but variations on these characteristics have found some success as accents, resulting in a scattered focal point effect as we see in Chinese landscape paintings. 

The stitches used with this technique are shallower than you'll see in diamond tufting, resulting in lighter depressions in upholstery when comparing them with the diamond approach. We have a visual anchor with the button style and can be appealing, depending on your own connotations with the look itself.

A thread is pulled down through the piece's upholstery, and then into the padding, which holds it securely in place. The button is then drawn tight and hand-tied. Young children have a fascination with removing these, so take this into consideration before choosing "button".

With this ultra-classic style of tufting, you will project a timeless, stately look. It's perfect for your formal dining or sitting room. However, it's hard to go wrong incorporating it into traditional bedrooms, family rooms, or any other space, given the correct layout.

Biscuit

As mentioned briefly above, the "biscuit", or "bun" technique will create a square shape rather than a diamond. The dimples vary from shallow to deep, creating the linear look you'll often see in the mid-century modern furniture design genre, which peaked between 1940-1960.

The box or square pattern can get achieved with buttons or without. The squares (biscuits) or rectangles (buns) are usually about 8-10 inches in size. Sometimes it can emphasize a boxy frame, displaying right angles and clean lines. 

Biscuit tufting can provide a quilt-like feel, with uniform squares. It's a clean and classy look. You can even choose to use this style sans the seamed panels you may expect from such a piece.

Blind

When we leave out the button, it's referred to as "blind tufting". Both "button" and "blind" tufting are used in unique ways, varying in the pattern, spacing, and the number of tufts. These elements work together to create certain designs depending on your needs.

Blind tufting is usually hand-tied and includes strongly stitched seam panels attaching the binding thread or twine. The lack of buttons results in a more minimalist look popular with modern and contemporary pieces. And as you've probably deduced, is a more popular choice among families with young children and/or pets.

We can also refer to this technique as a "buttonless" tufting. After a lot of bouncing or playing on this type of furniture, buttons can come loose, but in a calm household or room, it's practical and stylish. Take a look at all variations before you come to a conclusion.

Blind tufting is less common, as it lacks any real recognizable pattern at first glance. But it can take on a sleek look, less distracting for the eye if you are trying to showcase another piece of furniture, art, or accent in the room. Think minimalist and modern.

Channel

If you're looking for a century-old, retro throwback design element, look no further than channel tufting. It features stitched lines in vertical and horizontal versions and iterations. This has the effect of elongating silhouettes, depending on the styling.

These horizontal and vertical lines, rather than indentations, are stitched to display a long channel of padding between them. This provides a modern look and is a popular choice for headboards, not only providing more comfort but giving a sense of height to the piece and to the room itself.

If you are inquiring about this style and specifically need horizontal lines, specifically ask, or search, for "horizontal channel tufting". Channel tufting as a term usually implies vertical lines or seems.

Don't be afraid to consider this retro look and vibe for your restaurant, home, etc. It projects a unique style statement and can add some fun to any space as visitors' imaginations are virtually are taken back in time.

As you have probably noted, you can combine two tufting styles. One example being biscuit and channel. These linear patterns combine to bring a daring, one-of-a-kind look to your space.

Treat Yourself

Go ahead and shop around. Use your intuition and imagination to compare the aesthetic effects and potential of these styles and combinations. Have fun sensing the subtleties in the fabrics, curves, and lines. The uniquely rich experience of shopping for tufted furniture doesn't present itself often for most.

Exaggerated and daring, or elegant and demure. Choosing a tufting style is akin to searching for a lover as you notice their subtleties and characteristics. What do they bring into your space?

How will your guests feel as they step into the room? Furniture, and the elements thereof, can take on lives of their own, commanding the space, charming, or elegantly falling into the background. Furniture tufting isn't just a technique, it's an expression of a feeling, and expertly combines form and function.

Contact us for more information and we'll be more than happy to assist you.

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