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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Now, where were we?

I can’t believe that three months have whizzed by since I was last at Tresithick and updating my blog *slaps own wrist*.

Remember this little velvet beauty?
Well, here I am once again and this time it’s for a couple of weeks. The plan was to complete my traditional armchair this week so that I can start my next diploma piece, the egg chair, next week (more on that soon). That said, it’s already Wednesday and it’s not looking like that’s going to happen.

So where were we? Looking back at my last post I had just started to apply the top fabric to the back of the seat, but in actual fact by the time I left the workshop in November the chair was far more advanced that that…

The arms were finished when I left in November but I didn’t photograph it. I’m slipping.
The intention for this week was that the sprung seat would go in and I would be able to complete the remaining outside panels. The truth of the matter is that on a chair of this size (particularly when being rebuilt using traditional methods) time somehow vanishes on the things that you think will be done in a flash. Half a day to add 9 springs, how can that be??? I do however remember at regular intervals that this qualification would not be so valuable if everything was easy or right first time.

The original springs made this chair feel like a ride at Alton Towers. I’ve stiffened things up a tad.
Three days to get here. I was hopig to be sitting outside with a pasty by Thursday afternoon. not going to happen.
I’m holding on to an optimistic view that the next stages of the build will be a doddle. People love an optimist, right?

The magpie in me is keen to move on to the egg chair but apparently patience is a virtue or something. 

As ever there’s lots of laughter in the workshop and I was delighted to see Josie and Anna and Pam who I’ve shared weeks with before – you may recall Josie’s large leather armchair from last time. It’s coming on a treat. 

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?

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……

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.

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 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 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!