One of the most common questions asked about building pieces from my Shop Drawings Books is “What do I do about the cushions? Your drawings don’t show any details.” There were several methods used in the original Stickley pieces, and several options available today that are better choices for comfort. My thinking was that people would make their own choices, so the drawings only show cleats around the insides of the frames of chairs and settles. Historically, the earliest Stickley pieces had slip seats for dining chairs and cane or canvas supports for loose cushions on larger pieces. Later on, wood frames with coil springs were used on Gustav Stickely pieces, and L. & J.G. Stickley used metal frames with springs, an adaptation of automobile seats.
Corner blocks reinforce the frame, and there is a hole in the middle of each block for a screw. The slip seat consists of a wood frame. The parts of the frame are about 3/4″ thick and 2″-3″ wide. Flexible webbing (originally this would be canvas) is woven across the opening and tacked to the bottom of the frame. Padding is on top of the webbing, this can be polyester or cotton batting, but the seat will be more comfortable if there is resilient foam between the webbing and the batting. The fabric wraps around the padding and frame and is stapled or tacked from below. The slip seat is held to the frame with screws through the corner blocks.
For larger pieces, such as a Morris chair or a settle, a cushion with more padding is used, and you a need more substantial support. The choices here are largely based on your budget, and your desire for comfort. The simplest and cheapest method is to use thin wood slats across the cleats inside the frame to support the cushion. Many futon dealers will order custom sizes at a reasonable price. Better than slats is a solid wood frame with either flexible webbing, or sinuous wire springs. These will be more comfortable than the slats, and the cushions will last longer. Good old gravity will hold the frame in place on top of the cleats.
The cushions can be in many forms as well. Dense foam wrapped in batting is the basic choice, but you can add internal wrapped springs and more layers of padding. If you want to do the cushions yourself, I recommend a book or a class for more details. Personally, I cheat and engage the services of a local upholstery shop. If you’re in southwest Ohio, send me an e-mail and I’ll put you in touch with the shop I use.
More details about upholstery were part of “More Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture” which is now out of print. That chapter will be included in the “Great Book of Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture”, a compilation of three of my earlier books.