Matisse once likened a pleasing piece of art to a well-made arm-chair-calming and conducive to peace of mind. What he failed to mention was that an armchair can be a piece of art in its own right.Shapely seat-pads, traditional trimming and the precise lattice-work of webbing are all things of beauty, but properly upholstered furniture is greater than the sum of its parts. This is doubly true of pieces you’ve laboured over yourself-there’s tremendous satisfaction in pepping up a tired-looking antique or starting from scratch with a bare frame.
But before you start unpicking the stitching on your sofa, invest in a training course. Upholstery is architecture in miniature and, of all the skills covered in this issue, it’s probably the one that lends itself least well to early-stage, solo experimentation. Coil springs, linen scrims and bulging bags of horsehair are no laughing matter-having an expert standing by to steady your hand makes all the difference.
However, once you’ve got some basickit and worked out the difference between brocade and basket-weave, there are no limits to what you can achieve. With a little elbow grease, that dachshund-print chaise longue you’ve been dreaming of can become a reality. EH
Annie Topham and Diane Lanham of The Upholstery Workshop,www.upholsteryworkshop.com; 01722 710274) run traditional and modern upholstery courses in a bright, welcoming cottage on the outskirts of Salisbury, Wiltshire. Classes are small, with a maxi-mum of three participants, and you set the pace-you can bring along a tired but treasured piece of furniture as a one-off or enrol on the extended diploma. Five days of tuition cost £400, including home-cooked lunches and refreshments. Accommodation is available.
If you don’t have a solid week to spare, try Lilac Barn (01823 698707; www.lilacbarn.co.uk) in the Somerset village of Stoke St Gregory. There, you can enrol on a series of workshops on Tues-
days, Thursdays and Fridays. Participants bring their own frames or pieces of furniture and there are no restrict-ions-if it fits in your car, tutor Cherry Dobson will accept it. Five workshops cost £130, and refreshments (but not lunch) are provided.
If you’re in or near Wales and are looking for an Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers-approved training centre, The Traditional Upholstery Workshop (01994 232124; www.upholsterycourses.com) could be for you. At the end of its week-long course (£380, including lunch), you should have completed a drop-in seat, a pin-stuffed seat and a sprung dining-
room chair. Tutor Liz Marks encourages attendees to bring cameras with them to record their progress-a nice touch.
North of the border, Fife-based Walkers Upholstery & Interiors (01334 652562; www.walkersupholstery.com) offers a range of classes and courses in an 18th-century watermill. You can go in the evenings with a project or work towards an Association of Master Upholsterers and Soft Furnishers qualification. And if you need a break from stitching and hammering, there’s a nature reserve next door.
Give it a try
Start small at The Goodlife Centre (020-7760 7613; www.thegoodlifecentre.co.uk), a short walk from London Waterloo. On the one-day Intro to Upholstery workshop (£165), you’ll be shown how to create a foam-filled drop-in seat, picking up key skills as you go. You can also opt to spend a weekend upholstering a pet bed, complete with contrasting buttons and cabriole legs.
What to buy
Bronze-headed magnetic tack hammer, £54.99, Heritage Upholstery Supplies
(01724 841682; www.heritageupholsterysupplies.co.uk)
Bakelite tape measure, £8.97, Fred Aldous (0161-236 4224; www.fredaldous.co.uk)
Fabric adhesive, £3.99, Heritage Upholstery Supplies (www.heritageupholsterysupplies.co.uk; 01724 841682)
Polished 12in tailor’s shears, £29.95, The Upholstery Shop
Beechwood webbing stretcher, £17.75, Upholstery Warehouse (01903 201081; www.upholsterywarehouse.co.uk)
Make a weekend of it
Tresithick Upholstery and Restoration, near Truro, Cornwall
Richard Hooper, a Master Upholsterer, and his wife, Sonja, run friendly, highly regarded courses in traditional upholstery from their barn workshop. You can arrive as a beginner on Monday and leave on Friday with a fully upholstered piece (£375 for five days’ tuition, including refreshments but excluding materials). Stay at nearby Spring Cottage-rooms cost from £50 per night, including breakfast (01872 520307; www.springcottage.co.uk).
(01726 884500; www.tresithickrestorations.co.uk)
Peak Upholstery and Furnishings, Matlock, Derbyshire
If you have a particular project in mind, this is the place. Bring a piece of furniture in need of cheering up and Angie Britton will help you transform it. B&B accommodation is available (£35 per night) and you can book dinner, too. Four days of tuition cost £430, including lunches.
(01629 57354; www.peakupholstery.co.uk)
Tips from the expert
Richard Hooper of Tresithick Upholstery gives some advice
l Almost no chair is technically beyond repair if you don’t mind investing a little time and money. But don’t bite off more than you can chew initially-it’s best to start with something relatively simple, such as a dining chair, so you can get to grips with the basic techniques
l When re-upholstering a chair, there’s no point in ‘papering over the cracks’. Unless you have (or you know someone who has) the skills necessary for any frame repairs, it’s wise to first ‘test’ the furniture to make sure it’s structurally sound and thus fit for upholstery
l When working with old chairs, be kind! And do pay attention to detail for the best results. There’s no process in the traditional craft that doesn’t have a purpose, so you take shortcuts at your peril
Read all about it
The Upholstery Bible Cherry Dobson (David & Charles, £17.99)
Upholstery Malcolm Hopkins (New Holland Publishers, £14.99)
The Upholsterer’s Handbook Nicole Fulton (Mitchell Beazley, £16.99)
From January 10 for eight Fridays ‘Fashionable and Functional: A History of Furniture’, V&A, London SW7, 10.30am-1pm, £270 (020-7942 2211; www.vam.ac.uk)
August 8-10 The Sandringham Craft, Sculpture & Art Fair, Sandringham, King’s Lynn, Norfolk (01485 545400; www.sandringhamestate.co.uk)
September 21-24 Decorex International 2014, Syon Park, Brentford, Middlesex (www.decorex.com; 020-7955 3731)
October 25-26 Burghley House Craft and Food Fair, Stamford, Lincolnshire (01780 752451; www.burghley.co.uk)