Technique Spotlight : Stitched Edge Roll

A time honoured traditional upholstery technique, the stitched edge roll refers to all stuffed and stitched edging profiles. An edge roll creates the firm base to support a seat, the top edge of a seat back, or a firm sofa arm. It’s quite a particular feel, since it is strong enough to retain a shape once sat on, but not so hard to be uncomfortable. Just firm, horsehair does this perfectly whilst being able to withstand years of use. A stitched edge roll helps define curved arms and back shapes, and is a technique that takes years of practice to master.Images of stitched edge rolls

Drawing of a stitched edge in progress

Stitched edge upholstery was first developed at the end of the 17th Century, and was very popular throughout the 18th Century in both England and France. Upholsterers started using stitching styles borrowed from saddlery techniques, which later in the century developed into the more skilled stitching combinations we are familiar with.

The earliest simple iteration of the edge roll was a small amount of loose filling rolled in linen scrim, tacked around the frame edges. This stuffed edge roll evolved into what we still make today. With the widespread use of the stitched edge roll, upholstered furniture became more varied and complex, it caused something of a renaissance within the art of upholstery. Sloped shapes could now easily hold padding, and complex curved forms could be built through working up hair, without crafting complex forms in the timber frame, a huge time saving which subsequently opened up numerous design possibilities.
Two stitched edges on the backs of furniture
A traditional edge roll is created by working a thick layer of horsehair which is laid down along the edge, this is then covered in hessian or scrim and shaped into an even roll. Packing in the correct amount of hair in the first instance is vital, or your edge may be too hard or soft, or larger or smaller than desired.

This stuffing is then skilfully stitched to become bound into an edge. Firstly, it is blind stitched multiple times through the hessian cover to condense the hair into a firmer layer, fix it in the right place, and build height. More height is created through more layers of blind stitching.

Finally, the pinched edge shape is created by top stitching through all layers tightly. The hair is worked between every layer of stitching to ensure evenness. This results in an edge that adds a fair amount of height to the frame, and extends out from the edge to provide a protective lip along the seat front or arm facing.
Diagrams of edge rolls on furniture
This traditional build up technique is very laborious; most upholsterers wear a leather glove when stitching to protect their hand from the sharp twine that must be pulled taught time and time again.

Other traditional edge finishes include the soft rolled edge, which is appropriate for arms and backs with thin fillings, and the feather edge, which is a sharp, firm edge often used under leather work and on dining chairs, this requires more lines of stitching on top of a classic edge roll and results in a crisp square finish.

Once an edge is created, softer wadding layers are added to build up cushioned areas. Many of our sofa and armchair models use the stitched edge roll technique, and our fully traditional pieces feature stitched edges across the arms, back and seat.