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 ūüėČ


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.

Chalk Painting and Festive Frippery

I know I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently, but I’ve not been sitting about, honest. Scout’s honour. My little wing back arm chair is coming along nicely, and I’ve completed the arms to calico stage. A few new techniques here, and I’m really pleased with the results. It’s ground to a halt while I decide on fabric and I’ve committed to ordering it today – who knew it would be so hard to find a nice grey?

Building up the shape of the arms

A couple of weeks ago Darren and I went down to Truro for a long weekend, partly to see Chris and David at the wonderful Spring Cottage but mostly so that I could attend an Annie Sloan chalk painting workshop at Tresithick. I’d heard quite a bit about these paints but needed to see them for myself – the idea of painting directly on to wood or metal without doing any prep or sanding sounded too good to be true (which it wasn’t – you really can do that) but nonetheless appealed to the lazy person inside me. We practiced a variety of techniques to gain different effects from layering and sanding to reveal parts of the colours beneath, to force drying to gain a crackled look and the use of dark waxes to make a piece look aged. It was great fun, and I really am an Annie Sloan convert! This opens up a whole host of design possibilities for furniture aside from upholstery.

Trying to colour between the lines Annie Sloan style….

October and November also saw me hard at work producing my festive scatter cushions for sale on in time for Christmas. With some really unique fabrics from Spoonflower, I set to working on the ancient Husqvarna Viking which seems to be getting grumpier by the minute, snapping needles flew past my ears every 2 seconds. I want safety goggles for Christmas. Feedback on the cushions has been great, and some remain – get one now before they’re gone!

One of my Festive Scatters (on the right!) photographed by my first happy customer

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.


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 and 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?!

Last day of the course and the finished chair!

It turns out that I didn’t have to hold Richard hostage for much more than 15 minutes in the end. Everything came together nicely although I must admit it felt a bit like a race against time in the last hour, but that was purely my own sense of pressure as Richard continued to give me all the support and guidance I needed.

The last day was fitting the top cover and a few new techniques were collected along the way – polyester ‘dacron’ (a thin polyester padding) was added between the top cover and the calico beneath, something I’ve not done before but a great way to add a subtle softness to the feel and even out any very minor imperfections. I also learned about tack-ties, a phrase I had heard a great deal this week but didn’t understand (I had assumed it was some sort of fastening technique!) which turned out to be the vertical indentations you can get around the side of your chair if your tacks are pulling too hard on the fabric. My chairs so far have been full of them but until now I didn’t know that this wasn’t the done thing – I’m on tack-tie watch from this point forward and thankfully I’ve been shown how to sort them out.

Last thing to do was make my double piping for the trim, a quick lesson on warp, weft and bias-cut gave me a few options before setting to work on the industrial 1960’s sewing machine, which had so much power that it’s a wonder my piping doesn’t also include my wristwatch, a bit of ¬†jumper and the top of my index finger.

So with everything ‘tacked off’, trim applied and bottoming cloth placed underneath as a finishing touch, it was done! Ta-da!!!!!!!!

This is without a doubt, technically the best thing I have been able to create so far. This week has been not only hugely beneficial but incredibly inspiring, cementing the feeling that this is what I want to do and making it an even stronger aspiration and therefore an even stronger possibility. The danger for me now is that I’m so full of enthusiasm that I just want to take that leap of faith, so I know that the coming days will be agony as the more powerful, reasoned and sensible part of my brain fights against my heart. Maybe there’s a compromise in there somewhere?

I really was sad to leave Tresithick this week, not just because of how much it’s developed me but also because of the people I’ve met……

So I just wanted to thank Lindsey (a talented seamstress who makes blinds and curtains, with the same unhealthy obsession in rubbish old cars as me!), Dawn (just starting out on her course and creating some beautiful pieces already), Penny (owner of an antique shop near Plymouth, brilliant upholsterer and spotter of tack-ties!), Richard (excellent tutor, coach and with the patience of a saint), Sonja (ruthlessly organised, helpful and kept us going with lunches of the highest order), Nadine (not pictured but working as Richard’s second in command and always on hand for expert guidance) and Bella the dog (who kept us amused every break time with pouting looks in the hope of cakes and biscuits), for helping to make my week in Cornwall so bloomin’ brilliant.

Truro here I come!

Where has the time gone? It feels like only a few weeks since I first decided to pursue the idea of becoming an upholsterer and write this blog and as for booking my place on a course that was happening in August, well at the time it felt like an eternity, yet as I write this it’s little over one week away.

I’ve stuck with my decision to study the ‘stitched and stuffed pad’ as originally planned – although the hare-chair was this type of seat, I really want to make sure I can walk before I run. If I’m going to be a specialist I need to be really good! I have my chair for the course, good old Kidderminster Market Auctions came up trumps again and for just ¬£10 I managed to get this victorian style (I think it’s an 80’s reproduction) dining chair. Barry the Auctioneer has kept me supplied with chairs, telling me each week that he’ll ‘do his best’ for me with a ‘have faith!’ as I leave the auction room. These days I go for the banter as much as the furniture…….

The Adam style chair is now stripped and ready for me to start, but if I’m honest I’m not sure where to go with it yet. What’s fascinating about stripping down a chair like this is discovering its past lives, this one in particular appears to have taken a few different incarnations but I’m not sure which was original. the holes in the frame seem to suggest that it may have originally had a cane-weave seat which I wasn’t expecting at all, then it’s been upholstered leaving the frame exposed and re-upholstered covering up the frame entirely. The real shame is that the last person to work on the chair stapled the material into the show-wood which means it will need repairing if I want to show it to it’s full potential. I think I’ll look at this again when I’m back from Truro.

I got a bit excited last week when my latest edition of Living Etc was delivered. I really rate this magazine, I’ve subscribed for years and as an interiors fanatic I use it for a huge amount of inspiration. The August issue featured two room sets with traditionally upholstered chairs in them, but better still they were incomplete and showing off the craftsmanship beneath. I was struck by how great they looked in these settings without a top fabric and that in some ways it’s a shame to hide all the hard work that goes into creating the finished piece. If nothing else it’s given me an excuse to leave ¬†my half finished projects all around the house!

So here goes, Truro here I come (I’ll keep you posted)……

No shortage of places to sit.

I’ve made a start

I’m looking at 5 project chairs, really pleased with the two I’ve started and the skills that I’ve been practising. So far I seem to have got to grips with webbing and using the webbing stretcher, making a hessian base seemed pretty straight forward and creating bridle ties to stop the horse hair stuffing moving about had me closely consulting my ‘upholstery bible’. The upshot is that carver chair has an actual seat now, albeit without the final padding and top material – but I can sit on it and not fall through so that’s got to be good?

It’s not perfect by any means, and I can already see things that I want to improve on, but I’m really pleased with this as a first attempt.

The Ebay dining chairs

These are the ‘drop in seat’ style chairs that I was advised to start with first, and I’m doing these alongside the carver – it’s great practice. I purchased them from a couple who are in the antiques business and we got into a really interesting discussion about local and not so local fairs and markets that will be good for me to scour. They also told me that they often get asked for local upholsterers at these fairs which gave me no end of reassurance that there is a demand for what I’m trying to do.

Advice and inspiration

A subscriber to my blog and friend of a friend, Helga Henry left me some really great comments on my A week of options post. She suggested that I research people who are running businesses that mirror my aspirations, and look at the qualifications they have achieved – giving me a steer on the kind of qualification that might benefit me further down the line. This did a couple of things for me; I discovered The London Chair Collective and their work has given me a huge amount of inspiration. This is exactly the kind of work that I want to be doing, but as well as inspire me it’s also made me a bit impatient – I want to be creating amazing pieces like this now! I have to be careful that I don’t start rushing through my projects in the hope of tackling something that may well be beyond my capabilities at this stage. I also found out the the City and Guilds upholstery qualification is where these people learned their trade. Alas, as with the other qualifications the Midlands seems to be devoid of places to learn, but It’s one for the future so I’ll not write it off as a possibility just yet. Slow and steady wins the race?

A step closer to using my webbing stretcher….

It’s almost February and I still have the same enthusiasm (if not more) for learning my new skill as I did when I started this blog. That’s got to be a good sign? I’ve been taking a number of steps in the last weeks:

The Projects

I was advised to start working on a simple ‘drop in seat’ chair to get to grips with the basic skills, and I’ve bough 4 from Ebay this week for ¬£30. However, I’ve been itching to¬†start a project so the ‘pin stuffed pad’ carver (check me out knowing all the right terms) has been stripped stage by stage and photographed as I went along. At this point in time I’m feeling full¬†of confidence and want to tackle this one first – I suppose there’s not much that I can do that can’t be rectified if it turns out my skills aren’t up to it yet?

Stripping the chair left me with a bit of a dilemma. I don’t know a huge amount about the chair, it was given to me by my parents from their loft where it has sat for 20+ years complete with sagging seat, broken webbing and permanent marker artistry courtesy of a 3 year old me. It was given to my parents by my late Grandfather who had acquired it from his place of work and then stained, varnished and re-upholstered it himself. He was an incredibly skilled man who would turn his hand to anything, and I must admit I felt a huge sense of pride in rejuvenating this piece as he did in the 50’s or 60’s. With the coverings removed I set about sanding the varnish and stain with a view to painting the chair black. I imagined this would highlight the silhouette of the chair and set off a contemporary covering, but I soon started to feel really guilty as i looked at the quality and pattern of the wood, feareing that a coat of paint would do it a great disservice. I have to admit that I was also a bit scared that it could be valuable and I was about to drench it in Dulux! So, I’ve decided to leave it as is, sanded, worn and honest.

Great Fabric Supplier

I was getting worried. I’ve been struggling to find a fabric supplier or brand that inspires me and thought I may be destined to do my best with High Street contemporary, until I got a great lead – a new friend mentioned a company called St. Jude’s Fabrics who work with artists to produce really exciting fabric in upholstery grades. I’ve received some samples this week and I’ll be using Mark Herald’s ‘Bird Garden’ in charcoal for the carver.

A Moment of Distraction

I’ve been going to the local auction every week, but as yet haven’t found any project chairs. I did however make a successful bid on a huge pair of antique mounted antlers! I’ve no idea where they will go but knowing how on-trend antlers and taxidermy have been of late in interiors I couldn’t resist. I know I’m looking for upholstery to be a career move, but there’s a risk it could cost me more than I’ll ever make.

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.”