It’s fascinating how many people particularly women are retraining in artisanal crafts these days, using their hands to create something tangible. More and more people are interested in learning upholstery, either as a hobby or as a new career, gaining the satisfaction of creating lasting furniture using their hands.
The art of upholstery was for a few years on the wane, but in the last decade our trade has seen a massive influx of new talent, breathing new life into some tired furniture. With a much higher standard of professional teaching thrown into this mix the future feels very bright for a trade steeped in tradition.
From a sow’s ear to a silk purse.
My workshop has employed predominately female upholsterers in my 13 years of business, who, although being in the trade a few short years, have become very skilled with a good eye for traditional skills and a passion for accuracy and detail. The joy of stitching hair and hessian in to a formed shape and making a silk purse from a sow’s ear has always been the thing I get the biggest kick out of. In my time I have worked with many upholsterers, all male with plenty of talent but showing signs of losing their passion for the job, which I can’t understand and find rather sad. So, it’s fantastic to be able to employ this new wave of upholsterers who really relish putting into practice the new skills they have learned and are move rapidly towards being exceptional talented.
Imagine trying to learn these new skills, working with beautiful fabrics, understanding how best to use their patterns. Stitching with twines that can be really tough on your hands and does require some strength, although it’s far more about technique than pure muscle, it all takes a while to learn. Anna, who is my current apprentice, admits that she is built like a pigeon with the muscle taken off. She has become amazingly efficient at getting the right tension on the twine and fabric. She hasn’t become Popeye but has mastered the techniques underlying the processes.
In my workshop I see many different upholstery skills and it is all revealed when I strip the furniture down to its bare bones ready for re-upholstery. The skills of yesteryear have been passed down many times from Master Upholsterer to apprentice, but nowadays there are some very good schools teaching upholstery skills to a professional qualification, that can only be learnt in time. For me it has taken 38 years (and I am still learning) but the thing I absolutely love is that many of the students coming through the system today are learning crazy skills in 6 or 7 years, with a fresh view and approach, using ideas and techniques that are exciting and different.
From Student to Teacher
Nicola Thomas worked with me for two years as an apprentice and was a joy to have in the workshop, packed full of ideas; thinking differently about our craft; and learning at a rapid-fire rate. She left R&P to move to London where she worked for a company with a Royal warrant adding much kudos to her CV. She now teaches professional upholstery for Shoreditch Design Rooms (an AMUSF-approved teaching centre). I’m really proud of her and share this story, because in 2010 when she started with me, she was a year in to an upholstery course and in all honesty had loads still to learn, and learn she did. Nic Thomas has without doubt an exceptional talent and learnt the trade relatively quickly, it may take a little longer for others. However, if your life needs a change and you love being creative this discipline deserves some thought.
Like all things, learning takes time and practice but there are so many good schools now teaching upholstery skills in the right way. In a few very short years, after reading this, you could become the next star of our beautiful craft of upholstery.
If you’re Wiltshire-based these courses will require some travel but if you want to learn a skill in the right way it is well worth the effort.
A good place to start looking would be on the AMUSF website
Listed here are two Approved Training Centres, with exceptional credentials, if this has piqued your interest.
Shoreditch Design Rooms 020 3689 5841 www.shoreditchdesignrooms.com
Wendy Shorter Interiors 01727 824358 www.wendyshorterinteriors.co.uk
We will also be running some recreational upholstery courses in our Wiltshire workshop this Spring and Summer, if you would like to try your hand.