Stitched and Stuffed

Is it possible to be pleased with something yet disappointed at the same time? These past few weeks I’ve been working, little by little on my latest project piece – a Victorian balloon backed dining chair. This type of chair requires a ‘stitched and stuffed pad’ which essentially means that you create a pad stuffed with hair and then change the shape of it by stitching it around the edges. I’m learning that this is one of the essential techniques to master as an upholsterer as it’s used to achieve a whole host of different finishes.

This is the technique that I am meant to be learning when I take my course in August, but eager as I am and fuelled by some half decent looking results so far, I figured that if I could master this one early, my tutor in August could show me something even more advanced.

Well I’ve done the stitching and stuffing and I have to say I’m pretty pleased with it for a first attempt. Once I got going it wasn’t half as complicated as I’d feared although I am going to have to invest in a heavy duty glove because pulling twine to tension with your bare hands is really painful after about 10 minutes! What should have been created is a flat looking pad with a firm, vertical edge to give the finished chair height and structure; this forms the base for a second layer of stuffing which will give a softer look and feel to the seat. What I’ve been able to create is a flat pad (tick!) with a firm edge (tick!) but the edge is sloping and not vertical. So I’m a bit disappointed that it doesn’t quite look the same as the one in my book, but pleased all the same that it’s more right than wrong. I think I know how to improve it next time which is the main thing, and I think I can rescue this one to maintain the desired look.

The important thing is that I’m enjoying the journey more than ever……

Life drawing, spoonflower and a man with a chesterfield.

I was fortunate enough this week to be invited to attend a life drawing session in Birmingham with Melbourne and Son, a new venture taking life drawing into the workplace. As well as offering me the opportunity to explore the limits of my perceived capabilities (it turns out I was nowhere near as inept as I thought I might be!) I was also asked to bring my two completed project chairs as props for the session.

The session for me was a real confidence booster in a number of ways – for a start the thought of life drawing can put fear into the hearts of most people, but sometimes it’s good to do something that puts you out of your comfort zone for a moment or two. I had very little faith in my ability to draw, but by the end of the session I was reminded that ability really isn’t a barrier. For me, drive, commitment, passion and a way of developing some technique are the elements that will help to move a person much closer to their goals. So in my move toward becoming an upholsterer, lack of ability is unlikely to be my downfall (and I’m happy that I have lots of drive, commitment and passion)

I had some really great feedback on my work from the other people in the class which really gave me a lift and helped to start conversations with some really interesting people. One person in particular gave me a lead to a company in America that will make short runs of upholstery weight material to your own design. The Spoonflower website will help you to set up your image, repeat the pattern, set the colours and order as little as 1 yard – amazing! I’m desperate to try this out and have a million potential collaborations running through my head with some of the talented artists I know. In the meantime it’s possible to select from 1000’s of designs created by other people, so I think I’ll test them out this way first – I’ll keep you posted.

My final bit of motivation came in surprise form this week. I had arranged to take a group of work colleagues to visit a bed manufacturer on the south coast and it turns out that among their diverse portfolio they happen to make chesterfield sofas and chairs, by hand, using traditional methods. Being able to spend time talking to a (retired and doing it for the love) craftsman as he worked on the horse hair seat of a beautiful chestnut leather chesterfield was a joy. That kind of work is a long way off for me, but I’m ok with that – he had certainly earned his stripes. Inspiring. Looks like these visits could be a regular thing – here’s hoping he doesn’t run when he sees me walking through the factory with a list of questions……

My utility room seems to be filling with chairs and my time for working on the in the past few weeks has been really limited. This Saturday however, I’ve allocated most of the day to working on another simple dining chair and my latest auction purchase – a Victorian balloon backed chair needing a ‘stitched and stuffed pad’. This is the one I’m meant to be learning in August when I go for my tuition but I’m just too eager. I’ll post some progress photos soon.