Time to Reflect

Darren and I were walking home in the snow yesterday having spent some time together at The Finishing Room. He asked me a really good question; whether self employment and doing what I love had fulfilled my expectations. It made me realise that the past year, and certainly the past 6 months have been something of a blur and that I haven’t made time to reflect on what’s been achieved.

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Now I know I say every time that I write a new post that my blog has been woefully neglected, and once again this is true. The blog has been such a great tool for summarising and marking the key stages of my transition from corporate HR person to self-employed upholsterer that it seemed like the right place for a few musings on the last year.

I’m still pinching myself a bit if I’m honest. I’m sitting in my new workshop looking around at the fabric books, the completed chairs, the curated shelves of my shop and the plans on the table for workshops and it’s funny to think that a few months ago very little of this existed in my world – 6 years ago none of this even existed in my head! If it’s not too conceited to say, I feel a real sense of pride that I’ve made this happen and also a real sense of appreciation for those who have supported me as I’ve pushed forwards. I also feel like I’m heading in the right direction now, and I’m incredibly excited about where this business is going to go.

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Plunging into the world of self employment hasn’t been a walk in the park by any means and for Darren and I, loosing a regular salary has at times been really noticeable. The biggest surprise for me was how much I missed the structure of employment – being your own boss sounds fantastic but boy do you have to be disciplined! The first 6 months started really well with a number of commissions to work through, but a lack of confidence in my old brand and too much focus on doing what was in front of me meant that I was failing to generate a pipeline of work. I very quickly found myself without a great deal to do and lacking enthusiasm to promote myself under a brand that I wasn’t sure about any more.

This unexpected slow patch seemed like a great opportunity to get some DIY done at home I told myself, but really I was hiding from the reality that I needed to make some changes and some investment if this was going to work.

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I’ve already talked about the brand change and the move of premises, but what I didn’t share was the concerns I had over whether I was doing the right thing. Sure, on paper it looked right but I was starting from a position of very little work and I was about to invest some of my savings, change my name and double my rent commitment – yikes! Thankfully, I summoned the necessary courage and did it.

Brave Jon – 1, Risk Averse Jon – 0.

I’m happy to report that the bravery paid off. Having a public space has changed my relationship with customers entirely – they are free to come in, have a look around, see what I’m doing and chat casually about their projects without any commitment to proceed, and the nice thing is that often they are choosing to come back. Compare that to me having to sit in your living room with my fabric books and it’s a big step forward. having an interiors shop has been really exciting too, it’s enabled me to showcase my work and that of other talented, local makers. It’s probably the child in me, but there’s something very fun about playing shop! I’m proud that I’ve been able to create a look and feel for my new space that is consistent with what I do, it’s presenting a much stronger, cohesive story and people are engaging with it.

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If I’m taking a moment to reflect (and you’ll allow me one more reflection!) I should also think about the development of my skills. I was in my shed the other day and came across The Hare Chair – my first ever upholstery project which I tackled with nothing more than a book on upholstery and some basic tools. It made me think about how far I have come in six years, not only in terms of skill but also (again) bravery. I recently rebuilt an Ernest Race DA1 armchair for a customer, this being the most valuable item I have every worked on and also one of the most complicated. Its all-metal construction is similar to an iron-framed nursing chair and means that it is a feat of hand sewing. Not that long ago I would have run a mile from a project like this, but today my feet are firmly in the workshop.

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So there we have it, you’re up to date! I write this post partly for my own benefit in recognising my achievements (and I hope that it doesn’t come across as a big, bloggy, bragging session!) but also for those of you who read the blog. I know that many people have found this blog as they contemplate making the change from a job they hate to something that leaves them feeling fulfilled and I hope that a story of brave moves that pay off might give you a little courage too.

 

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Welcome to The Finishing Room

Ok, I think I’ve kept you in suspense for long enough so here it is……… fan fare please……. the new name for my business is……..

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As I’m sure you can imagine, choosing a new name was a difficult process, but in some ways this one was gifted to me by my new location and it just felt so right.

The space that I now occupy is a listed building that once housed workers who would inscribe geometric designs onto the blown glass before it would be acid etched – the space was one of a number of ‘Finishing Rooms’ that existed on the site. Fast forward to 2017 and you’ll find me in the same space working on the finishing touches to your home interior.

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My new workshop as it was in the 1800’s

The look and feel for my new branding is intentionally bold, clean and simple. It was important for me that it felt different to my previous branding, I wanted to feel like it was a real step forward.

The new space enables me to do so much more; I have space for an interiors retail shop, space to work, space to consult on your next upholstery project and at a later date, space to run a few workshops too. All of these things will sit well with my new name.

What do you think?

I’m on track to open my doors to the public for the first time over the Bank Holiday weekend which also coincides with the 2017 British Glass Biennale so there will be a lot to see both here at The Red House Cone and also at the nearby Ruskin Glass centre. Why not come down and say hi? I’d love to show you the new space!

The What Patch??

I’ve decided that it’s probably a good thing that I don’t have children because I’m not sure I’d like the responsibility of giving them a name. I like making the kind of decisions that can be changed at a later date if required, or decisions where there’s little consequence attached to getting it wrong like should I have a Chocolate Digestive or a Bourbon Cream with my coffee – because they’re both winning choices, right?

Having to choose a name for your business is definitely not easy. You have to think about so many things! Does it represent what you do? Does it represent where you want to go? Does it work online? Will people understand it? Can people spell it? Does someone else already have it? The list goes on……

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I still love this branding but the name just isn’t working

A few months ago I came to the tough realisation that I was no longer ‘feeling’ my business name. The Cantin Patch started as the name of this blog and it seemed natural at the time that my business would also take the same moniker. Cantin is an old Black country word that means ‘chatting’ so the name translated roughly as ‘a place to rest and chat’. This seemed great for the blog but also for an upholstery business. It was quirky, it was local and my friend Hannah did a fabulous job of creating a whole branding concept around it which I still love now, but the name has been causing me issues.

“Did you say Camtim?”

“No, Cantin”

“Counting?”

“No, Cantin, like tin can but the other way around”

“Oh! Cantin!”

You get the picture. Apart from the fact that people often don’t know what I’m saying, there’s also something about the name that doesn’t sit with where I want to go. My work and interest is increasingly based on mid-century furniture and current interior trends. The Cantin Patch is far better suited to antiques, upcycling and traditional craft fairs…… and this isn’t an area that I’m looking to move toward.

So I made a decision. Seeing as I was about to move to a new location why not take this opportunity to change my name too?

Of course there are risks in doing this, but if I’ve learned anything over the last few years it’s that you also need to consider the risks of NOT doing this. In real terms it’s still early days for my business so the risks of keeping a name I didn’t like were certainly greater than making the change.

The last couple of months have been filled with conversation about what my new name might be and it’s not been an easy decision to make – I don’t want to change my name again so this one has to work!! There have been a few contenders on the table but one clear winner. I’ve been sitting with it for a month now and I like it as much now as I did when it first came up. I think that’s a good sign.

I’m going to keep you in suspense for a little longer (but not too long!) as I don’t just want to tell you the name, I want to show you the new brand in all its glory! It’s a few days off yet, so watch this space…

 

 

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!

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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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. 

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.