On the Move

About 9 months ago my workshop buddy, Dean and I noticed a pair of surveyors measuring up the building that we occupy. We thought we should ask a few questions. it turned out that our workshop and the rest of the victorian factory buildings around us were in the process of being sold off by our landlords to housing developers who have been desperate to build on the site for years. But what about our workshop??

We were told that the deal wasn’t imminent and that we would likely have 18 months before we needed to go, but in the last few months more and more of the units have become vacant and Dean and I are almost the last men standing. Now, not being a fan of a last-minute panic I decided to start looking for a new workshop location and it wasn’t long before an interesting opportunity presented itself.

Stourbridge is famed for glass and crystal with production dating back to the 1600’s and peaking in the 19th Century. So why am I giving you this whistle stop history lesson? Well it’s all to do with a local landmark – the Red House Cone. Stourbridge is home to only known complete glass blowing cone, a massive brick built chimney containing furnaces where the glass blowers would work in sweltering heat. The location of many a school trip in my childhood, the cone is now a visitor centre and museum ……. but more importantly home to a variety of local makers, artisans and crafts people. Oh, and if you hadn’t already guessed it, it’ll be my new home by the end of today too!

 

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There’s no missing this local landmark (so I’ll be easy to find!!)

I’ve been fortunate enough to secure a great workshop in one of the listed factory buildings, the space where they used to quality control and check all of the glass once it had been blown. It’s a much bigger space than I currently have which means that I might even start running a few workshops in the near future. Even better is that it’s open to the public, so I can have a shop space as well as a workshop space – I’m so excited!!

Inside, the space is a very simple victorian warehouse with white painted brick walls and bare floorboards – the perfect backdrop for modern interior goodies and beautifully upholstered chairs. It’s going to take a few weeks to get set up, but I’m aiming for my first ‘open house’ at the end of August – you should come and say hi!

So it’s all change for the Cantin’ Patch, which brings me to my next piece of news……….. (but you’ll have to wait for that)

P.S. Give me a shout if you’re feeling strong this week – my sewing machines need moving and they’re REALLY heavy!

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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.

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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.

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Each cushion had to be carefully tailored to fit the space
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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.

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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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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?

Before Upholstery….

… Comes frame work. 
There’s utterly no point in having beautiful upholstery if your frame can’t take it. Thankfully, this frame is in relatively good order but it was still worth gluing and closing up a few of the joints. In the end I think I used most of the clamps in the workshop including one that was so long it required a warning triangle. 

mind that clamp, it’ll have your eye out.

Remember I said that it felt like I’d removed a million tacks? Next job – fill a million tack holes! A mixture of sawdust and PVA ensures that your new tacks have something to grip rather than playing ‘dodge the hole’. This believe it or not has taken most of the day. 

before and after. its time consuming but filling the holes is vital
Mucky pup. This is a job best done by hand. I had so much PVA on my fingers i could have walked up a wall.

Tonight I treated myself to fish and chips at St Mawes. It’s a real drag being in Cornwall. Honest. 

Getting Qualified

I made a decision last year that I forgot to tell you about. After 5 years of working on my upholstery skills with Richard at Tresithick I decided to work towards a qualification, a diploma to be precise.

Taking the time to work towards a qualification had always seemed something of a challenge in the past, not least because it required 6 weeks of tuition each year and my work holiday entitlement was only 5! For this reason I opted to take my own projects to the training centre, but the more time I spent with the other students studying for their awards, the more I realised I’d accomplished many of the things they were doing without gaining official recognition from the governing body. So, my mind was made up – I wanted a qualification too!

What’s interesting is that I’ve never been asked to prove how qualified I am, and I actually don’t expect that it will happen. I’m very fortunate that my work has come from recommendations, so I suppose that’s qualification enough for most. This qualification is for me, for my own satisfaction and sense of achievement, and of course for that odd occasion when someone might want me to prove my credentials. I’ll carry my certificate with me just in case. 

 

An anti-macassa may not have been a bad idea
 
Today was the first day towards my qualification and I’m working on a ‘substantial traditional armchair’. As luck would have it I had one waiting in the wings. This piece was rescued for me by a friend a couple of years ago – destined for the tip it had my name all over it. I thought it was 1930’s given the fabric, but as I’ve stripped it today it seems that it may have had a previous life and could be a little older. Today was mostly assessing the state of the frame and removing (what seemed like) a million tacks. I’ve not yet decided on fabric. Any ideas?

 

I needed a bigger bin really. The springs looked like they’d come off a Routemaster.
 
As you know, I love Cornwall and time spent here is real food for the soul. This time I thought it would be fun to come in my little red Citroen – my first ever car and owned for 22 years. At her MOT this year I realised that I’d only driver her 9 miles in the past 12 months and that just wasn’t good enough. I smile from ear to ear when I’m behind the wheel, so a road trip seemed in order. It was a sedate trip (these cars weren’t built for speed!) but we made it and I’m hoping for the odd sunny spell so I can take the roof off. Actually, the chair was so big the only way it went in the car was through the roof! Who needs a van?

We made it! Staying at the beautiful Spring Cottage in Probus is a real treat.

Even More Part Time

For those of you who’ve been following my blog for the last few years, you’ll know that my move into the world of upholstery was driven by a desire to do something more creative with my career, moving out of my current corporate HR role and into my own creative business.

I don’t often talk about the HR / upholstery balance on the blog these days, largely because since I reduced my day job to 4 days I was happy that I had started the transition from one role to another. I’ve been part-time for a couple of years now and for a risk-averse person like me, the financial impact of losing a day was easy to manage and the benefits of having Fridays in the studio were numerous.

2015 was a great year for commissions. I’m so delighted that people have trusted me with their furniture and upholstery projects, it’s a real confidence booster! One really fun project came in toward the end of the year, around October time. Nick, an ex-colleague of mine from my days working in Manchester for fashion retailer, BANK, contacted me regarding a window seat in his recently renovated Victorian home. What I thought would be a simple box-cushion turned out to be a deep-button extravaganza and something that i could really get my teeth stuck into.

Why he wanted to change this I’ll never know 😉

We discussed fabrics and design details, but when it came to timescales I felt a little sheepish. Nick really wanted it ready for Christmas and I was counting the number of Fridays left in the year. With 2 weeks in Cornwall booked, I was looking at around 5 days in the studio and a deep button project could take me a couple of days. I knew I could do it, but it did also mean that it was unlikely I could take on much more for the year – and it was only October!

 

The finished seat. Spot me admiring my work in the reflection!


I needed more time, and that meant taking a risk.

I’ve been very fortunate these past 7 years to work for a company and a line Manager where honest conversations are encouraged. They know that ultimately I’m aiming to be an upholsterer, and this conversation, just like the last was met with a “ok, let’s see if we can make it work” kind of response. The outcome? As of January 4th, I only work 3 days a week in HR! It’s a 6 month trial to make sure it works for all of us, but so far so good.

So what can I do with 2 days a week? My aim is that I can turn around my commissions a little quicker, have some more time for my own projects and maybe even pay my studio rent each month from my upholstery kitty. That would be something eh?

So here’s to tipping the balance a little more in favour of my aspirations.

The House of Hackney Chair is Finished!

With the busy Christmas period well and truly out of the way (not that it wasn’t lovely of course) I made a bee-line for the House of Hackney chair which had been waiting patiently in my studio for its finishing touches.

You may recall that the piping fabric was causing the hold-up as the House of Hackney velvet revealed the white cotton backing when wrapped around the cord. Thankfully a trip to my local fabric store solved the issue and I was able to find a really good match in a plain black, short pile velvet printed on a black cotton base. Perfect!

With the right fabric sourced I made the single piping for the back of the chair and attached this directly to the frame so that I could stitch the back panel directly to it so that it gave a nice tight close. The bottom edge was tacked off underneath.

 Then I made up 2 lots of double piping to cover the tacks around the back rest and the bottom edge of the seat. This was glued into place. Now, I don’t know if it’s just my glue gun, but they are pretty hard to use. It seems that mine really is all or nothing, one squeeze and you seem to have endless amounts of hot glue coming out for minutes. How I’m not permanently glued to the chair I will never know. So much concentration was required I actually had to remind myself to breathe.

 

Anyway, with the bottom cloth attached, I was done! And here it is….


  
   
What do you think? I’m really delighted with how it’s turned out, and even more delighted when a visitor to our studio saw the chair and said “that wouldn’t look out of place in House of Hackney’s window” and he didn’t even know it was one of their fabrics!  I did a little imaginary air punch at that moment, not an actual real-life one you understand. I’m way too cool to do that.

So what’s the future of this chair now? As much as i want to keep it, it’s officially up for sale. Interested? Drop me a line!

The Victorain Nursing Chair – Day 9 & 10

There’s nothing like trying to build a bit of suspense ….. And this really was nothing like it. I went to see Spectre las night hence the lack of update! You didn’t notice? Rude.

So that’s it, chair school is over until next year and I’m please to say that the Victorian Nursing chair is finished. Almost.

Remember the problems I was having with the buttons? Well unfortunately the same applied to the piping that I want to use to trim the chair, so I need to source another complimentary fabric to complete the job. A lack of piping means that I can’t put on the back panel yet as the piping needs to be set in place first.

I’ll have to finish this in the new year

Of course this is only a minor setback when you look at the amount I’ve covered in 10 days. These 2 weeks, as ever, have taught me so much. Every time I come to Tresithick I find that I’ve retained more and more from my last visit so that I’m ready to take on another layer of information. I’ve picked up some great tips on shaping, pattern matching and springing this time and I feel like I want to dive straight into another traditional project to put them to good use.

The seat fabric went on pretty easily as the shape is already set by the calico beneath. It really was great to see the final fabric on the seat for the first time, especially against the back of the chair. Great care was taken to ensure that the pattern was matched so that the chair ‘reads’ properly from top to bottom.

So here it is, the big reveal – the House of Hackney x William Morris nursing chair complete with dark green leather buttons. What do you think?

The House of Hackney fabric has real impact!

 

Dark green leather saved the day

Darren and I have had such a great time in Cornwall again, and I know we’ll be sad to drive away tomorrow. But hey, we get to come back again next year, maybe for 3 or 4 weeks – I’ll share more about that soon. A big thanks also goes to everyone who has been following my progress these past 10 days and for the lovely, encouraging comments. They’ve made me even more enthusiastic about this project.

If you’re going to do your upholstery training somewhere, you may as well be somewhere as beautiful as this

The last word has to go to Bella, Richard and Sonja’s dog. I’m going to miss tug of war every break time. I got this photo by holding my biscuit behind the camera. I then ate it. Is that cruel?

give me that biscuit or play with me. Your choice.

The Victorian Nursing Chair – Day 8

Short and sweet update today as I’ve been promised fish and chips for dinner! These at is building up nicely and tomorrow I’ll be moving on to the top fabric.

I must admit, I’m not looking forward to fitting the top fabric – the gap between the seat and the back of the chair has closed up pretty tight now, so feeding the fabric through and also finding out where to cut around the frame in such an impossible space is challenging to say the least. It’s one thing to mis-cut with calico but something else when you do it to your luxury top fabric!!

 

Today’s step-by-step transformation

For those of you who have been lying awake at night worrying about my button dilemma, you’ll no doubt be relieved to hear that the green leather has worked a treat and I have my buttons all made and ready to go.

The Victorian Nursing Chair -Day 7

Today I have been stitching. Then stitching. And I followed this with some stitching.

The result? A lovely firm border to the seat which will withstand many many years of use. Tomorrow I will be finishing this off with some more stitching just for good measure.

 

i finally tamed all that coir and got the pad into the basic shape required

 

Through-stuffing-ties stop your coir being pinched from the middle as your stitches draw coir to the edges

 

Don’t look at my muffin top! 3 rows of blind stitching start to build the height of the pad and add strength

 

Tomorrow an edge roll will complete the stitching. I love this view

My hands are dropping off. Feel free to send aid in the form of hand cream and chocolate.