The fifth and final day

I have had the most amazing week and completed my 4 hour drive home on Friday evening with a smile on my face and my completed project in the boot.

There aren’t many things for me that surpass my expectations when they are already sky high, but my two weeks at Tresithick have done just that. There is something so wonderful and enjoyable about learning something completely new, especially when you’re genuinely passionate about the subject. I’ve felt that this week has also been a bit of a milestone for me in that the techniques that I have learned are now really separating me from an amateur with a staple gun. I’m starting to feel like a real specialist. Of course there’s still loads for me to learn, and I watched in awe as some of my fellow students completed their advanced pieces this week, but i feel excited that I still have that journey ahead of me.

And so to the finished pad complete with piped edge, ready for me to build a frame in the coming weeks to turn it into a footstool. What do you think?

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Of course this week wouldn’t have been as enjoyable if it weren’t for Richard and Nadine’s expert tuition and the company of Tracey, Kate, Henry, Claire, Catherine, Amanda, Sonja and Bella the dog…

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Catherine completes her stunning armless chair knowing that she can’t take it home as she travels all the way from the USA to complete this course!

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Claire tackles the arms on her level 3 piece – really advanced stuff

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Kate perfects her sprung dining chair with stunning results, although she’s concerned her daughter is going to use it as a clothes horse once it’s in her bedroom!

With Monday just around the corner I’ll soon be back into the swing of my day job, and you can guarantee I’ll be squirrelling away some pennies for my next week in Truro.

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The fourth day

Buttons, buttons everywhere and ……. all of the bloomin’ things needed making and attaching to my footstool today. I kid of course, it’s been another enjoyable day at ‘chair school’ as Darren has affectionately named it and my top fabric has been buttoned in place.

The day started with making the buttons, and in the end I’ve gone for plain white which should make sense when you see the fabric. Please turn away if you’re of a sensitive disposition.

Making buttons was really enjoyable and involved a specialist piece of kit that I can’t yet afford. Thankfully there are places both on-line and in nearby Wolverhampton that can make them up for me. So 28 buttons (plus a few spares) were made first thing to pin my top fabric in place

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With my fabric painstakingly marked out, each button was then stitched through the fabric with a double-pointed needle right through to the underside of the pad and secured to the toggle beneath.

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As before, as each button goes into place, I’m checking that the fabric and the pleats are neat and aligned. Of course this is where it gets really exciting because you get a feel for what the finished piece will look like

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And this is where I’ve left it this evening ready for the edge pleats to be finished tomorrow

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What do you think of the fabric? Not to everyone’s taste of course but certainly one to notice! Richard has given me some great advice on how to complete the project beyond tomorrow as I’ll have to construct a frame, upholster that and attach feet for it to fulfil its footstool destiny.

I’ve also been able to have a go at slipstitching today which is a technique used commonly to attach material to the back or side of a chair where you can’t have tacks or piping on show. I’ll need this skill for a couple of projects waiting on the wings, and Tracy was kind enough to let me have a go at it on her armchair-arm, a marked piece that she’s completing for her level 2 qualification. It’s true to say that Tracy struggled to ‘bond’ with her arm, it’s a piece that teaches you a huge amount but unlike the others you can’t take it home and display it in your sitting room!

Tracy did a great job of masking her true feelings as pictured below, seeing the project as a useful exercise. I also think that the off cuts of terracotta fabric compliment her gold Doc Martin’s, which quite frankly have been a distraction. See what an have to put up with? I who am I kidding? I really will be sad to leave.

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At the end of my last day I’ll be jumping in the car and completing the 4+ hour drive home, so the final post will happen over the weekend and I hope to be able to show you the completed pad.

The third day

As a child, whenever we went away on holiday as a family the final day was always the most painful for me, as invariably I’d had an amazing time and would spend hours crying at the thought of going home. I might give a repeat performance at the end of this week.

I find it really hard to explain how much I get from being down here, but spending time doing something you love with great people who also love the same thing as you is priceless. I can’t wait for my next week here already! I’d better start selling some pieces to pay for it.

So today has been (relatively) more studious, I’ve been in the cutting room on my own for a few hours and Tracy vowed to talk less so that we could all concentrate! It didn’t happen – we all enjoy it too much and are as bad as each other.

As for my footstool, there’s not a huge amount to show today as a lot of my time has been spent checking measurements, pleat positions and pad tension ready for the top cover. I finished securing the calico this morning and it’s produced a really neat looking pad which closely resembles the finished article, however any mistakes at this stage will show up in the final piece so it’s important that every element is technically and aesthetically correct.

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Then another layer of polyester padding goes over the top to enable to final fabric to move more easily into place and soften the feel of the finished item. In lots of ways it feels sad to cover up what’s been achieved so far, but I’m sure it’ll be looking more impressive in no time.

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With this done, I had an afternoon to plan the button positions on my final fabric. Again this is a painstaking, mathematical task with each button position needing to be mapped horizontally, vertically and diagonally against the next. I did consider hurling myself out of the window on a couple of occasions. Taking the time here (however distressing) means that your fabric will pleat perfectly from one button to the next without any ‘bagging’ or even over-tensioning that could put strain on the buttons. As I want this footstool to look stunning, I figured it was time well spent.

I’m keeping the fabric a secret for now (I’ll show you tomorrow!) but I will give you a teaser in the form of my first few buttons. I’ve not decided which colour or pattern to use yet, these were testers so that I could get used to the button covering machine.

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I’m hoping to have some great progress shots to show you tomorrow. Until then…….

The second day

Day 2 and I’m really getting into the swing of things today. Not only have I found that I’m working with a great bunch of fellow students but my deep buttoning project has started to take shape and I’m finding the process enjoyable and rewarding.

Tresithick are taking 7 students each week now that our guru, Richard is ably supported by Nadine ( deputy guru). The layout of the workshop means that the group is split into two distinct areas and I’ve found myself with Tracy, Henry and Kate who have kept me amused all day. Needless to say, very little of our conversation is about upholstery and I’ve had a great abs workout from all the laughing that’s taking place. Definitely the naughty-corner. Of course we’re fully focussed on completing our projects and learning all that we can, but the group dynamics are making the whole experience even better.

So to my footstool, and today I’ve attached my calico cover which really sets the shape and firmness for the final cover in the next couple of days. Again, hugely mathematical, I had to mark the calico with the position of all 28 buttons allowing enough material for the calico to be fitted deep into the holes. The calico is pulled int the holes with a loop of buttoning twine and secured on the underside of the board with little toggles made from off cuts of firm material. This is where you can really see the shape and pattern of the finished article start to appear as each button hole is created…….

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This has been a whole-day job, and there’s more to complete on this tomorrow. Unfortunately, it’s not a simple case of just pulling the material into the holes – each fold that is created has to be neatly pleated following certain conventions that will have the pleats running in the right direction. Each pleat in the edge of the pad needs to be arrow-straight so that the final fabric has the correct guide beneath it to give the desired effect. Of course, there are a few pleats that just fall into place, and others that put up a fight! It’s been hugely time consuming, but great fun and as ever I’ve learned heaps.

I’m really pleased I didn’t go for a small board, the scale of this will look stunning and it looks like I’m on schedule for finishing by day 5.

The first day

So I’m here, we flew down to Truro on Friday night and had a weekend exploring the area before I started my course this morning.

With a little bit of that ‘first day of school’ trepidation, I arrived at Tresithick at 9am with my sandwiches and a massive plank of wood. Richard, Sonja and Nadine very quickly settled me in (it was great to see them again) and I was introduced to the other students here this week. Most students this week are ahead of me in terms of their learning, and 5 out of the 7 people are completing the AMUSF qualification. This of course is great for me because it means I get to see a real variety of projects and listen in on the help and advice given at a more advanced level as the week progresses.

Attention then turned to my project, which ultimately will be the top of a huge coffee table style, deep buttoned footstool. In planning for this week it was important that I had a project that would keep me occupied for 5 days and my discussions with Sonja prior to arriving seemed to suggest that a small deep buttoning project might not fill the week. So I decided to up the scale a little, well, a lot. There were a few raised eyebrows as I started to discuss my plans for a footstool measuring almost 1m square, especially from those who have completed similar exercises in the past – but hey, I wanted to get my money’s worth this week and Richard seems full of confidence that I can do it and that’s good enough for me! At this stage, as I have no idea what processes lie ahead I feel pretty confident too (famous last words?)

As with my previous posts and for those that are interested in the detail, here’s what I’ve done today….

Deep buttoning is really quite mathematical, if you don’t set your button positions accurately at every stage, you’ll end up with a piece that looks uneven and messy, so accuracy is the key. We started by marking the position of the buttons on my ply board and drilling holes so that the various layers and ultimately the buttons can be pulled through and secured. I’m looking at 28 buttons in this footstool (I’m told I’ll be sick of buttons by the time I’m done!!)

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With that done we started to build up the pad and the first layer is rubberised hair. I’ve not worked with this before, it’s hair coated in a rubberised solution and set as a pad. It gives an even shape and consistency, can be cut with scissors and is great as a first stuffing for my footstool. This is attached to the edge of the board with staples to give a rounded profile and with the hole positions marked out, I cut crosses in the pad so that the buttons can be seated later on.

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Then it was on to more padding, this time 2 layers of cotton felt, each one having the hole positions cleared as it was added. This was pretty time consuming, but you can already see the shape starting to form.

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Finally for today, a layer of polyester padding that will prevent the cotton breaking up when the first layer of material is added tomorrow.

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I really don’t know where the time goes when I’m here, days absolutely fly past. Tomorrow the pad will really start to take on that deep buttoned look as I add a calico cover (already marked with mathematical accuracy!) but this is also where the work starts to become more detailed in ensuring the width and depth of each pleat is just-so.

I’m having a brilliant time as I knew I would and I can’t wait to show you tomorrow’s progress!

Truro here I come (again!)

Late last year, still full of enthusiasm for the week I spent at Tresithick, I booked up to spend another week at their idyllic workshop in Truro so that Richard, Sonja and Nadine could help me move my skills another step forward.

Guess what? I’m heading to Truro tomorrow to start my next 5-day project on Monday – I’m so excited! Not only do I get to indulge my new passion for a whole week, learning new techniques and (hopefully) producing something aesthetically pleasing at the end of it, but I’m also staying at the equally idyllic Spring Cottage again.

If I don’t feel totally rejuvenated by the time I come back, there’s no hope for me. The timing is perfect too as my return will be just one week away from starting my new part-time contract, so I can put my enthusiasm to good use.

So, this is my project for the week:

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Yes, it looks like a big piece of 18mm plywood. Watch this space………