French upholstery – a masterclass

Teaching an old dog new tricks

I have been interested in upholstery for a very long time now. It would be fair to say that when I started I didn’t really have a very rounded education, learning in a fairly scattered way.

Ultimately, I learned traditional upholstery and really enjoyed the sense of learning an art that stretches back centuries. There is something very beautiful about being able to construct a shaped edge with just hair, hessian and a long needle.

learning french stitching

I started my business in June 2004 and set about trying to earn a living doing the thing I love.

I won’t bore you with my life story, but I have become increasingly passionate about my craft in that time and wanting to fill in the gaps in my learning. This has taken many shapes, one of the biggest steps has been putting my staple gun down and to pick up a tack hammer. A very simple thing but it has transformed my thinking and my love of upholstery. It is immensely satisfying, and a skill easily lost in today’s market, with the need to keep cost down and produce upholstered furniture within a budget.

When you start on a journey of self-improvement it is without doubt about the people you surround yourself with, and for me this definitely started back in 2010. When I employed a student from the AMUSF (Association of Master upholsterers and Soft Furnishings). It was very clear that although she had only been learning for about a year, there were things I could learn from her. And in no small way social media has played its part in re-igniting my love of the craft.

This little fire has turned in to a raging blaze, to learn more and not just sit on my staple gun, as improvement and development has become more and more important to me over that time. I have looked at some options but found it hard for an experienced upholsterer to fine tune their skills.

It’s pretty frustrating. I think there is a fair amount of pride on this subject with many not liking to admit their short comings. There is also a fair amount of isolation in our craft as most businesses tend to be small and therefore different skills are not shared.

So, I was delighted when The British School of Upholstered Furniture started to offer the very thing I had been looking for. An upholstery course on the rather different skill of French upholstery. You could say about French upholstery “the same yet totally different”.

I booked on to the course as soon as I saw it. And yes, I was very excited to do this but with a certain amount of reservation, as being an upholsterer does not make you a teacher.

I had a pretty bad experience at a course I was on a few years ago, and I guess I was a little nervous of a repeat.

I needn’t have worried as the teacher was a delightful chap by the name of Armand Verdier. His patience and explanation of the process were very easily explained.

He also had the most expressive hands which might sound odd, but it really helped to understand the process. If you’re ever lucky enough to attend this course I will share one thing with you: if Armand says, ‘it’s OK’, it means that he wouldn’t personally let it go. So, always ask that question “Is this what you would do?” It’s unlikely that you will meet Armand’s skill level but there isn’t any shame in that. After all, I guess you fell over a few times before walking.

Armand Verdier

The whole experience for the five days of the course was extraordinary. With a very warm welcome from Gareth Rees and Gregory Culpit-Jones when we arrived and a quick tour of the school, and a good old chin wag as to what will be happening over the five days.

On top of this the history of our craft was never far from the conversation as this is such a passion for both Gareth and Greg. We also were lucky enough to have a look around Greg’s workshop which was fascinating, an eye opener as to what can be achieved with traditional upholstery.

The class itself was a blast from start to finish making friends from all over. A measure of the popularity of the course was the fact that two students had travelled down from Scotland one had come all the way from Norway with the winning distance being California and me from Wiltshire and another from Surrey.

We all learned together and helped each other whilst having a lot of fun. Our theme tune for the five days was a French song by Charles Trenet called ‘Boum’. This was largely in honour of Armand who had a way of finishing an explanation with the word ‘boom’.

My french upholstery in five days 🙂

I will end this by saying that I learnt a good deal and felt massively inspired to continue my desire to learn my trade to the highest standard that I can.

Here’s to never stopping the gathering of skills and knowledge we are never too old!