upholstery finishing treatments; welting, gimp and nails

when and why are upholstery edge treatments needed?

On upholstered furniture with an exposed wood frame the fabric is tacked or stapled up to the edge of the frame.  Sometimes there is an edge or a lip cut into the frame to accommodate the thickness of the upholstery materials.  Concealing and protecting the raw cut edge of the fabric is the purpose of edge treatments.  Click on the picture to see the raw edge and the frame lip. Edge treatments provide a clean finished look and reinforce the stapled edge from pulling and fraying. A number of techniques have evolved to address this need.  Several of the more common techniques are shown in this article.

the basic trimming treatment - gimp

Gimp is a woven decorative ribbon or tape. Some traditional upholsterers call it "braid".  It usually has a wavy or scrolled pattern, but can have other patterns - geometric and striped are common. It can be a single color or several colors for more decorative accents. Gimp is often used where the wood frame is more delicate and the fabric lip is shallow or missing. It is applied by specialty tacks, glue or stitching (or any combination.)

gimp with nails - decorative and functional

Gimp tends to pull away from the fabric when subject to even moderate use - even if it is stitched in place.  The drag of clothing along the edges of the gimp pulls against it - like on seat edges, arms, and low backs.  Enter upholstery nails.  The wider heads of the nails provide full width anchoring for the gimp.  That is their function.  Beyond function, the decorative possibilities of upholstery nails has gained them the name "decorative nails".  Available in many, many styles, sizes and finishes - they have design possibilities beyond their simple function.  In this instance the nails are alternate spaced to allow more of the gimp to show, providing a lighter look.

head to head nails

Here the nails are aligned touching head-to-head.  This classic treatment is more suitable for larger, heavier frames.  It gives a clear separation between wood and fabric, emphasizing the sweep of the frame.  Over fabric, head-to-head nails often lie over gimp even though very little of the gimp shows.  This is to hide any strands from the cut edge of the fabric.  The cleaner cut of leather edges usually allows the nails to be used alone on leather work.

welting (also known as cording)

Welting - or cording - is made from a strip of fabric sewn around a light braided cord.  As a finishing treatment, "double welt" is most commonly used.  Double welt is made with two cords as shown in the picture.  Single cord welt can be used where the furniture has a groove cut into the frame to hide the 'tail' of the sewn assembly.  Welting is stapled, tacked or glued over the raw fabric edge, snugging against the exposed frame.  The visual weight of the welting is determined by the size of the cord used and the thickness of the fabric.  Again, exploiting the decorating possibilities of welting is realized by using coordinating or contrasting fabrics or by reversing the face fabric where possible.  Double welting with a heavy cord can overpower delicate frames - yielding a bulky look. 

explore decorative upholstery nails

I mentioned the variety of styles, sizes and finishes of upholstery nails.  While we generally use only a handful of those options, it is interesting to see the full array.  This is the nail selection from one of the most complete sources I know: D.A.D.S. Nails.  Over 400 different nails!  If you are thinking of something special - it is here.

Image courtesy D.A.D.S. Nails