Last day of the course and the finished chair!

It turns out that I didn’t have to hold Richard hostage for much more than 15 minutes in the end. Everything came together nicely although I must admit it felt a bit like a race against time in the last hour, but that was purely my own sense of pressure as Richard continued to give me all the support and guidance I needed.

The last day was fitting the top cover and a few new techniques were collected along the way – polyester ‘dacron’ (a thin polyester padding) was added between the top cover and the calico beneath, something I’ve not done before but a great way to add a subtle softness to the feel and even out any very minor imperfections. I also learned about tack-ties, a phrase I had heard a great deal this week but didn’t understand (I had assumed it was some sort of fastening technique!) which turned out to be the vertical indentations you can get around the side of your chair if your tacks are pulling too hard on the fabric. My chairs so far have been full of them but until now I didn’t know that this wasn’t the done thing – I’m on tack-tie watch from this point forward and thankfully I’ve been shown how to sort them out.

Last thing to do was make my double piping for the trim, a quick lesson on warp, weft and bias-cut gave me a few options before setting to work on the industrial 1960’s sewing machine, which had so much power that it’s a wonder my piping doesn’t also include my wristwatch, a bit of ┬ájumper and the top of my index finger.

So with everything ‘tacked off’, trim applied and bottoming cloth placed underneath as a finishing touch, it was done! Ta-da!!!!!!!!

This is without a doubt, technically the best thing I have been able to create so far. This week has been not only hugely beneficial but incredibly inspiring, cementing the feeling that this is what I want to do and making it an even stronger aspiration and therefore an even stronger possibility. The danger for me now is that I’m so full of enthusiasm that I just want to take that leap of faith, so I know that the coming days will be agony as the more powerful, reasoned and sensible part of my brain fights against my heart. Maybe there’s a compromise in there somewhere?

I really was sad to leave Tresithick this week, not just because of how much it’s developed me but also because of the people I’ve met……

So I just wanted to thank Lindsey (a talented seamstress who makes blinds and curtains, with the same unhealthy obsession in rubbish old cars as me!), Dawn (just starting out on her course and creating some beautiful pieces already), Penny (owner of an antique shop near Plymouth, brilliant upholsterer and spotter of tack-ties!), Richard (excellent tutor, coach and with the patience of a saint), Sonja (ruthlessly organised, helpful and kept us going with lunches of the highest order), Nadine (not pictured but working as Richard’s second in command and always on hand for expert guidance) and Bella the dog (who kept us amused every break time with pouting looks in the hope of cakes and biscuits), for helping to make my week in Cornwall so bloomin’ brilliant.


Day four of the course

I’m right on track with where I need to be and ready for my fifth and final day – if I don’t finish my chair by 5 tomorrow then I’m not going home until it’s done! I won’t tell my tutor, Richard that just yet as I’m sure he has plans for the weekend that don’t involve me.

Today I finished the stitching by adding my ‘edge roll’, a stitching run that goes through the side and out of the top of the pad, pinching the filling beneath and pulling against the underside of the hessian to form a really firm top edge – this is after all where a chair will see most pressure and wear. I was glad to pass the leather gloves to fellow student Dawn, who is just beginning her own stitched project. She can join Penny, Leanne and myself in the ‘blistered finger club’.


With this done I added a thin layer of hair to add a softer feel to the seat and even out any small imperfections beneath, then a layer of cotton wadding went on top to cushion and soften further. These are pulled tight under a layer of calico so although they will smooth out very minor dips or bumps, flaws in your over all shape will show through – another lesson in getting the early stuff right.


Finally, the calico goes on with skewers (my new favourite tool!) and can be adjusted and tensioned so that the shape and feel is just right – remembering of course that there is now only a thin layer of polyester padding left before the final top cover goes on


The other thing I’m really chuffed with are my corners, I went for double or ‘tulip’ pleats as I tried these on the hare-chair but wasn’t quite satisfied. Richard took the time to talk me through the options and helped me to produce corners I can be proud of! With the calico tacked off and trimmed, this is where I finished:


A massive step forward from anything I’ve done before and a shining example of where there’s no substitute for spending time learning from an expert.

Tomorrow I’m finishing at 5 (hopefully with completed chair under my arm!) and embarking on the long drive back to the Midlands. My final update, and of course the big reveal(!) will probably be on Saturday. Watch this space!

Day three of the course

I can’t believe where the time is going, it’s the end of day three and I’ve passed the half way mark already. Richard says I’m right on track to complete my piece by Friday but it still looks a long way off to me!

Today my chair has really started to take shape and I’ve picked up some brilliant techniques. What today has also done is make me realise just how many mistakes I made with the hare-chair, and again how laying the right foundations will give a much better end result. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I achieved in that piece (and Richard was very complimentary based on my lack of formal tuition) but I can’t wait to compare what I’ve done this week with my previous work.

So, today was all about first stuffings – taking the ‘chair afro’ that I finished with yesterday and giving it shape and structure. Firstly it’s regulating the coir filling, teasing it out so that its evenly spread with good depth, no holes and fairly firm when pressed. Then we need to fit hessian scrim over the top to contain the fillings and give us something to stitch into.

This was the biggest learning exercise today for a couple of reasons. My books have been telling me to tack down the hessian at this stage and manipulate the shape within by sticking a regulator (a long, thick needle) through the hessian and move the fillings where they need to go, but today I’ve learned how beneficial skewers can be!


These can be used to hold the hessian in place while being easily removed / replaced for fine adjustments – simple! Why didn’t the book show me this? The second thing I’ve really learned is the importance at this early stage of getting the shape of the chair exactly right – early misalignments, hollow patches or bad symmetry will show through in the final piece even though there’s more stuffing to come. Time well spent.

Finally, I started my stitched edges, same as the hare-chair only a much better shape thanks to the care and attention this morning – and this is where I finished up:


There are more stitches to come tomorrow as we build up a little more height, but I’m glad of the rest – to get the nice firm edge you have to really pull each stitch to lock it in place and even wearing 2 leather gloves on the same hand my fingers are red raw!!

I need to start thinking about my top fabric tomorrow ready for fitting on Friday. I brought everything I have and at the end of today I put a few to the public vote – there seems to be a clear and unexpected winner, but I’ll keep you in suspense a bit longer on that one!

I’m really loving how everyone is so interested and complimentary about everyone else’s work this week – a truly supportive environment.

Day two of the course

It’s day 2 and once again I’ve learned a huge amount of new skills, techniques and ways to improve what I’ve already practiced.

Today we moved onto creating a sprung base which I was really looking forward to as It’s yet unchartered territory for me. Yesterday I webbed the frame from beneath so that I could use the full depth of the chair for a sprung base, and this morning I tied and lashed four 3-inch springs in place.


For those that are interested, this was then followed with a layer of hessian also tied to the springs, bridle ties for the first stuffing and a healthy amount of coir ready for the stitched pad. Learning how to prepare the stuffing in the right density has been really useful – a book only gives you a picture!

So this is where I’m up to….


Partly, I’m shocked at how long this can take. As I’ve been practicing in fits and starts, this is the first period I’ve had to work on a project from beginning to end – but then I suppose if you’re all about the craft then speed sits at odds with that.

The atmosphere in the workshop is great, lots of chat and laughter – Sonja looks after us beautifully with tea, biscuits, cake and a home made lunch on the patio in the sunshine. It’s all very civilised!

I’ve come across to St Mawes for a wonder by the sea In the evening sun. Does it get much better?

Day one of the course

It was a bit of a mad rush in the end – I found out on Thursday that the chair I’d lined up and stripped down wasn’t going to be suitable for traditional techniques. A bit of panicking and searching on eBay saw me buy 2 Victorian chairs of the correct type on Friday and just in time for my journey to Truro on Sunday.

Chairs in hand, I arrived at Tresithick this morning and to tell the truth I was pretty nervous! What if I’ve been doing it all wrong? What if they just look at what I’ve learned and start tutting and shaking their heads? I needn’t have worried.

Husband and wife team Richard and Sonja put me at ease immediately, their beautiful farmhouse set as a backdrop for a really informal day with Richard offering expert tuition. There are just 3 other people on the course this week so I’m getting all of the attention I need and we’re all working on different things so it’s great to see some more advanced pieces.

My new chair is suitable for springing and I’m really pleased about that. This means that I can learn something totally new over the next few days as well as perfecting the things I’ve already had a go at. I have to say that I’ve learned loads already especially around how to prepare the frame (I’ve always been too eager to get to the upholstery to pay much attention to the frame!) and I expect that my learning will grow and grow over the coming days. A book can only teach you so much. So this is where I am so far:

Today I have stripped off all of the old upholstery, glued 2 frame joints, filled the old tack holes and webbed the base ready for springs. The time just flew!!

So back in my ‘digs’ for the week, which are really inspiring me too. I found a B&B in Probus, just outside of Truro and what a find! Spring Cottage is owned by Chris and David, and I really take my hat off to them – their attention to detail is second to none both in terms of service and style. I find myself walking around this beautiful stone cottage with a massive smile as I notice all the little details including lit tea light candles along the stairs to the door when I returned tonight. Really inspiring. I’m having a great time!