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……..


My third week at Tresithick – Day 1

It always surprises me that I feel a bit nervous on days like this. Despite the fact that I have had the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences at Tresithick over the last couple of years, I seem to get that first day of school feeling creeping back in! Of course there was no need to worry, as ever Richard, Sonja, Nadine and Bella the dog were all pleased to see me and keen to start talking about my chosen project for this week, the ’10 please Fred’ chair as I’ve fondly come to know it.

As Richard and I start to talk through the plans, I get a good sense of what I’m going to learn this week – using foams rather than loose stuffings, working with staples rather than tacks and it would seem that I’ll be spending a fair amount of time at the sewing machine too.

My chair is confirmed to be sturdy enough to start work straight away (no frame repairs needed), in fact, Richard seemed confident that with so much chipboard my chair might easily withstand a nuclear explosion.

So today has been all about the chair back and getting to grips with that lovely curve. Now, while the curve is aesthetically beautiful, it does throw you a few problems when it comes to upholstery. Normally, when you attach fabric to a flat chair back, you’ll gradually pull it taught and tack it in place in the centre of each side and work out toward the corners all the way around – thing with this curve is that if you pull the fabric horizontally across the curve, you’ll pull it flat and the curve will vanish. So, webbing goes vertically only (so that horizontal webbing doesn’t ruin the curve) and all fabrics after that are secured top and bottom first to create the tension against the curve, then secured horizontally to smooth out any creases. Still with me? These photos show what I’ve achieved today….


Tomorrow I’ll be adding the final fabric to what I’ve achieved today and then moving on to the seat. Working with foam has been interesting, and as ever Richard has given me plenty to think about when it comes to achieving a professional finish, including some timely advice on cutting around the frame after my calico trimming skills went a little awry!

So what of my fellow colleagues this week? Well, of the 7 students 5 are working toward qualifications – and 2 of us are doing our own thing. Olivia working beside me had a bit of a disaster today when the leg snapped off her (almost completed) antique chair! Richard to the rescue and it was back on in no time! Rob is working on a piece for assessment and has the most wonderful fabric with a hunt scene, I’ll make sure I get some photos. A real treat today was seeing Dawn, one of the students from my very first week in 2011 and hearing about all the things she’s been working on – including the Parker Knoll armchair she has with her that’s giving me a great reference point for my own wing-back at home.

Anyway, that’s my little diary entry for today – Darren’s been hiking along the coast and is now making pasties for our dinner. When in Cornwall ………

What Lies Beneath?

At the end of April I’m off to Tresithick again to see Richard, Sonja and Nadine to continue my structured learning. Originally I’d wanted to complete the AMUSF (Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers) qualification, but with the commitments of my day job I wasn’t able to meet the time requirements of the programme. So instead I’m creating my own path, visiting Tresithick when I can to learn the skills that are most useful for me at that time. Actually, I think it’s working out better for me this way – agreed, I won’t have a qualification, but I’m still gaining the same level of tuition and I can work on projects and skills that relate directly to the kind of pieces I’m being commissioned for.

So what do I want to learn this time? Well I’ve opted for something a little less traditional as I’ve been asked to complete a number of pieces lately that use foams and staples, rather than hair and tacks. Working on my Parker-Knoll style chair recently has given me an opportunity to try some skills associated with more modern chairs, but for my tuition I’ve purchased this baby:

Cocktail chair

A little 50’s cocktail chair, nice eh? Now as tempting as it was to keep this beautiful floral-fluff ensemble, I made the tough decision to strip it back and prior to making this purchase, I had a conversation with Richard about it’s suitability as a project. I wanted to try something that involved foam and a variety of panels that will need stitching together, and with it’s 50’s lines and curves it might also throw a few more challenges that I could learn from. Richard suggested that this little 50’s cocktail chair would likely have a bespoke spring unit in the seat which would be impossible to replace and should therefore be left in situ. I set to work stripping the chair.

One of the things that I enjoy about upholstery is piecing together the history of a chair while you’re stripping away its current façade. One of the things I hate about upholstery is cutting my hand on staples and having to sit with my head between my legs for 10 minutes so as not to faint. I really need to man-up.

What treats lay beneath the green velour on this little beauty? A bespoke spring unit? Some scraps of the original 50’s fabric? A unique method of upholstery that I could learn from? No. None of these. What lay beneath the original velour upholstery was a mass-produced chipboard carcass. This isn’t a 50’s chair at all – it’s a 50’s style chair. To add insult to injury there was even a chalked note on the inside if the seat base saying “10 please Fred”. Good old Fred, he was knocking these out like they were going out of fashion (and in the 1980’s they’d probably been out of fashion for about 30 years).

10 Please Fred
10 Please Fred

Here’s the question – does it make a difference? I felt a bit disappointed when I discovered the chair might only be 20-30 years old, but why? The shape is the same, with the right fabric I can still achieve the same look and structurally it’s sound, so it will fulfil its purpose. Ok, so it’s not actually from the 1950’s, but if the aesthetic is the most important thing, is that an issue? Now if I were an antique dealer I’d have a different view, but I’m not. So what do you think? Should I give this little imposter a more fitting 50’s look?

Oh, and while you’re at it I wouldn’t mind some help in choosing fabric – I love these 50’s prints from Sanderson and think they’ll really bring this chair to life, but I can’t decide. Which is your favourite?

                                Mobiles Black                                    Mobiles Blue        Mobiles Green    Festival    Perpetua