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……..

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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.

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.

thecantinpatch.co.uk

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.

 

A year as an upholsterer

It seemed kind of fitting that I post my final 2011 blog entry today as it falls on the 1 year anniversary of my very first blog post.

Now, if I’m perfectly honest I wasn’t totally sure that I would still be doing this a year down the line, I wasn’t entirely sure that I would still be perusing a career as a self employed upholsterer – after all, I’ve got no form for this kind of self propelled enterprise so there was always a risk that this whole endeavour would be consigned to the ‘too hard’ or ‘no time’ file and that would be the end of that. But it wasn’t.

In fact, I’m further ahead and more committed than I truly thought I would be. I’m finishing 2011 with 10 completed chairs under my belt (3 for real customers!), 23 blog posts (which just happens to be my lucky number), a week’s professional tuition, a whole bunch of tools, some fancy-pants business cards (all given to friends and family so far with a “hey look I’ve got a card now!”) and a workshop. Even though I know that there’s still heaps more to learn and do, I feel immensely satisfied.

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Then of course there are the people who have played an important part and who continue to spur me forward – reading ‘The Element’ by Ken Robinson illustrated how important it is to surround yourself with people who will keep you afloat in one way or another, or in his words ‘a Tribe’. And so on my anniversary I think it’s important to recognise a few members of my tribe like Dean for inspiring me to leap, Helga for helping me to create a path and for always telling people I’m an upholsterer, Chantal, Julie and Dee for following what I’m doing and always being interested, Richard and Sonja for helping me to have one of the most rewarding weeks and for teaching me so much and of course a certain Mr Turner for being unquestionably supportive, even though you know I’m going to live in the shed from now on. And yes, I’m aware that this sounded like an indulgent Oscars acceptance speech.

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And so to 2012, hopefully working just 4 days in the day-job (still a work in progress), making the most of my workshop which is coming together nicely and perhaps even making something! Think I might have a crack at a big footstool…………

Here’s to a great New Year.

Avoiding the Naysayers

One of the great things about having a blog is the connections you make. In the past couple of months I’ve chatted with people who’ve found me almost by chance and taken the time to say ‘hi’ and share some of their experiences – I suppose it’s been a bit like having upholstery pen pals.

Chatting via email last week with my new friend Sharon (an incredibly talented novice who’s learning much faster than I’m able to) we moved onto the subject of professional upholsterers and how they viewed the industry. I was really shocked and a bit saddened to hear Sharon talk about her interactions with such people, the negativity they have about their industry and the lack of hope for the future. Sadder still that they would so readily try and dampen the hopes of someone with so much enthusiasm and energy for the craft.

Should I be surprised? Probably not, I’m sure we can all reel off numerous examples of when we’ve met people like this (when I was in my teens and wanted to be a teacher I didn’t meet a single teacher who said ‘go for it!’) but I suppose the effects are so much more acute when you might be a little uncertain in your own mind of whether you’re doing the right thing. So what do you do? Listen? Give up? Close your ears? Or just carry on with that same enthusiasm that helped you get going in the first place? I’m choosing the latter and while the reception to my plans has been largely positive, I don’t doubt that there will be the odd naysayer to dodge along the way.

So here’s to anyone following a passion or dream out there at the moment – like me and my pen pals Sharon and Jill, perhaps we’ll make it a different kind of industry one day?

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I have premises don’t you know….

I’m very conscious that my blog has gone a bit quiet of late, but don’t be fooled into thinking that I’ve gone a bit cold on this whole upholstery thing… it’s quite the opposite.

My lack of presence here has allowed me to start making strides with the infrastructure of my future business. As people learn of my new venture, opportunities have started to come my way – a couple of small commissions, an online request for some upholstery advice and a really interesting interior design project for the New Year have all been collected so far and so it seemed right that I start to invest a little in doing things properly.

First of all, the big one – my premises! I am pleased to say that my muddy ditch has been replaced with my fantastic new workshop and while at present it’s really just a big shed, the coming weeks should see it transformed and kitted out so that I have the right space to call my own. I must admit I’ve been holding off starting any new projects until this is ready as crouching on the kitchen floor has really lost its appeal. My week at Tresithick also helped me to understand the kind of space and tools I’ll need to make my life easier and the work more enjoyable.

The other item I’ve been missing is a business card. I’ve had a few opportunities recently where I’ve really regretted not having something that I can give to people who want to know more about what I’m doing. I think there was also a part of me earlier on that felt a business card perhaps made me appear more skilled or professional than I was, but I’m feeling so much more confident in my abilities now that I think it’s time to start spreading the word….

One of the things on my to-do list for next year is a website, I’ve not yet got my head around whether it’s going to be a ‘watch this space’ kind of site or whether I’ll be confidently offering my services or whether I might have developed a product of some sort by then. It is however important that I have a domain name, so I’m happy to say that I am now the proud owner of http://www.thecantinpatch.co.uk and http://www.thecantinpatch.com. It’s funny, it took all of 30 minutes to do and cost next to nothing – yet buying these felt very important.

Before I go back up to my shed to carry on with the wiring (trying my best not to blow myself up) I wanted to show you one last thing. Some months ago when I had a great coaching session with Helga Henry, I committed to finding a point of focus for my new venture, something that when I saw it I would be reminded of all the things I’m aiming for right now. Well the opportunity presented itself a couple of weeks ago whilst playing around with the sewing machine….

I’ve been looking for a new iPhone case for ages and decided to make my own. I certainly think about my goals more when I see this in my hand…. perhaps it could be a little side line?!

Fear of Flying

I absolutely hate flying, everything about it from the take off to the landing. Every noise makes me jump, every bit of turbulence has me gripping the seat and I can’t close my eyes because if I do, who’s flying the plane? No amount of self-help books or reasoning have made me any better – something that big just shouldn’t be that high and going so fast! Now, I know it’s irrational and thankfully it hasn’t stopped me from seeing some wonderful and fascinating places, but the fear does stop me from travelling as frequently as I might otherwise like and takes away any last chance of being excited about a forthcoming trip.

The thing I have noticed is that immediately after a trip on a plane, I always think to myself “that wasn’t actually all that bad?” closely followed by thoughts of booking tickets to far away dream destinations while I’m holding on to my new found frequent-flyer style confidence. But I don’t. Instead, I let the time pass, and with that time come all of those irrational fears which creep back one by one as I forget the feelings from my last flight.

Coming back from Truro (by car!) this time last month left me on a real high. I’d spent a week with some really inspiring people, people who were passionate about what they do, who love their work and feel massively rewarded as a result. Some of those people once had corporate roles like mine and successfully made the transition without looking back, doing exactly what I want to do. For one week, I was a part of that world. I’d not expected to be inspired in this way, I knew I was going to enjoy developing my skills, but the people I met made the week so much richer and I came away more determined than ever to become Jon the upholsterer.

There was a risk though, I had to act fast because like my fear of flying if I didn’t put this hugely motivated feeling to good use it would go to waste. I would very quickly settle back into my current pattern and ponder over all of the risks and pitfalls slowly talking myself out of doing anything bold. I didn’t want that to happen.

“Quit your job and just do it, we’ll manage!” was the suggestion of my ever supportive partner, Darren who was as motivated as I was by the passion I had gained. For me though this was a little like confidently coming off a flight to Dublin and booking a trip to the moon. I needed to do something, a step in the right direction but with less risk and less pressure – my overwhelming feeling was that I needed time and space to develop my skills and and build up a small enterprise. Part time work was the next thought, but 3 days a week was still a bit of a leap financially and in my current field it’s not a common practice. A few days later and I’m still pondering, “Does part-time have to be 3 days? What about 4?” comes the suggestion from Darren in the pub with our friend Louise who then plants the next seed: “would your current employer consider letting you drop a day in your existing role?”. Genius! Why hadn’t I thought of that already?

I have a new friend, Helga, who has been following my progress since I started in January, we met through Dean who inspired me to start this whole project in the first place. in her own words, Helga ‘gets a kick out of spotting and developing creative talent’ and very kindly offered to meet me to help me explore my next steps. What followed was a couple of hours in a country pub where Helga helped me to talk through my ideas, challenged some of my self limiting beliefs (of which there were many!) and create a small plan. A couple of things became clear that night – firstly, making a change doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact it’s quite simple when you stop putting barriers in the way. Secondly, while I considered all the risks of starting a new career, I’d never considered the risks of not doing it. That was eye opening. We discussed what I need – ‘a space, a cushion and a plan’ was the suggestion.

So where am I now? well all told these past few weeks have been really exciting and I’m enjoying the process of exploring possibilities. However, I have made some steps too:

  • The Space – This is important for me in 2 ways, physical space is essential for my work so I’m buying a workshop. Ok, it’s a big shed but it’s space all the same. I’ve had it designed and I started on the base today. The second type of space is ‘head space’, and for that I need time, an allocated time to practice and create without having to worry about anything else. So I’ve applied to reduce my hours at work by 1 day.
  • The Cushion – I like a safety net, and for me having a regular paid job for 4 days a week does just that.
  • The Plan – Well, so far what you see is the plan – it’s not huge but it’s simple and it’s flexible and that’s just the way I like it.

The most important thing for me right now is that I’m pushing forward, I’m doing something and a little like when I step off a plane, I feel quite brave.

My First Commission
Another milestone and something that boosted my confidence was completing a paid piece of work for someone else. One of my personal goals at the start of the year was to sell a piece of work, so I suppose this counts? It was 2 simple drop-in seats form some antique chairs for the receptionist at work using her own fabric. It’s one thing to produce something for yourself, but totally different when it’s for a customer, she was delighted however and the whole thing felt very rewarding.

6 steps to becoming an upholsterer.

So admittedly this is the way that I’ve decided to do it and it’s unique to my own set of circumstances, but this is what I’m going to do:

1. Buy a couple of good books. I know from past experience that I learn really well this way, so I’ve got ‘The Upholstery Bible’ by Cherry Dobson which has really clear step by step tuition, and ‘The Complete Upholsterer’ by Carole Thomerson on recommendation from a training provider.

2. Get some upholstery tools. I’ve bought basic tools from an Ebay store to get me started – undoubtedly I’ll need more but this is enough for the projects I’m starting with. I have a webbing stretcher! I’ve not yet stretched any webbing, but when the moment arrives I’m equipped.

3. Find a project. I’ve got my second project lined up, but I’m yet to find my first. My parents have given me a carver style chair which was unearthed while clearing out their loft.

4. Look for more projects! I’ve been going to Kidderminster Market Auctions on and off for the last year without much of a plan – but now I have focus! I need to get a ‘drop in seat’ style chair as this is the most straight forward project to start with.

A chair with a stitched and stuffed pad

5. Get yourself some professional tuition. I was really impressed with the help and advice offered to me by Tresithick Upholstery and Restoration in Truro, so I have entrusted my tuition to them. They are however booked until August (such is the demand), so I’ll be going down there in the summer. I hope, by that point I’ll have a few experiences under my belt. I’m told that in the week I’m with them they will be able to help me upholster a chair with a stitched and stuffed pad. This involves a number of upholstery techniques including working with springs – I’m really looking forward to this.

6. Practice! This weekend I’ll be carefully stripping the carver chair to see what’s what. I’m feeling pretty excited.

Continue reading “6 steps to becoming an upholsterer.”