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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The Victorian Nursing Chair -Day 2

I feel like I’ve caught up a bit today. I was probably always on track, but when you start to see a chair take shape you can’t help but feel you’re taking a huge stride forwards. I may live to eat those words. Clearly in my excitement I was unable to hold a camera steady, so please accept my apologies for today’s shoddy pictures!

Today has been about shaping using traditional methods, something that I’ve been really keen to learn more about. At the end of yesterday I had a basic platform to work from and my parcel of gathered fabric – so today started with lots and lots of coir! Nice firm edges require a decent amount of stuffing, which through clever stitching and regulating you tame into shape.


Let battle commence! This little lot needs to be wresteld into shape

The rest of the day was spent getting this mass of coir to sit in the places where it is needed. You do this in stages, firstly by skewering the scrim into place, then gaining the basic shape with a regulator (a massive blunt needle that you push through the scrim to move the fillings into place) and then Finally with stitches to pull the stuffings toward the edges to give you a firm border.


Can you see what we’re doing now? Skewers are perfect for temporary fitting

New to me today were ‘oblique stitches’ which flattened down the inner walls of the well, giving them the required slope toward the outside of the frame. This angle means that the soft fillings that sit within the well won’t all of a sudden finish where the firmer pad begins, instead there will be a gradual move toward a firmer feel as you work from the inside toward the edge. Clever eh? Working these stitches was incredibly satisfying as it changed the shape instantaneously.


The irony of a blurry photo showing a sharpening shape! These oblique stitches changed the shape immediately

The one downside of this kind of work is the physical strength required. Each stitch needs to be pulled tight with some force, often around parts of the frame which can make it quite uncomfortable – and that’s without the constant pull of twine on your fingers! I’m pleased that the next bit of stitching will now be tomorrow. I’m a delicate soul.

Today’s end point – all achieved with traditional methods

Darren’s made a batch of pasties today while I’ve been doing this, so Cornish treats await me in the cottage – I do hope my sore hands can hold them 😉

Thanks for the velvet tips

I’m clearly a glutton for punishment as I’m contemplating another velvet project. You may remember my first attempt with velvet but if you dont, let’s just say it turned out fine, but there was some pain along the way! I’ve been given this gorgeous little 30’s chair and I can’t help thinking that a rich yellow / mustard velvet would look simply amazing (and bang on-trend too). What do you reckon?

30's chair

Anyway, as I brace myself in preparation I had to share with you a short email that dropped into my inbox the other day….

Date: 11 August 2014 16:42:12 BST
Subject: Thanks for velvet tips

Hi Jon,

I just wanted to say thanks heaps for sharing your despair when you were sewing striped velvet seat cushions. I was in that same place, frustrated and close to tears when I googled and found your blog. I laughed lots and quickly went to buy a walking foot. Velvet, though still temperamental, is sewing beautifully now. Thanks again.

From Australia

I was so delighted that someone had taken the time to let me know that my account of working with the world’s most volatile fabric (I’m being slightly dramatic) had helped them in their velvet hour of need (which sounds equally dramatic) …… and not only that, on the other side of the world!

This certainly put a big smile on my face and made me feel like I’d done a good deed for the week. I’d say it’s also helped me to feel 20% more brave (not a scientific measurement) and ready to give velvet another go …… thanks Coral!

Growth Spurt

Back in January I received a delivery of materials in preparation for the striped velvet project that was due for completion in March. Nothing unusual about that, in fact it was all very straight forward, but it did highlight something that I’ve been increasingly aware of – a distinct lack of space.

This particular delivery included 3 rolls of foam, and these are no small rolls. Each one when standing measures just over 6 feet and they’re pretty wide and heavy too. There was no room for them in the workshop (not if I wanted to be in there too) and the garage was already packed to the gunnels…. so that left the spare bedroom. It was like having 3 large house guests. I then needed to measure and cut my fabric. 11m of velvet can be pretty unwieldy in a tight space and trying to manoeuvre it in my little workshop was out of the question. That left the living room floor or the dining room table. I plumped for the latter. Velvet when cut tends to shed little bits of the cut pile; these stick to everything – clothes, carpets, cats…… and will merrily travel around the house. Needless to say, my presence as an upholsterer was being felt.

You may notice that the backdrop of my progress shots is increasingly messy!
You may notice that the backdrop of my progress shots is increasingly messy!

I really love my little workshop, but the time had come to think big. As luck would have it, an opportunity to share a large studio with a couple of my friends came about at roughly the same time. Dean, a painter and Nikki who has her own Fair Trade toy business, were looking for a studio buddy or two to occupy the space with them. This Friday I’ll be packing up my shed and moving to Titan Studios, a large Victorian industrial building on the edge of the canal in Stourbridge. I won’t be the only newbie either as Liz, a jewellery designer, will be joining us too.

It’s safe to say I’ll miss the ability to work at home, but this will be replaced with an environment that’s creative and stimulating – the opportunity to be with other creative people is really exciting and I also think there’s something in ‘going to work’ that can add a bit of focus. I’m really looking forward to having a little elbow room and keeping our home tidy too – I just hope that my hammering doesn’t drive my studio buddies mad!

This weekend, hot on the heels of his presence at ART 14 in London and The Affordable Art Fair in New York, Dean is holding an open studio weekend. I’ll be looking productive in the corner in the hope that a few of these art lovers might also need a bit of upholstery!

Why not come along?
Why not come along?

Of course, studio space is one thing, but how do you move all of your stuff from one place to another? When the velvet striped job was completed, it was a little like the Krypton Factor trying to squeeze all of the components into my car without damage. At the moment the size of project I can tackle is limited by the size of project I can fit in my small hatchback, either that or I have to pay for vehicle hire. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit of a retro-car nut, so contemplating the sale of my current pride and joy is tough (I balance it out with the excitement of choosing something new!) but it was time to upgrade to the upholstery-mobile.

The search was on! It had to be a car (not a van) as I need the versatility of 5 seats, and it had to be roomy enough for multiple chairs or even a small sofa, oh, and it had to be a bit of a classic (classic = old and cheap!!). So naturally the perfect choice was an old Volvo. Yes, I’m a Volvo owner. I’ve ordered a flat cap and a tartan rug.

I feel like an antique dealer in this
I feel like an antique dealer in this





You can’t keep them all…..

I think that there’s a very real risk that one of these days you’re going to see me on a programme called ‘Super Hoarders’. They say that we’re a nation of collectors and I’m absolutely no exception to that rule – once something is in my possession, I have to think very hard about whether I’m prepared to give it up.

Normally this isn’t a problem (my Partner, Darren may disagree!) but when it comes to upholstery it’s become clear that I’m going to have to make some tough decisions. Let’s face facts, I’m not making greetings cards or collecting thimbles – these are big lumps of furniture and I’m running out of space.

This came to a head last week when I was given the opportunity to buy a couple of mid-century Ercol pieces from my now friends, Joe and Ben of Hopper and Space fame. They’re leaving their Yorkshire base and moving to ‘that London’ – and in the process unearthed a job lot of Ercol awaiting restoration. Buoyed by the success of my 50’s chair, the prospect of taking a couple of these pieces off their hands was too exciting….. and so it came to pass that a 2 seater Windsor sofa and matching armchair were mine.

A very tempting stock pile!
A very tempting stock pile!

It was at this point that I had to have a little word with myself, largely before anybody else did. As you know, my journey into the world of upholstery is all a part of my grand plan to move out of a corporate role and into something much more creative. You’ll also know that this blog was always here to help me chart that journey, not just in terms of the skills I’m learning but also the thought process behind my approach. This is year 3, and progress has been good – I’ve done more work for other people in the first half of this year than in the whole of the previous 2 years, and that feels really rewarding. Anyway, the point is that I’d set myself a goal for 2013, and that was for The Cantin’ Patch to be self-funding.

After 2 years of this small venture costing me money, I’m very pleased to report that I am currently ‘cost neutral’! The client pieces for this year have enabled me to create a small stock pile of materials and complete a week’s tuition – things that my day job has funded in the past. To know that you have created a little bit of income all by yourself feels great. I think it’s a little milestone in my journey for sure.

That said, there’s still 6 months of 2013 left so I’ve not opened the bag of party poppers just yet. If I’m going to realise my goal then I have to be a bit more ruthless in freeing up space and funds and that means I can’t keep everything – no matter how nice it is to look at! So for that reason, the ’10 please Fred’ chair is up for sale. I made sure I completed all of the little finishing off bits last week and gave the legs a good clean and wax. I think it looks rather smart! What was that? You’d like to buy it? Really?

It's time to say goodbye
It’s time to say goodbye

The other thing I need to do is finish this one off – my little Parker Knoll style chair. I’ve moved it into the bedroom so that each and every morning it says ‘Finish me! Finish me!’ as I get up. I’ve promised myself that I won’t start the Ercol pieces until this one is done.

Finish me! Finish me!
Finish me! Finish me!

Now all I have to do is find a way of justifying why I should keep the completed Ercol Sofa……..

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.

With a little help from my friends

The new year brought with it a really lovely project, a pair of personalised chairs for 4 and 5 year old sisters, Tia and Khloe. My customer, Cheryl, was happy to give me artistic licence around the design of the fabric with the only stipulations being that it must include their names and they are obsessed with princesses and anything pink and girly. Great!

Then I remembered……. I’m a 35 year old man. Out of my comfort zone? Moi? Time to phone a friend.

Enter Victoria Ellerton, Children’s textile designer extraordinaire and old school pal. Excited by the idea of a collaboration, we (that’s the ‘Royal we’ of course!) set to work on some ideas for the fabric and very soon Vicky had produced some fantastic sketches for Cheryl to choose from.

The successful design
The successful design

With decisions made, the colours could be decided (including all important hair colour and pink-hues!) and the design really started to take shape

The final princesses
The final princesses

And then with the help of the wonderful Spoonflower website, the design was repeated and the fabric ordered!

The final fabric
The final pattern

I always said that I wanted to do something more creative with my time, and I suppose it doesn’t get more creative than this? The feeling of collaboration and the sharing of ideas has helped to produce something really special and needless to say Vicky, Cheryl and myself are very excited about seeing the finished product, but I hope not quite as excited as the final recipients…..

Introducing thecantinpatch.co.uk

A few months ago I mentioned in a blog post that I had been working on a couple of ‘secret’ projects that i was desperate to talk about, but couldn’t. Well today I can finally show you what I’ve been up to.

The first project was a really fun commission for a surprise gift that not only appealed to my love of upholstery, but my love of classic cars too. What do you buy an oboe playing, Eastern-European-car enthusiast? A chair for oboe practice covered with a fabric relating to his car of course!

Once again, Spoonflower came to the rescue and I was able to create a simple geometric print from the shape of the logo of long-gone car manufacturer, Yugo. This was a really lovely piece to work on with the client asking me to source everything including the chair frame. There was even enough fabric for a little Yugo bunting to adorn his beloved car at the classic car shows. I’m delighted to say that the client, and the lucky recipient we’re really pleased with the end result. A pretty unique gift eh?

The second project however is today’s big announcement (drumroll please …..) the launch of my website!

This feels like a really big step for me, and a very public one at that. This is my shop window, this is where I put myself out there for everyone to see and simultaneously declare that “I am an upholsterer”. So needless to say this website has been created, fettled, scrapped, re-created, allowed to rest, offered to a select few for feedback, amended again and then parked until I plucked up the courage to tell people it’s there. Yesterday, while glancing through my Twitter feed, I chanced upon a quote that talked about the benefit of taking risks Vs playing it safe (and I can’t find it now – it was far more inspirational than I’m making it sound!). It was the kick up the bum I needed.

So here it is. I’m really pleased with it – I hope you like it too.


No Excuses

I think we all do it from time to time, create valid reasons for not doing something in the hope that those around us will recognise that our steely determination has been thwarted yet again by things completely outside of our control. Of course, we know the truth. Actually we could make the time, or find the tools, or follow up on that call. We’re rarely have as little control in our own lives as we would have others believe.

So while I’ve managed to find every available reason not to do any exercise this year (one thing at a time eh?) I have made a couple of enabling decisions that mean I can push my new life as an upholsterer forward in the way that I’m so keen to do.

Back in September I blogged about a conversation I had with my Manager at work asking if I could reduce my hours, effectively going part-time. Well, it’s taken a few months but last week my proposal was accepted and as of April 1st I’ll be a part time Learning and Development Manager, and I guess a part-time upholsterer! I feel very lucky that the Director in charge of making the decision is a great believer in following your dreams and has championed my efforts, even taking the time to tell our company CEO all about what I’m doing. The CEO even stopped me in the office last week, keen to ask about my woodwork. Close enough.

I’ve also decided to do something else which might seem like an easy decision for some, but for me it’s pretty monumental. I have many passions, upholstery and interiors being just one, but from a very young age I’ve been absolutely car mad. As I grew up, this fascination became even more specific with French cars becoming the object of my affection and adoration and those crazy old Citroens being at the very top of my list. As an adult I’ve owned a few but my Dream has always been to own one of the most beautiful cars ever made, a Citroen DS. in 2007 I was able to realise that dream and as a 30th birthday gift to myself I bought one. It didn’t disappoint, floating majestically along the road, receiving admiring glances and comments wherever we go, it’s been a real love story. I bought it with the intention of keeping it forever….. until now.

In a couple of weeks my DS goes off to be sold, the money from this sale will help to fund my business in part and reduce my outgoings now that I’m part-time. If I’m really serious about changing my career, this is something I have to do and I suppose it feels right in some ways that one achieved dream should help to facilitate the next. Plus I can always buy another when I’m a millionaire.

So there we have it, a couple of barriers well and truly removed, no real excuses available for not forging ahead and making significant progress in 2012. Better start thinking about my next step!

On the project front, having completed 4 simple drop-in seats for a friend, I’ve set to work on the Adam style chair. I’m pleased to be able to utilise my skills from my week at Tresithick and even more pleased that my stitching skills have improved from my first solo attempts. I’m as critical as ever, but I can see there’s an improvement.

This week I’m starting another small commission piece via a friend of a friend, a pin stuffed pad needing to be stripped right back and finished in her own fabric. I’ll post some shots of this one when I’ve done it too.

See? I’m far too busy to go running.