Railway Preservation News

Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats
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Author:  SteelGrinder [ Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:46 am ]
Post subject:  Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

Without starting a debate, interested to know mainly 1) if and where velvet fabric matching the patterns in the pictures below might be currently purchased?

These fabrics are from an armrest and seat upholstery on a Pullman Sleeper. The pictures are not at the same magnification, see the figure comments for the pattern sizes. It is unclear to me if the fabric is from the 1940's or later. Sleeper last used on Santa Fe. Background color possibly could be considered a blue (with slight green tint) with nearly black contrasting pattern.

Related questions might be 2) what is the pattern name and/or identification and 3) any good or bad experience (for preferably successful) cleaning of this type of older fabric?

File comment: Size of largest dark square in pattern is ~5/32" (just greater than 1/8")
Armrest Pattern Sm.jpg
Armrest Pattern Sm.jpg [ 57.44 KiB | Viewed 1882 times ]
File comment: Size of dark pattern is ~1.75" x ~7/8"
Quail Pattern sm.jpg
Quail Pattern sm.jpg [ 65.22 KiB | Viewed 1882 times ]

Author:  David Johnston [ Tue Jul 30, 2019 1:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

You may want to start at the Newberry Library in Chicago. They probably have the equipment data cards for your specific car. It has lots of data on all features of the car. They may also have specifications for various fabrics. Can you tell us more about the project, what the specific car is, and where it is located?

Author:  Brian Norden [ Tue Jul 30, 2019 1:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

At one time railroad upholstery was made using Mohair. Mohair is the fleece from goats. Apparently making a more durable material than wool from from sheep.

I don't know for how long Mohair was used for railroad upholstery purposes.

If you are interested in the original construction specifications for your car there is a possible source. In some cases the Illinois RR Museum Pullman Library can provide a copy of these. You will have to tell them the Pullman Lot (order) number. There may also be a fee.

Author:  Doug Debs 2472 [ Tue Jul 30, 2019 3:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

Mohair velvet (doesn't have any pattern, so will show dust and sweater fuzz something awful - not what Pullman used) upholstery fabric at $83 / running yard (54" wide):

More info, and a vendor (special order only):

Mohair, pronounced MO-HAIR is one of the most ancient textile fibers known to man. The word mohair comes from the Arabic word mukhayyar, and translates as "choice" or "he chose." It refers to a fabric or fiber made from the hair of an Angora goat. Often mistaken for a sheep due to its curly, long hair, the goat is shorn twice a year and it's hair spun into yarn. Known for its lustrous, resilient and wavy characteristics, mohair has been a desired fiber for clothing, drapery, and seating for centuries. Only a few mills have mastered the art of weaving mohair. South Africa and the United States are the largest producers of this ancient textile


Connoisseurs appreciate mohair for the following remarkable characteristics:

Durability - Mohair is a natural fiber and will outlast cotton, wool, and cashmere. Exceeding contract upholstery seating requirements, mohair is extremely durable. Abrasion ranges from 80,000 to 150,000 double rubs. It is also impossible to wrinkle, pill, or mat as it is extremely resilient.

Resistant to Dirt - The fiber’s long and silky smooth quality prevents dirt from becoming trapped within the textile.

Insulator & Absorbent - Mohair has great insulating properties and is the perfect fabric for both warmer and cooler climates. It is also used for its sound absorbent qualities in drapery curtains and theatre upholstery seating. Mohair holds dye well and comes in many saturated colors.

Luster - Known for its plushness and sheen, mohair is desired for its natural luster.

Mohair can be used for stage curtains, upholstery seating, hotel lobbies, commercial decor, draperies and pillows. It is known as a designer upholstery and drapery fabric due to its durability, yet lightweight characteristics. Highly regarded as a high end fabric, mohair is pricey and may not fit everyone's budget. With the popularity of chenilles and velvets, Greenhouse Fabrics does not stock mohair in inventory, however, we are prepared to supply it to customers who request this plush upholstery and drapery fabric.

- Doug Debs

Author:  Al Stangenberger [ Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

Western Railway Museum purchased mohair fabric to restore Sacramento Northern interurban 1005.

We purchased it from Arc-Com.

They have local representatives, above URL is for corporate headquarters.

Author:  SteelGrinder [ Thu Aug 01, 2019 1:56 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

I would add that upholstery fabric in the pictures I uploaded is not original to the car. I would be just guessing to say anything beyond that fabric in the pictures is different than the original. Possibly this is a fabric Pullman used at a later time period, or ATSF replaced it, or someone else?

The original upholstery was possibly Pullman Pattern 1315-84 but I doubt there is much if any of that remaining on the seats. For the moment just trying to consider if replacement of fabric on a few items is possible (replacing everything I expect would be very expensive).

Author:  Bob Hall [ Thu Aug 01, 2019 8:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

The Australian-built Pullman sleeper we're restoring in Canberra had white (or cream) mohair upholstery.
From what I've been able to find, the NSW Railways used it on their sleepers starting with the American-built (but Australian-upholstered) Pullmans imported in 1891.
It was sometimes referred to as "American cloth."
When the Mann-style steel TAM sleepers were introduced in 1913, they were still fitted out with mohair and that appeared to be the case until around 1920, when leather started to replace the mohair.
As others have said, mohair was found to be exceedingly well wearing and the nature of the fibre repelled dirt.
The question of why a railway would use such a light colour has not been definitively justified by the NSWR, but I believe it was that infectious diseases in those times had to be very strongly guarded against and indeed I have instructions issued at the time on the methods of fumigating any carriages found to have carried a passenger with such diseases.
Thus, I believe white was chosen because it would show up any nasty marks, which may otherwise have gone undetected with a darker colour.
The fact that this practice continued for some 30 years says to me that it worked.
Regarding the purchase of mohair fabric, I did considerable research several years ago.
I had great difficulties tracking down white mohair. In fact, the only company who could do it were Schumachers of New York. However, the minimum run quantity was about 3 times more than we needed and the cost was about $75,000!
Needless to say, we didn't go down that path. Coincidentally, I'm expecting the first couple of cushions to be finished by our upholsterer in the next few days, but it's with a synthetic velvet, unfortunately.
One word of warning. I found in internet research, there were many cloths advertised as "mohair", but on deeper analysis they were actually synthetics masquerading as mohair.
Our friend in China were usually the main culprit.....
Cheers, Bob

Author:  car57 [ Fri Aug 02, 2019 9:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

Under several of my seats purchased for my 1887 car are scraps of the original material, so check that carefully you may be surprised.

Mike P

Author:  Bob Hall [ Sun Aug 04, 2019 6:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

Believe me, Mike, I tried that. There was not a skerrick of old material to be found.
Those upholsterers were far too efficient for my liking!
Cheers, Bob

Author:  Brian Norden [ Mon Aug 05, 2019 12:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sources for velvet upholstery fabric for Sleeper Seats

Years ago, I realized that Pullman used upholstery material (maybe reused) to make a weather seal on the bottom edge of the wooden window sash. It was very interesting to take a strip that looked black from road grime, etc. and clean it with plain water; then find it turning green with an upholstery pattern.

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