41st Annual Meeting- Textiles + Wooden Artifacts Joint Session, June 1, “Slipcovers: Old and New” by Anne Battram

Anne Battram presented a shortened version of a talk given at the “first International Conference in Europe focused on upholstery history,” held in Vadstena, Sweden.  Proceedings of the Sweden conference, “The Forgotten History- Upholstery Conservation” ed. Karin Lohm are available from Linköping University.  Several people noted that this publication can be difficult to obtain- check with Anne or the University. Archetype may also have copies.
The talk gave an introduction to the history of slipcovers in America, and was jam-packed with specific examples and great visuals.
Anne explained that slipcovers have been used for seating furniture, footstools, and tables. They are often used to protect the surface below, which might be an expensive or fragile upholstery fabric, underupholstery, or finished wood.  In a home, sturdy slipcovers might be removed to create a fancier appearance in honor of an esteemed guest. But in some instances, the slipcover itself is made of an expensive, extravagant material, and can be removed and stored when not in use. One example of a close-fitting, fancy slipcover was secured to the chair using cords attached to the cover, threaded through holes drilled in the frame.
Adding slipcovers to worn or outdated furniture has been used as a less expensive alternative to having them reupholstered. Slipcovers also allowed rooms to be re-decorated “en suite” with matching fabric for the upholstery, cushions, and window treatments.
Slipcovers are differentiated from dustcovers, which are used to protect furniture when it is not in use (e.g. in storage or when a house was closed). Dustcovers tend to be less form-fitting, usually extend all the way to the floor, and often are made from solid colored fabric.
Striped and checked fabrics were popular for slipcovers used to protect upholstery from everyday use. Sturdy chintz and toile patterns were also common. Colonial Williamsburg has an example of a leather slipcover.
Construction details vary: some examples of early slipcovers were made with the seams facing out and bound, (giving an appearance similar to welting) which would make the fitting process simpler and add definition to the final shape. Some slipcovers are very loose, barely fitted and might be attached with ties. Skirts and flounces added to a slipcover would give added protection to projecting curved or carved legs.
Check out the postprints, and the proceedings from the Sweden conference, for all the well-researched details on slipcovers.