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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Time to reveal my fabric choice!

Today, Richard fixed me with a very ernest look and declared “I think it’s time”. 

Regulated to within an inch of its life

Yesterday was all about the second layer of stuffings for the inside back of the chair. A good layer of hair was fixed in place, regulated (a process of evening out the hair so that it’s a consistent depth and density) and my liner was then added to create the final line and shape. So with the arms and the back both at this stage, it could mean only one thing – it’s time for the top fabric to go on!

All shaped and ready to go

But hang on a minute, why risk putting your fabric in place when you still have no seat? Well it’s all about access – at this stage of the build we still have good access to the wooden rails that will be used as tacking points for the fabric, and the ultimate aim is to create as tight a space between the seat and the back as we can. A great, yawning gap doesn’t look great and if you drop it, you could loose your custard cream. So, if we build the seat now it means that we’ll have a very tight gap for our fabric to squeeze through and partly restricted access to the frame for tacking. Of course, once attached it also means that I’ve got to take very good care of my new fabric. 

So what have I gone for? Well as you may know I’ve talked before about tricky fabrics, those that can make your life as an upholsterer that little bit harder. This can be through the construction of the fabric or a pattern that needs careful matching. Unusually for me, I’ve opted for a plain this time, however I thought I’d give myself a hard time by opting for my arch-nemesis, velvet.

Ta-da! Don’t fret, I’m not leaving those flappy bits on the corners

I’ve been really inspired of late by the current fashion for velvet, it just looks so sumptuous and tactile! I’m also loving the shades of blues and greens that seem to be popping up regularly in my favourite interiors magazines. The fact that velvet can be tricky to handle and easily marked seemed to diminish as I envisaged how this chair might look. And so the first panel goes on…… What do you think?

Getting Qualified

I made a decision last year that I forgot to tell you about. After 5 years of working on my upholstery skills with Richard at Tresithick I decided to work towards a qualification, a diploma to be precise.

Taking the time to work towards a qualification had always seemed something of a challenge in the past, not least because it required 6 weeks of tuition each year and my work holiday entitlement was only 5! For this reason I opted to take my own projects to the training centre, but the more time I spent with the other students studying for their awards, the more I realised I’d accomplished many of the things they were doing without gaining official recognition from the governing body. So, my mind was made up – I wanted a qualification too!

What’s interesting is that I’ve never been asked to prove how qualified I am, and I actually don’t expect that it will happen. I’m very fortunate that my work has come from recommendations, so I suppose that’s qualification enough for most. This qualification is for me, for my own satisfaction and sense of achievement, and of course for that odd occasion when someone might want me to prove my credentials. I’ll carry my certificate with me just in case. 

 

An anti-macassa may not have been a bad idea
 
Today was the first day towards my qualification and I’m working on a ‘substantial traditional armchair’. As luck would have it I had one waiting in the wings. This piece was rescued for me by a friend a couple of years ago – destined for the tip it had my name all over it. I thought it was 1930’s given the fabric, but as I’ve stripped it today it seems that it may have had a previous life and could be a little older. Today was mostly assessing the state of the frame and removing (what seemed like) a million tacks. I’ve not yet decided on fabric. Any ideas?

 

I needed a bigger bin really. The springs looked like they’d come off a Routemaster.
 
As you know, I love Cornwall and time spent here is real food for the soul. This time I thought it would be fun to come in my little red Citroen – my first ever car and owned for 22 years. At her MOT this year I realised that I’d only driver her 9 miles in the past 12 months and that just wasn’t good enough. I smile from ear to ear when I’m behind the wheel, so a road trip seemed in order. It was a sedate trip (these cars weren’t built for speed!) but we made it and I’m hoping for the odd sunny spell so I can take the roof off. Actually, the chair was so big the only way it went in the car was through the roof! Who needs a van?

We made it! Staying at the beautiful Spring Cottage in Probus is a real treat.

The House of Hackney Chair is Finished!

With the busy Christmas period well and truly out of the way (not that it wasn’t lovely of course) I made a bee-line for the House of Hackney chair which had been waiting patiently in my studio for its finishing touches.

You may recall that the piping fabric was causing the hold-up as the House of Hackney velvet revealed the white cotton backing when wrapped around the cord. Thankfully a trip to my local fabric store solved the issue and I was able to find a really good match in a plain black, short pile velvet printed on a black cotton base. Perfect!

With the right fabric sourced I made the single piping for the back of the chair and attached this directly to the frame so that I could stitch the back panel directly to it so that it gave a nice tight close. The bottom edge was tacked off underneath.

 Then I made up 2 lots of double piping to cover the tacks around the back rest and the bottom edge of the seat. This was glued into place. Now, I don’t know if it’s just my glue gun, but they are pretty hard to use. It seems that mine really is all or nothing, one squeeze and you seem to have endless amounts of hot glue coming out for minutes. How I’m not permanently glued to the chair I will never know. So much concentration was required I actually had to remind myself to breathe.

 

Anyway, with the bottom cloth attached, I was done! And here it is….


  
   
What do you think? I’m really delighted with how it’s turned out, and even more delighted when a visitor to our studio saw the chair and said “that wouldn’t look out of place in House of Hackney’s window” and he didn’t even know it was one of their fabrics!  I did a little imaginary air punch at that moment, not an actual real-life one you understand. I’m way too cool to do that.

So what’s the future of this chair now? As much as i want to keep it, it’s officially up for sale. Interested? Drop me a line!

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 Victorian Nursing Chair -Day 7

Today I have been stitching. Then stitching. And I followed this with some stitching.

The result? A lovely firm border to the seat which will withstand many many years of use. Tomorrow I will be finishing this off with some more stitching just for good measure.

 

i finally tamed all that coir and got the pad into the basic shape required

 

Through-stuffing-ties stop your coir being pinched from the middle as your stitches draw coir to the edges

 

Don’t look at my muffin top! 3 rows of blind stitching start to build the height of the pad and add strength

 

Tomorrow an edge roll will complete the stitching. I love this view

My hands are dropping off. Feel free to send aid in the form of hand cream and chocolate.

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……..