A step closer to using my webbing stretcher….

It’s almost February and I still have the same enthusiasm (if not more) for learning my new skill as I did when I started this blog. That’s got to be a good sign? I’ve been taking a number of steps in the last weeks:

The Projects

I was advised to start working on a simple ‘drop in seat’ chair to get to grips with the basic skills, and I’ve bough 4 from Ebay this week for £30. However, I’ve been itching to start a project so the ‘pin stuffed pad’ carver (check me out knowing all the right terms) has been stripped stage by stage and photographed as I went along. At this point in time I’m feeling full of confidence and want to tackle this one first – I suppose there’s not much that I can do that can’t be rectified if it turns out my skills aren’t up to it yet?

Stripping the chair left me with a bit of a dilemma. I don’t know a huge amount about the chair, it was given to me by my parents from their loft where it has sat for 20+ years complete with sagging seat, broken webbing and permanent marker artistry courtesy of a 3 year old me. It was given to my parents by my late Grandfather who had acquired it from his place of work and then stained, varnished and re-upholstered it himself. He was an incredibly skilled man who would turn his hand to anything, and I must admit I felt a huge sense of pride in rejuvenating this piece as he did in the 50’s or 60’s. With the coverings removed I set about sanding the varnish and stain with a view to painting the chair black. I imagined this would highlight the silhouette of the chair and set off a contemporary covering, but I soon started to feel really guilty as i looked at the quality and pattern of the wood, feareing that a coat of paint would do it a great disservice. I have to admit that I was also a bit scared that it could be valuable and I was about to drench it in Dulux! So, I’ve decided to leave it as is, sanded, worn and honest.

Great Fabric Supplier

I was getting worried. I’ve been struggling to find a fabric supplier or brand that inspires me and thought I may be destined to do my best with High Street contemporary, until I got a great lead – a new friend mentioned a company called St. Jude’s Fabrics who work with artists to produce really exciting fabric in upholstery grades. I’ve received some samples this week and I’ll be using Mark Herald’s ‘Bird Garden’ in charcoal for the carver.

A Moment of Distraction

I’ve been going to the local auction every week, but as yet haven’t found any project chairs. I did however make a successful bid on a huge pair of antique mounted antlers! I’ve no idea where they will go but knowing how on-trend antlers and taxidermy have been of late in interiors I couldn’t resist. I know I’m looking for upholstery to be a career move, but there’s a risk it could cost me more than I’ll ever make.


6 steps to becoming an upholsterer.

So admittedly this is the way that I’ve decided to do it and it’s unique to my own set of circumstances, but this is what I’m going to do:

1. Buy a couple of good books. I know from past experience that I learn really well this way, so I’ve got ‘The Upholstery Bible’ by Cherry Dobson which has really clear step by step tuition, and ‘The Complete Upholsterer’ by Carole Thomerson on recommendation from a training provider.

2. Get some upholstery tools. I’ve bought basic tools from an Ebay store to get me started – undoubtedly I’ll need more but this is enough for the projects I’m starting with. I have a webbing stretcher! I’ve not yet stretched any webbing, but when the moment arrives I’m equipped.

3. Find a project. I’ve got my second project lined up, but I’m yet to find my first. My parents have given me a carver style chair which was unearthed while clearing out their loft.

4. Look for more projects! I’ve been going to Kidderminster Market Auctions on and off for the last year without much of a plan – but now I have focus! I need to get a ‘drop in seat’ style chair as this is the most straight forward project to start with.

A chair with a stitched and stuffed pad

5. Get yourself some professional tuition. I was really impressed with the help and advice offered to me by Tresithick Upholstery and Restoration in Truro, so I have entrusted my tuition to them. They are however booked until August (such is the demand), so I’ll be going down there in the summer. I hope, by that point I’ll have a few experiences under my belt. I’m told that in the week I’m with them they will be able to help me upholster a chair with a stitched and stuffed pad. This involves a number of upholstery techniques including working with springs – I’m really looking forward to this.

6. Practice! This weekend I’ll be carefully stripping the carver chair to see what’s what. I’m feeling pretty excited.

Continue reading “6 steps to becoming an upholsterer.”

A week of options…

So this week has been back to work, and it would have been all to easy to allow myself to be fully consumed by the day job and lose the head space that the Christmas break has given me – but I didn’t.

I’m feeling really committed to upholstery as being the medium for my creativity. It should allow me to make something from scratch or resurrect something from the dead, it allows me to be the ‘specialist’ that I enjoy being and it allows me to be a part of the interiors world. Why I didn’t consider it before I have no idea – the seed was planted back in November when I met an upholsterer of a similar age to me (he was selling a house that my parents were looking to buy) and I had a light bulb moment. It wasn’t even as if he was selling it to me, in fact he didn’t really even talk about it, he just mentioned it in passing, but what he had inadvertently done was give me the idea that I’d been struggling to find.

Now all I need to do is work out if I’m any good at it! It’s a small technical detail, but at the point of writing this I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I did however see some really wonderful chairs and stools in a magazine this week that were just the kind of thing that I want to make. Brilliant.

I’ve established a few things – there is an Association of Upholsterers (AMUSF) who’s website has been pretty helpful. There are a few ways to learn the trade, you could take an NVQ or a City and Guilds approach, but for that you’d have to be working in the industry already. The AMUSF have accredited training centres where you could do a recreational course or an AMUSF qualification. Some colleges run evening classes or you could buy a book, some tools and have a go. This has been my main challenge this week – how do I go about becoming this brilliant, directional upholsterer who has amazingly stylish furniture photographed for magazines??

I’ve encountered a few obstacles too. It would appear from my research that the West Midlands is a black-hole for upholstery training. No evening classes, no accredited courses, nothing – so, I’ll have to travel whatever I do. Looking at the options further afield, evening classes are out because I can’t get there on time after work. Many of the specialist training centres offer great courses or qualifications, but most of them require 1-2 days per week classroom tuition on a weekday for 9-12 months and my day job has to come first. The AMUSF qualification is attractive, but it’s 6-7 weeks of classroom study in a 12 month period. I get less than 5 weeks’ annual leave from work. Oh, Did I mention the course is in Truro?

Undeterred, I have to decide on my approach and I want to come to a decision this weekend. I can either commit to a qualification which will use most of my holiday time for the next 2 years and cost me quite a lot of money or I can take a shorter course to learn some basics and practice, practice, practice!

The crux of the matter is do I need a qualification to become an upholsterer?

A rough plan

Well I’m 3 days into 2011 and feeling buoyed  by the great feedback and words of encouragement from my first post, I wanted to share a little of my thoughts so far. I think I’ve decided what my ‘thing’ might be.

I’m an incredibly visual person, I have a keen interest in design, fashion and architecture – I’m no expert but I’m told I have a pretty good eye and to this point my creative outlet has been centred around my home. I really love interiors, from the planning through to the execution I could spend each and every day with a paintbrush in one hand and a homes magazine in the other. There’s something else about this that I enjoy too and it dawned on me the other day while chatting to a friend about my plans – I love to see an end result.

My current career path in Learning and Development has the potential to be hugely creative, but the end result of your labours can be a long time coming and it’s often hard to say whether that result is all down to you. Now that’s not to say that I don’t find those outcomes rewarding, but I know that when I physically create or change something I feel an overwhelming sense of pride and satisfaction. There’s something else that I know to be true of myself and this has been supported by various psychometric tests and quizzes over the last few years; I enjoy being a specialist. I like to have a skill or a niche, something that I do and I do really well. This has all been a part of my thought process, and has lead me to my ‘thing’.

So here it is …… I’m going to become an upholsterer!