5 Tips to Learning Upholstery – Getting you started

1. Keep things simple. A dining chair or stool is always a good starting place. (save the big sofa for when you are more experienced!).

2. Bring a good deal of patience. with you as upholstery can be intricate.

3. Take your time stripping the chair back to frame. Take notes and lots of photos. You can always refer to your records to remind you how that detail should look.

4. Getting a tool kit together. Getting the basics to start you up.

5. Read a recommended book. (See those listed below.) It will really help.

1. Keep things simple.

So often when people start an upholstery course they will have very big ideas about what they can do. Like all things keeping it simple is the best way to start off. Upholstering a dining chair will give you the skills that translate to more complicated pieces. You are much more likely to complete a small task in a short time. Taking on a big project that then becomes difficult and takes a long time can be disheartening. And on a more practical note, dining chairs are much easier to transport in the back of your car. The big point is that during a class your understanding will be greatly enhanced. You will learn each skill, practice and move on. If doing a sofa, each section e.g. webbing, springing, will take longer as there is so much more to do.

2. Bring a good deal of patience.

Upholstery takes a long time, with a huge amount of stitching and stretching of materials. When learning you will make a mistake or two and have to undo all your hard work. Patience is key here. Enjoying the time that each step takes can be very therapeutic. With small steps and fun comes a huge difference to your understanding. Please though don’t worry if you’re not naturally patient. Patience can be learned I am the testimony to that!

3. Take your time stripping the chair back to frame.

The stripping of a chair, taking the covers off, and getting back to the frame will help you understand the process. this is far more important than may be obvious at first sight.

Sure, sometimes you can’t get much from it as it might be a complete bodge. Largely there is quite a lot of understanding to be gained. I’ve been doing this for 38 years and I still gain some knowledge from this. The key is to think how the chair was put together and strip it in reverse order. For example, the very last thing put on will be the bottom cloth so that comes off first. simply follow that principal back to frame. Take copious notes and lots of photos as this will really help with reconstruction.

4. Putting a tool kit together.

This can be improvised using cheaper options but there are some tools that are worth spending a few pennies on. Scissors being a very obvious one. Sharp shears will make a huge difference to your work.

There are tools that can be found in junk shops or a corner of your garage that can work pretty well. Like an old screw driver to knock out tacks, it’s not ideal but will work and get you started. (Tacks and staples can fly. Always wear safety glasses.)

5. Read a recommended book.

The last point is to read or browse through a few books in preparation for your upholstery. It will help you gain some understanding. With some really useful pointers along the way. The books recommended here are just three there are many more. The most recent book that I would highly recommend. With very clear diagrams and well written is The step by step handbook by Alex Law.

The three books that I would recommend (and there are so many more)

David James A complete course

Alex law The step by step handbook

Frederick Palmer practical upholstering

(We keep a copy of these in our workshop so that my apprentices can refer to them at all times.)