My third week at Tresithick – Day 2

It shouldn’t have come as any surprise that there is still a great deal to think about even when you’re working with staples and foams rather than loose fillings and tacks. Today’s main challenge was setting the fabric on the back of my chair, making sure that the lines sat correctly and that the whole thing remains easy on the eye.

Having covered the chair to calico, I’d (wrongly) assumed that the top fabric would just slot into place as the calico stage had already created the final shape, but this was not to be. The triangular back, the concave curve and a little stretch in the fabric meant that it took some time to ensure the pattern and the weave of the fabric looked just right. Some ‘slewing’ of the pattern is unavoidable when there’s a complex shape involved, but it takes time to keep this to an absolute minimum. So here’s today’s progress and the big reveal for my chosen fabric!

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You’ll see in the final photo that I’ve decided to add some buttons. This was a decision made today as it enables me to have a go at shallow buttoning under supervision, and it also means that there’s something helping to anchor the fabric to the inside of that lovely curve. These are just pinned in place for now, meaning that I could play around with where they’ll go and I can change my mind up until the last moment. Richard and I discussed a few other creative options which would allow me to try much more than just a straight forward chair build, so I’ll keep you posted.

Before the end of the day I’d started to build the seat using layers of foam – ‘chipped foam’ for structure and depth, higher density foam for comfort and needle felt in the centre for a lovely domed shape. I’ve certainly got to grips with the electric carving knife today!

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Tomorrow I’ll be sewing a calico cover for the base and hopefully moving on to my final fabric for the seat and borders. I’m hoping to squeeze in enough time this week for a box cushion cover, so I need to pick up the pace!

We’re hosting tonight in our holiday cottage for friends which should be great fun and makes this week feel even more like a holiday! Still, early night, I need to alert for sewing tomorrow. Safety first!

My third week at Tresithick – Day 1

It always surprises me that I feel a bit nervous on days like this. Despite the fact that I have had the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences at Tresithick over the last couple of years, I seem to get that first day of school feeling creeping back in! Of course there was no need to worry, as ever Richard, Sonja, Nadine and Bella the dog were all pleased to see me and keen to start talking about my chosen project for this week, the ’10 please Fred’ chair as I’ve fondly come to know it.

As Richard and I start to talk through the plans, I get a good sense of what I’m going to learn this week – using foams rather than loose stuffings, working with staples rather than tacks and it would seem that I’ll be spending a fair amount of time at the sewing machine too.

My chair is confirmed to be sturdy enough to start work straight away (no frame repairs needed), in fact, Richard seemed confident that with so much chipboard my chair might easily withstand a nuclear explosion.

So today has been all about the chair back and getting to grips with that lovely curve. Now, while the curve is aesthetically beautiful, it does throw you a few problems when it comes to upholstery. Normally, when you attach fabric to a flat chair back, you’ll gradually pull it taught and tack it in place in the centre of each side and work out toward the corners all the way around – thing with this curve is that if you pull the fabric horizontally across the curve, you’ll pull it flat and the curve will vanish. So, webbing goes vertically only (so that horizontal webbing doesn’t ruin the curve) and all fabrics after that are secured top and bottom first to create the tension against the curve, then secured horizontally to smooth out any creases. Still with me? These photos show what I’ve achieved today….

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Tomorrow I’ll be adding the final fabric to what I’ve achieved today and then moving on to the seat. Working with foam has been interesting, and as ever Richard has given me plenty to think about when it comes to achieving a professional finish, including some timely advice on cutting around the frame after my calico trimming skills went a little awry!

So what of my fellow colleagues this week? Well, of the 7 students 5 are working toward qualifications – and 2 of us are doing our own thing. Olivia working beside me had a bit of a disaster today when the leg snapped off her (almost completed) antique chair! Richard to the rescue and it was back on in no time! Rob is working on a piece for assessment and has the most wonderful fabric with a hunt scene, I’ll make sure I get some photos. A real treat today was seeing Dawn, one of the students from my very first week in 2011 and hearing about all the things she’s been working on – including the Parker Knoll armchair she has with her that’s giving me a great reference point for my own wing-back at home.

Anyway, that’s my little diary entry for today – Darren’s been hiking along the coast and is now making pasties for our dinner. When in Cornwall ………

What’s next?

I can’t quite believe that I’ve now been working my ‘old job’ part-time for just over a year now. The fear over making that decision seems like and long and distant memory and the benefits to me in taking back just one extra day have been numerous, not least the ability to say ‘yes’ more often when an offer of paid work comes my way.

Working my day-job for just 4 days has given my life more balance – I often consider myself lucky to have a 3-day weekend, even when a part of that is taken by paid upholstery work – because it doesn’t feel like working. In fact, I have less free time now than I have ever had, yet I don’t feel cheated. The past month has seen me, for the first time, beavering away into the late hours in my little shed to complete projects to tight deadlines knowing that the next project is waiting in the wings for another eager customer. Even my little website has seen a few enquiries….. the word is spreading! Now I’m no Parker-Knoll, but this little bit of momentum feels quite exciting and with it my thoughts turn to what the next step in my journey will look like.

One of the completed 'Princess' chairs
One of the completed ‘Princess’ chairs

Ultimately, my aim is to be able to leave the day job and become an upholsterer full-time, and this may come as some surprise, but this is new territory for me. It’s been great to talk to other people about their own businesses and how they knew when it was right for them to make the leap, but that’s their story and their set of circumstances – so while it provides inspiration and reassurance, it doesn’t mean that what worked for them will automatically work for me.

My gut instinct is telling me that 2013 is not the year for another big leap – I’m quite enjoying the balance right now and the natural growth of my skills, experience and business. That said, I can’t help feeling that a little more direction wouldn’t go amiss to help ensure that one day, whenever that may be, my ultimate goal is realised.

Next week sees me complete another week’s tuition at Tresithick, a week that I am looking forward to immensely. This time to indulge in my ‘new life’ often gives me a taste of how things could be that drives me toward action – so it might be perfectly placed to help me decide on a few well chosen next steps.