We have some catching up to do….

So it’s been three months since my last post and what a three months it’s been!

As always I started out with the very best of intentions to keep you updated with progress on my concave (egg) chair but by the time I returned to Tresithick for my final week of tuition, the deadline for my written research project was looming and I’d done my usual trick of leaving everything to the last moment!! Needless to say, rather than showing you lovely people gorgeous pictures of my chair, I was hurriedly pulling together a bibliography, referencing photos and attempting to print a sizeable 19,000 word piece on the ‘History of 20th Century Furniture Design’. I did it……… but the printer nearly went out of the window.

I should add that despite my self-induced stress the written research project was actually a really enjoyable thing to do – the sheer quantity of written work wasn’t actually a requirement but instead it was a result of how much I was learning. I felt sorry for Richard who had to plough through it!

So we have a lot to catch up on don’t we? The chairs, the assessment and a few other things that I’m not sure I can share with you just yet…..

The egg chair continued to be a joy to work on although I wouldn’t want to give the impression that it was a walk in the park. Once you’ve created your tailored cover for the shell, you’ve got to fit it – and this is the tricky part. Imagine trying to put a coat on a child who under no circumstances wishes to wear a coat. It was about that easy. Naturally you want to create a cover for the shell that is as fitted as possible, but as you have ‘wings’ at the top of the chair you’ve somehow got to stretch the cover beyond the point you fitted it in order to settle it into place.

The shell with its new tailored cover. What you can’t see is me in a little crumpled heap of exhaustion behind the camera.

This is where having a fabric with stretch is essential, the last thing you want to hear is the sound of ripping fabric as you’re wrestling the cover into place. I’d love to do another of these chairs, but if you ask me to do it in anything other than super-stretchy wool you’re definitely off my Christmas card list.

With the shell fabric wrestled into place it was time to tackle the inside cushions. bring on the teal! It’s not always easy to tell from samples exactly how a colour combination will work, but boy was I pleased with this one. My confidence was also boosted by the lovely comments from my colleagues in the work room who seemed to fall for these colours in the same way that I did.

Each cushion had to be carefully tailored to fit the space
Final button positions and colour took a little while to decide

New cushions were made to replace the bio-hazard originals (which had a final flourish as padding to protect fellow student, Josie’s mammoth leather armchair as she worked on it) and the covers were again, tailored to fit. The big decision that remained was that of buttons. To match or to contrast? With a short discussion in the work room, matching was a clear winner – a more sophisticated design decision we all thought.

With my final week at Tresithick drawing to a close it was clear that I would still have a little work to do on both of my Diploma chairs to get them ready for final assessment and verification in May. The good news was that the remaining jobs were easily achieved back in my own workshop and both chairs were ready in time.

Returning to Cornwall for verification felt a little odd. This was the first occasion that I’d spent time down there without having a project to work on, not that it was too much of a bind to while a way a few days in sunny Cornwall of course.

The other odd feeling was that this felt like a bit of an end of an era. I’ve been coming to Tresithick for 6 years now and it feels like a part of my world, not just a course I decided to take. Richard has been the most inspirational, patient, generous and supportive teacher and mentor that I could have wished for.  The confidence that he has given me has been phenomenal. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere in the workshop at Tresithick without using the words fun, laughter, energy and inspiration – it really struck me as all of the Diploma candidates joined for a celebratory dinner that I’ve made some brilliant friends over the last 6 years (you know who you are!) and that certainly includes Richard, Sonja, Zoe and Bella the dog.

The last 6 years has flown by and I enjoyed every week at Tresithick as much as my first back in 2011

The achievement of my level 3 Diploma means that there are no more levels for me to achieve and strictly speaking, no need for me to return to Tresithick. I’ve decided not to accept that. There’s always something new to learn, right?

Oh, and the good news is……. I passed! 86% no less, almost a distinction and much more than I had hoped for. Officially chuffed.

So here are the finished pieces – what do you think?

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I’m in love with my egg chair

There’s something about this egg chair that I just love! I don’t know if it’s the anticipation of how it’s going to look (I’ve already ear marked a space at home), the tailoring process of attaching the panels directly to the shell for the perfect fit, or simply the way that my Kirkby wool conforms to the lovely shape – I just want to keep hugging it!

The starting point – 5 panels cut
Step 2 – all pinned into place along the desired seam line
Step 3 – trimmed and ready for sewing
Step 4 – all sewn and ready for reattachment

Covering the chair has been unlike anything I’ve done so far – smooth, pin, cut, remove, sew, reattach and repeat! It’s so immensely satisfying.

This is how I left it today, and in just 2 days I can get a real sense of how it’s going to look. The centre cushions will be made when I return in a few weeks and will be sporting a rather lovely teal blue.

I think I’ve borrowed most of the pins at Tresithick

As ever I’ve had a great deal of fun at Tresithick – Richard and the other students have been on fine form, and a special mention has to go to Richard’s new second-in-command, Zoe who has been a real joy to work with.

I can’t wait to come back

Bella pays the occasional visit to help us tidy up

Une Oeuf Already!

Boom boom! I’m sorry about the corny title, I couldn’t resist.

Well it’s been a busy old fortnight so far. I’m really starting to feel the (largely self-enduced) pressure of completing both of my chairs before the Diploma verification deadline. Worst case scenario I could defer until next year and take more time to complete them but I’m eager to get it done this year. 

The seat fabric goes on…

I’d love to blame the fabric or something else outside of my control, but I think the long and the short of it is, traditional upholstery takes time! Yes, the fabric has added an extra element as the velvet needs to be treated with kid gloves, but I’m really pleased with how it looks so there are certainly no regrets. The good news is that I’ve reached a stage where I can confidently tackle its completion in my own workshop. This is where I’ve stopped for now….

Valance is on, so just the sides and back left to do

This of course means that I have been able to start the egg chair, or more specifically, Father Kelly’s egg chair.

Most of the pieces I’ve had to find for this course have been pretty easy to come by; a drop-in seat, a traditional armchair, a Parker-knoll style wingback. However, it turns out that an egg chair is a little more niche. I made the fatal mistake of biding my time, waiting for the perfect chair to pop up on eBay in my local area. Clearly this didn’t happen and so as I started to panic after Christmas, the search had to widen somewhat, as far as Swansea in fact.

This was the only image I had to go on. It was a risk!!

This chair was secured via Gumtree and it has quite a story behind it. As I arrived at the property on the outskirts of Swansea, it turned out to be the house attached to a small Catholic Church. I was met by a local man who told me that the Priest who lived there, Father Kelly had recently retired to the Mother House at the grand age of 95. unable to take all of his belongings, the parishioners had stepped in to find them suitable new homes. This chair was something of a stylish gem that had until now, been unclaimed and was destined for the tip. It was sporting a rather fetching oatmeal loose cover, expertly made (given the challenging shape) and I like to think that it was made by one of the local church goers. I hope to be able to bring it new life.

Check out those curves!
Not very pretty and as it turns out, not the original fabric either

Constructed out of plywood and blown-foam, stripping it down was a mucky job. The leatherette had gone brittle, mouldy and even sticky in parts! This was a definite mask and apron job. Then I discovered that it had been reupholstered at some point as the remnants of another leatherette cover were found. Oh joy, more staples to remove. 

The stripped egg. It’s so light!

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that the shell isn’t in bad nick. A couple of minor cracks have been repaired, some new foam has been added to the outer shell and fabric starts to go on tomorrow. I’m excited to see this transformation which compared to the armchair should be relatively quick! I’ll keep you posted.

Looking better already

Now, where were we?

I can’t believe that three months have whizzed by since I was last at Tresithick and updating my blog *slaps own wrist*.

Remember this little velvet beauty?
Well, here I am once again and this time it’s for a couple of weeks. The plan was to complete my traditional armchair this week so that I can start my next diploma piece, the egg chair, next week (more on that soon). That said, it’s already Wednesday and it’s not looking like that’s going to happen.

So where were we? Looking back at my last post I had just started to apply the top fabric to the back of the seat, but in actual fact by the time I left the workshop in November the chair was far more advanced that that…

The arms were finished when I left in November but I didn’t photograph it. I’m slipping.
The intention for this week was that the sprung seat would go in and I would be able to complete the remaining outside panels. The truth of the matter is that on a chair of this size (particularly when being rebuilt using traditional methods) time somehow vanishes on the things that you think will be done in a flash. Half a day to add 9 springs, how can that be??? I do however remember at regular intervals that this qualification would not be so valuable if everything was easy or right first time.

The original springs made this chair feel like a ride at Alton Towers. I’ve stiffened things up a tad.
Three days to get here. I was hopig to be sitting outside with a pasty by Thursday afternoon. not going to happen.
I’m holding on to an optimistic view that the next stages of the build will be a doddle. People love an optimist, right?

The magpie in me is keen to move on to the egg chair but apparently patience is a virtue or something. 

As ever there’s lots of laughter in the workshop and I was delighted to see Josie and Anna and Pam who I’ve shared weeks with before – you may recall Josie’s large leather armchair from last time. It’s coming on a treat. 

Time to reveal my fabric choice!

Today, Richard fixed me with a very ernest look and declared “I think it’s time”. 

Regulated to within an inch of its life

Yesterday was all about the second layer of stuffings for the inside back of the chair. A good layer of hair was fixed in place, regulated (a process of evening out the hair so that it’s a consistent depth and density) and my liner was then added to create the final line and shape. So with the arms and the back both at this stage, it could mean only one thing – it’s time for the top fabric to go on!

All shaped and ready to go

But hang on a minute, why risk putting your fabric in place when you still have no seat? Well it’s all about access – at this stage of the build we still have good access to the wooden rails that will be used as tacking points for the fabric, and the ultimate aim is to create as tight a space between the seat and the back as we can. A great, yawning gap doesn’t look great and if you drop it, you could loose your custard cream. So, if we build the seat now it means that we’ll have a very tight gap for our fabric to squeeze through and partly restricted access to the frame for tacking. Of course, once attached it also means that I’ve got to take very good care of my new fabric. 

So what have I gone for? Well as you may know I’ve talked before about tricky fabrics, those that can make your life as an upholsterer that little bit harder. This can be through the construction of the fabric or a pattern that needs careful matching. Unusually for me, I’ve opted for a plain this time, however I thought I’d give myself a hard time by opting for my arch-nemesis, velvet.

Ta-da! Don’t fret, I’m not leaving those flappy bits on the corners

I’ve been really inspired of late by the current fashion for velvet, it just looks so sumptuous and tactile! I’m also loving the shades of blues and greens that seem to be popping up regularly in my favourite interiors magazines. The fact that velvet can be tricky to handle and easily marked seemed to diminish as I envisaged how this chair might look. And so the first panel goes on…… What do you think?

Pasty Friday

Today has felt very satisfying, and pasties for lunch were the icing on the cake. Despite the fact that stitching is really hard on the hands the finished result always looks so impressive. I never cease to be amazed at how a seemingly wild mass of loose coir can become a firm, shaped pad with a real beauty to it. I’ve said before that it seems a shame to cover up this part of the build and it’s no surprise that there is something of a trend for part-built chairs in the most fashionable room schemes.

I love how the edge roll really clarifies the final pad shape

Tempting as it may be, I can’t leave it like this, so the back will continue to be built and I’m hoping that by the end of next week I’ll have some of my top fabric in place and I can get a really good feel for how the finished chair will look.

The finished stitched pad. My hands were glad of that.

You’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that my frame is glued once again and we’re fitting some corner braces next week. I know it’s been keeping you awake.

Hair in place and ready to carry on next week

It’s been a really fun week and I’m pleased that a couple of my new Tresithick friends, Elle and Odette will be in the workshop next week too. A special mention goes to workshop buddies Rachel and Pam who made me extremely happy when they revealed that they read my blog! Hearing this always Spurs me on to keep charting my progress *blows a kiss to Rachel and Pam*

Josie’s work – this is going to be magnificent!

I thought I’d show you a couple of shots of the other things happening in the workshop this week, not least Josie’s beast of an armchair. Josie really is working so hard on this and although it’s been tough going at times, based on where it is right now, the end result will be stunning.

I think Pam wins the award for ‘most precise sewing’
Rachel’s armless chair is coming on a treat. I’m a bit in love with her choice of fabric

The Incredible Exploding Frame

Ok, this might be something of a sensational headline but it got your attention, right?

Coir in place – this chair is getting bigger by the minute

Work on the traditional armchair is progressing well and the back of the chair is taking shape nicely. I’m trying not to think about the fact that this chair was shoe-horned into the boot of the car to come down to Cornwall and there’s a very good chance that it may not fit when it comes to going home at the end of next week!

Staring to take shape but there’s still more to do

In the last couple of days I’ve been able to build the back of the chair including the usual coir first-stuffings, lots of regulating, grappling and skewering. My regulator was red hot, as were my fingers which I kept pricking – I’m convinced that Richard has been sharpening the regulators. I requested a blunt ‘safety regulator’ which he duly found for me – clearly I can’t be trusted with the really pointy ones.

I love skewers! At this stage they’re ideal for marking things (in this case, the position of my through stuffing ties)

My one frustration this week has been my frame which seems to be gradually falling to bits. I’m being very careful to support the frame as I’m hammering but for some reason the recently repaired joints seem to be opening up again…. And when I re-glue one, another comes apart! Richard and I are going to have a look at adding some further support tomorrow in the form of corner braces to make sure that this chair continues to give good service for many years to come. It’s all very well for a chair to look good, but if you can’t actually sit on it…….

Ready for a stitched edge, but that’s a job for tomorrow once the frame is secured

As ever, the workshop is full of fun and utterly lovely people. I was delighted to see my friend Josie was here this week (you’ll have seen her photographed last time helping me lift the chair out of the roof of my car!!) and her massive armchair is coming on a treat. She’s working with leather and it really does look stunning – I’ll try and get a photo before the week is out.

It’s Pasty-Friday tomorrow. I’m unbelievably happy about that. 

The Traditional Armchair Continued….

It’s been a busy few months with my recent move to self employment and almost everything has felt either new or different. Coming back down to Cornwall and the familiarity of Tresithick has been really nice.

This is where we were back in June

Work on my traditionally built armchair has resumed and the last 2 days have been spent working on the arms. On the face of it, progress looks pretty slow but it’s vitally important that I get this right. Imperfections in the shape or structure at this stage will undoubtedly have an impact on the finished result, so it may be painstaking work, but it’s completely necessary.

One cap fitted, one to go…

I’ve chosen (with some reliable guidance of course!) to create caps for the arms. What this means is that you make a kind of fitted cover to the exact shape and dimensions of the finished arm. Once sewn, the cap is fitted to the arm, compressing the fillings, giving you a lovely firm arm which is shaped and ready for the top cover.  This will be made in the same way. I made that sound dead easy didn’t I? It’s taken me a day and a half to do them both.

So I suppose in principle it’s not a hard thing to do, but it does require a great deal of patience. Your tension needs to be good with no loose fabric or areas pulled too tight, your lines need to be smooth with no bulges or divots, your cuts need to be in the right place and your tacks need to be well distanced. Oh, and the left arm needs to match the right one!! Once you’re happy with how it looks, a good handful of measurements will confirm whether you’re on the right lines. Thankfully I was.

Caps fitted and ready for the top fabric. That clamp? More of that shortly…

I was really hoping that I’d be able to start putting my final fabric on the arms today as I’m desperate to see how it looks on a larger scale. It’s so hard to tell from a small swatch. Alas, I’ll have to wait a few days as it’s best to build the back of the chair next and apply your fabric to the back and the arms at the same time – building the back will require quite a lot of frame handling and there’s a risk that your arm fabric could get damaged. A jolly sensible call given that I’ve opted for velvet…….

One thing I learned the hard way today: when you’re hammering home your tacks, always make sure your frame is well supported otherwise you can end up knocking it apart. Nothing some strong glue and a clamp can’t fix, but a schoolboy error all the same!

Taking the plunge

For those of you who have been following my progress via this blog over the past 5 years, I have some pretty big news to share with you. I’ve only gone and done it, yep, it, the whole reason I started this blog and this creative exploration…… I’ve quit my day job! I’ve been officially a self-employed upholsterer for 3 weeks now and I’m pleased to inform you that I’m not yet destitute. Is it too soon to claim it as a success?

This may not look like much but it’s my resignation letter – a very big thing indeed!
Oddly, the shift feels both monumental and completely natural all at the same time. For someone as naturally risk-averse as I am (I’m yet to order anything more exotic than an Americano in a coffee shop) this is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken and it’s still sinking in that I’ve actually gone and done it. That said, it also felt like the right thing to do.

The decision happened about 3 Months ago when changes were afoot in my corporate day-job. These changes weren’t bad and my role wasn’t at risk – in fact, my company were incredibly supportive of what I was doing and even open to the idea of me reducing my hours a little more should I want to. However, change was the theme and as a result it was on my mind. I would sometimes get asked at work “so, what are your plans” to which I had a standard response of “I’m hoping to be fully self-employed in the next 12-18 Months” or sometimes “by the time I’m 40”. I realised however that 40 was fast approaching (what was that? I don’t look it? Thanks…..) and the 12-18 Months seemed to be an ever moving goal post.

So what needed to change in order for me to take the plunge? It’s at this point that I should acknowledge my Husband, Darren, who has been asking me this very question for a couple of years. For every Americano I order, he’ll have a double-shot, skinny, pumpkin spiced latte with sprinkles and a flake for good measure. He is the constant source of supportive challenge that wants me to see that sometimes risk can be a good thing that can actually lead to success, or fun, or more opportunity or at the very least, it doesn’t kill you. So what needed to change for me to make this decision? I had a nice amount of commissions lined up, I have enough skill to do a wide variety of jobs at a high level, I have a workshop space, I have the equipment, I have a fully supportive Husband, I have a brand, a website……. you get the picture. What didn’t I have? That moment of bravery where I say “let’s do this!”. I also didn’t have any excuses left. 

And there it was, the realisation that this opportunity was just waiting for me to take it. Very little was going to be different in 12 or 18 months and waiting until I’m 40 would just mean I’d be a year older (What was that? I don’t look 39? Stop!). So why wait? Decision made. Boy did that feel empowering!  

My lovely colleagues – one of the things I’ll miss about my day job
Fast forward through a 2 month notice period, some fond and emotional farewells and a weekend in Copenhagen that we booked before I made the decision to leave my job (I wouldn’t normally opt to celebrate giving up a regular income by visiting one of the most expensive cities in Europe, but hey, it was lovely!) and here I am, self employed. It’s so exciting to be able to see what I can achieve when upholstery is the only thing that I do. I’ve just completed a set of 10 box cushions for a beautiful Danish suite within a week when it would have otherwise taken me nearly a Month! What’s also interesting is that now I’m producing things more regularly I can talk about what I’m doing more via my social media outlets, and this in turn has already started to generate more enquiries. You know, there’s a ‘risk’ that this might actually work….

This was a nice project to kick off my self employment!
My decision does also beg the question about this blog, because after all, I originally started writing this to chart my progress from corporate HR person to creative business owner and you could argue that I’m there now. Job done. Well, it’s still early days and I’m sure there’s still plenty to learn so I’m not signing off just yet.

So here goes! I have a feeling this next chapter is going to be an exciting one……

This chair is a keeper

Of all the chairs I’ve worked on, there’s something about this one that I really like. I think it’s the slim profile, it’s not a chunky armchair, it’s far more refined and elegant, almost understated. It’s certainly the most involved piece I’ve tackled to date, and when you invest so much time in something it’s can be hard to let it go. Today I started shaping the arms. First the coir…..

And then you encase it in scrim and add lots of pressure to form a nice, firm pad

Before and after. it takes some grappling to reduce the coir this much!
And done! Two very firm arms, shaped and ready for second stuffings

Shape is everything at this stage because try as you might, a bump or a dip will definitely show in the end result. So lots of time spent here today, making sure my foundations are good. I’m starting to see why 4 weeks have been recommended for the completion of this chair.