Pattern matching techniques

Expert pattern-matching techniques add value to quality upholstered products.

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As most upholsterers will admit, much of the hard work in reupholstering is done where no one ever sees it.

The proper rebuilding and padding techniques create the quality we want in furniture. That’s one of the reasons low-quality furniture has made such headway in the last few years—consumers can’t tell how well the furniture is made just by looking.

Having said that, one of the ways the reupholstering trade can help customers appreciate a great piece of furniture is to make it look as good as it possibly can. To that end, where and how you place a pattern on an individual piece can make the difference between “okay” and “wow.”

My father-in-law and teacher, Dave Fortner Jr., told me early in my upholstery education that pattern placement is as much art as it is science. He advised me to take some time at the beginning of a project to think about how I want the finished piece to look. That is still good advice.

I take several things into consideration when starting. The first thing I consider is the client. I tell them up front that we will always “center, match and balance.” That information is (most of the time) enough to assure them that all will end well. Some clients, and many designers want to be more involved. Getting input early in the project helps determine how much time, fabric and, therefore, pricing will go into that piece. It also almost eliminates the chance of them being disappointed. Long ago, I learned that it is less expensive for me to call a client when I am not sure and get it right, rather than proceed and have to do it over later.

Most times, the decisions are pretty straightforward. We move the fabric left to right, up and down on each panel and center it there. Left to right is easy. However, the up and down placement is the “art” part. I always start with the pattern centered and then move it to gain the most impact for that particular pattern on that particular piece. On inside backs for instance, most times the pattern looks best placed above the exact center of the back. Inside arms usually look best when the pattern is a bit lower than the exact center. That is the balance part of placement. The upholsterer’s experience and judgement play a huge part here.

Matching plays a bigger part in some patterns than others:

  • If you are working with a floral print, once you have centered and balanced the pattern on all the panels you can be pretty sure the piece will look great.
  • Working with stripes and plaids can offer more opportunities for creating a good looking piece of furniture.
  • Working with a non-symmetrical stripe requires you to turn the fabric upside  down when applying the outside panels. This allows you to match the stripe where the outside and inside panels meet.
  • A plaid fabric can really challenge your ability to plan ahead, because you now have a match available both vertically and horizontally. We prioritize which areas we match depending on the overall visual impact. Sometimes we may have to give up the match where the front part of the inside and outside arm meets so that we can keep the match where they meet on top of the arm. This is because that is the most visible area. The old carpenter’s adage of “measure twice, cut once” can pay dividends at this stage of the job.
  • Flow matching is something we see only occasionally. It means that we match the panels where they meet in order to make the pattern “flow” in one unbroken “match” from the front of the piece to the top. This is usually used in large patterns or those with a theme. It typically requires more fabric. In this case we would start by placing the pattern first on either the seat or inside back and then moving the pattern on the adjoining panel to allow the pattern to continue seamlessly.

With a bit of thought and planning, proper pattern placement is a great way for upholsterers to create a happy customer, great word-of-mouth advertising and more business for themselves.

Fortner Upholstering is a family owned business in Columbus, Ohio. It celebrates more than 80 years in business offering reupholstering services, custom built furniture and new retail furniture.


Comments are the opinion of individual posters and do not reflect the views of Upholstery Journal or Industrial Fabrics Association International.

  • Barbara Fortner
    Barbara Fortner

    No relation but a Fortner Uph too! Imagine my surprise

    I was looking up my ansestry on the web and found upholstery apparently is in the Fortner veins :-)      I grew up in Dakota City, Iowa where my father's upholstery shop is also called Fortner Upholstery. He's going to be 85 yrs old at the end of this month (Sept 2011) and still "tinkers in the shop" doing what he wants these days instead of being the perfectionistic craftsman he was for his customers... now he plays and pleases those close to him with his handywork. Your article is great and I can relate as I, in my youth, helped my dad. In the summers we childern were kept busy removing tacks/staples from chairs to help him... I truly enjoyed learning from my daddy and am able to do some uph work myself if I so desire. My childhood friends were in awe that my dad could talk with a mouthful of tacks without hurting himself or swallowing them... of course that all changed when he went "hi tech" with his air compressor staple-gun.  Finding you on the web tonight has brought back many fond memories. I'll have to show him your website sometime. I'm sure, he too, will enjoy the fact that our namesake and upholstery is in the bloodline. All the best to you and yours. -- Barbara Fortner

  • Stephen Winters

    More Info on Pattern Matching

    Good Article! I came across this article while doing a search on the Internet. Glenn gives a lot of valuable insight to the art of pattern matching that most clients don't think about. For example, matching a plaid with the pattern going both horizontal and vertical can be quite challenging. 

    Plain matchHere is an example of an attached pillow swivel rocker done in plaid. Click on the picture to see other views of this chair. Our Pattern Matching page that I mentioned above shows other types of matching.

    I've also written an article on Pattern Matching and provides more information. I've been doing upholstery since 1966 and also write articles for my own websites.



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