Choosing the best upholstery webbing means selecting the right type of material to support the coil springs on a couch or chair. Upholstery webbing is what gives furniture its strength, tightness and shape. There are five varieties of upholstery webbing: jute, English, nylon, polyester and rubber. Depending on the material, upholstery webbing is sold according to gauge, width, stretch and number of strands. To choose the best upholstery webbing, the most important consideration is the type of furniture that needs to be upholstered, because different types of webbing are better for certain pieces of furniture or for certain purposes.
Jute, which is woven from plant fibers, is the oldest, most traditional and most widely used type of upholstery webbing. The best jute comes on a roll marked with a red stripe. A black stripe on jute webbing is an indication that the material is of a lesser quality.
High-quality, heavyweight jute is used to provide support for that part of the furniture that has to accommodate the most weight: the seat. Lesser-quality jute is an acceptable choice for the back. Jute webbing, instead of contemporary webbing, is the only kind that should be used on a traditional piece of furniture. Strong and durable, its only disadvantage is that the fibers will rot over time. Therefore, jute webbing should never be used to upholster outdoor furniture.
Jute gauges are expressed according to colonial British measures. For example, a roll of 9-pound (4.1-kg) jute weighs 9 pounds per 144 yards (131.7 m). This gauge of jute can be used for the back and arms of a chair, but for a seat that needs to accommodate the weight of two or three people, most upholsterers suggest using a minimum of 11-pound (5-kg) jute webbing.
English webbing, also known as black-and-white webbing, is woven in a herringbone pattern. It is the highest-quality webbing and an excellent substitute for jute when upholstering fine and antique furniture. The best English webbing is woven entirely from flax. Lower-grade levels contain a percentage of cotton, hemp or linen and are not as strong. English webbing generally comes in widths of 2 inches (5.1 cm) and weighs 11 pounds (5 kg) per gross.
Man-made webbing typically is used for low-priced and contemporary couches and chairs. Although nylon webbing is thinner than jute webbing, both provide coil springs with an equal amount of support, even in the seating area. Between the two, nylon is the more appropriate choice for upholstering modern and outdoor furniture. Unlike jute, all nylon upholstery is the same, so it is not sold by weight. Polyester webbing also can be used in place of jute or nylon, but because it is a newer addition to the upholstery market, it has been used less frequently.
Rubber webbing can be used without coil springs. Elasticized webbing is less expensive to use than springs and allows for more flexibility in frame design. In contrast with those pieces manufactured in the United States, most European and Scandinavian furniture comes with rubber webbing suspension systems.
There are many advantages to rubber upholstery webbing. As a suspension system, it eliminates the need for traditional hardware, provides a strong support foundation and reduces the amount of noise associated with coil springs. Rubber webbing is sold according to stretch and number of strands, depending upon the amount of firmness or bounce desired in a couch or a chair.
In traditional furniture, the webbing usually is attached to the ends of the piece. Contemporary furniture that has been constructed with staples and tacks often lacks the strength needed to keep the webbing in place. To remedy the situation, webbing should be attached to the sides rather than the ends of the parts that are being reupholstered.
Traditional webbing materials such as jute or English webbing should not be used on contemporary couches and chairs, just as it is inappropriate to use man-made webbing on fine and antique furnishings. If in doubt, most upholsterers would advise replacing what is already there. Tossing an upholstery tool on top of a web is the ultimate test for upholstery webbing — the best webbing will toss it right back.