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……


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 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 Victorain Nursing Chair – Day 6

I’ve never done 2 consecutive weeks at ‘Chair School’ before so I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel starting back today. The fact that I bounced through the door and got straight into it suggests that I’m quite a way off saturation point!


Today’s starting point. There’s a whole load of springs in there you know!

I really wanted to feel like I’d made progress today and somehow the time just flew by, leaving me at a place where I felt like I’d achieved very little. If last week is anything to go by I really shouldn’t worry as the next steps are likely to pass in quick succession. As ever, time really needs to be spent on forming the basic shape and structure of the seat pad, after all, everything else rests on these foundations.


At this stage I do wonder how I will ever produce something refined!

Today has mostly involved packing almost a kilo of coir into the seat by rolling it tightly into, well, rolls! These are held in place by loops of twine only to be broken up again into something that makes the chair look like it’s having a bad hair day. It’s at this stage you need to think about where you want your coir to be so that you have enough at the edges for your firm stitched border and not so much in the middle that the first person to use the chair will require a seatbelt.


Bad hair day?

Once you’re happy, this mass of coir needs to be encapsulated in scrim, and despite the fact that it seems like an impossible task, little by little you adjust the scrim and the coir within to form your basic pad shape.


And a few hours later it starts to look like it might just resemble a seat!

So while this is happening there’s been a niggling issue in the background in the form of buttons. It’s my intention and also the norm to add some form of buttoning to the back of the chair. Being concave, it’s not only decorative but also functional in that it helps to accentuate and maintain that lovely ‘spoon back’ appearance. However, there’s an issue.

Regular readers of my blog will know that velvet has caused me issues before, and once again it’s thrown a velvety spanner in the works. I should say that my lovely House of Hackney velvet is in no way faulty, but the nature of velvet means that it won’t always do what you want. Velvet has a pile to it, a bit like a tiny brush – now that’s fine when it’s flat but not so great when you try and wrap it around a tight corner as the pile separates and the cotton backing cloth is revealed. In this case the cotton backing cloth is white and the dyed velvet is much darker, so when you wrap it around a button, the pile separates and the white backing is revealed. Not much good for my top-notch chair!

Over the past week and with the support of my course colleagues I’ve explored lots of options from shocking pink accent buttons (quickly vetoed by numerous people!) to brass coat buttons (which didn’t really look right) and a very experimental ‘colouring in the White bits with a green marker pen’ approach which somehow didn’t feel appropriate!

The offending button complete with white halo ….. and the green leather that might just save the day

Anyway, I think Sonja has come up trumps by finding me a scrap of dark green leather that seems to match pretty well ……. and I think it adds a further edge of opulence 😉 We’re going to give it a go and see how it looks before committing but I’m optimistic. I need to do the buttons so that I can put the back of the chair on!

The Victorian Nursing Chair – Day 5

I think I qualify to become a Boy Scout after today..


I’m pretty good at knots now.

The seat has been started and we have springs in place. Again, a process that requires a great deal of though and a great many questions. How high do you want the seat to be? What shape do you want it to have? How firm do you want it to feel? How many springs will fill the space without clashing against each other? needless to say I’ll be seeing knots in my sleep, but I’ll sleep soundly in the knowledge that my springs are well placed and secure!

Think we’re off to St Ives tomorrow and a bit of a coastal walk on Sunday. Can’t wait! More updates on Monday….. Have a great weekend

The Victorian Nursing Chair – Day 4

It may not look like I’ve made all that much progress today, but when your top fabric goes on, it has to be right!

I started today by adding a little wool to the bare edges of the stitched pad and a thin layer of polyester Dacron that helps the fabric to move freely without pulling and rubbing on the pad below. Then came the grand reveal of my House of Hackney x William Morris fabric – so clearly a little time was taken to admire it before I decided where to place my cuts!

A couple of finishing touches to prepare for the top fabric

You really have to think about how you cut fabric with a pattern. It’s not just a case of measuring the area and getting stuck in with your scissors. A couple of questions came my way from Richard, “what feature do you want as the focal point?”, “what part of the pattern do you want to run down the centre?”. Add this to the fact that your seat will also need to match the back and the outside back also needs to mirror the inside back, your cutting plan starts to become a little more complicated. Needless to say, when it comes to expensive fabric, you check your measurements more than once!


once I plucked up the courage to make the first cut there was no stopping me!

Working with this luxury velvet was really satisfying and the finished feel was very appealing – my fellow course members just wanted to stroke it. Naturally I checked they’d washed their hands first 😉

Lots and lots of very careful tacking filled the rest of the day before I was satisfied with the tension and position of the pattern. The last step? To take a sharp knife and trim the excess from the edges……. A good time to concentrate.

I think this looks pretty cool – what do you think?

It seems that William Morris is popular this week – I wanted to show you this little beauty completed by my fellow upholsterer, Nikki, today. Isn’t it stunning?

The Victorian Nursing Chair – Day 3

This is so satisfying! I’ve found before when I’m using traditional methods that I reach a point where there’s a real beauty in what you’ve produced, so much so that it seems a crime to cover it up. That’s where I am today.

Still on track, today I’ve added an edge roll (a final row of stitching that ‘pinches’ the leading edge of your pad so that it’s firm and defined) I’ve filled the well with hair, added some soft cotton wadding and covered all of this with calico.

An edge roll completes the stitched pad and gives it a firm, defined edge


Lots of hair now fills the well, it’s packed pretty tightly to give enough ‘spring’ when compressed


A layer of wool helps to add softness

The calico has been hand-stitched to the edge of the pad as I don’t have oodles of space for tacks on the frame. Plus, with a frame of this age, the more holes you add, the greater the risk of weakness. Using this method has left plenty of room for the top fabric to be tacked, and believe it or not I’ll be doing that tomorrow…. on the back at least.


One or two pins are needed for this …….


Ladder stitched into place to give an almost undetectable join. even the smallest knots could show through the top fabric

I had homemade pasties for dinner and lunch. Living the dream……..

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!