Upholstering in Wales!!!

Carreg Cennen Castle

If any of you know my story, you know that I’ve been upholstering for a LONG time. However, upholsterers’ years are kind of like dog years. I’m not sure if I’m comparing this correctly, but here’s the lowdown. Here in the US we call ourselves upholsterers, but in reality we’re mostly fiddling around with modern materials and foam to mimic how  a piece of furniture was created in a factory. A Master Upholsterer is so much more. In the UK, and around Europe, upholstery is an artisan craft that is only learned through years and years of training and apprenticeship.To give you a startling realistic idea of the intensity of the work involved, here’s a bit of a interview from PRWeb.com about Plumb’s Upholstery in Lancashire, UK.

What do doctors and professional upholsterers have in common? On average, it takes 8 years to become a doctor and a total of 8 to become a master of upholstery.

A family business, Plumbs employs 300 skilled craftsmen and women as well as an extensive network of over a hundred master upholsterers nationwide.

Plumbs ensure that its craftsmen are experts in their field. They also work hard to keep the traditional craftsmanship of reupholstery alive. Becoming a qualified upholsterer is no easy task, and it can take many years to become a master of this craft. There are no set entry requirements, but experience is desirable when becoming an upholsterer.

Entrants can opt to take a number of ABC or City and Guilds qualifications or learn the craft as part of a HND, foundation degree or university degree. Prospective upholsterers can also undertake lengthy apprenticeships offering essential experience.

Aside from this, it takes many years to become a certified Master of Upholstery. Masters of this craft are considered artisans, and have a superior level of technical ability that comes from years of experience. Plumbs actively seek out these gifted craftsmen.

Eight years PEOPLE!!! And you thought you could upholster a chair perfectly in one six week class, or three day workshop??!!! We’d like to think so, but it just isn’t possible. Any classes that you’re taking here or almost anywhere around the United States are just beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to this craft. More than a few times I hear my students tell me up front that they’re perfectionists and they will not make any mistakes, thus no need to re-do. Ha!!! First of all, contrary to what I struggled with for many years, being a perfectionist is not a badge of honor. In fact, it’s extremely limiting. I won’t go into that right now, but that subject deserves another blog post.

Back to traditional upholstery–this is one tricky little skill to master. It’s knowing the technical aspects and having the tactile and hand eye coordination to  sculpt a comfortable, sturdy, beautiful piece of furniture with webbing, springs, burlap, or hessian, horsehair, cotton wadding (padding), finer horsehair, muslin, and finally a top fabric. Not only that, but you need problem solving skills, improvisation skills, an understanding of joinery, and more. DIY-ers may say they want to learn how to do it, but when it comes to the ‘roll up your sleeves and get dirty’ actuality of it, I’ve seen very few takers. One  ‘taker’ I have seen is my upholstery BFF from Chicago, Paul. He came to my Bootcamp last February wanting to learn how to upholster with foam. He casually told me that he had spent three summers in Wales learning traditional upholstery techniques. Whuuuuuuu??? Why on earth did he want to come to my class and learn how to pad with foam? Well, he just wants to know everything there is to know about upholstery, traditional and modern.  As I got to know this like minded pal, and witnessed his substantial upholstery skills, I thought, “I want what he’s got!” Long story short–I’M GOING TO THE TRADITIONAL UPHOLSTERY WORKSHOP IN WALES!!! I always wanted to go on a business trip, and this will be a doozy!. Paul raved about Liz, the owner and teacher at the Traditional Upholstery Workshop in the beautiful, picturesque rolling hills of Carmarthenshire, Wales. After hearing the stories and seeing the pictures, I couldn’t NOT do it.

I’ll visit Wimbledon before the finals (you know my love affair with professional tennis and Roger Federer), investigate London, maybe visit some of my Upholstery Club friends in London, and then head on down to Wales. I’ll have one full week of traditional upholstery madness, a weekend break (castle watching), another week of intense deep diamond tufting with horsehair stuffing, and then another week of free summertime adventure. I’m torn between a side trip to Paris, or Ireland.

So how does this affect you, dear readers? When I get back, I’ll be hot to teach you some of the skills I’ve been doing for two decades, but now I’ll be doing them with fresh, new resolve. We’ll be getting down and getting dirty with spring tying, horsehair padding, bridle stitches and more. Oh! I just can’t wait to share this with you, as well as all the other swingin’, artsy inspiration I’ll absorb.

But, until then, there’s still lots of work going on in my studio. New classes to be scheduled, a little redecorating, new outside awnings and more! Bootcamp starts tomorrow!



Posted in upholstery | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Upholstering in Wales!!!

  1. Alyssa Elza says:

    This is so exciting! I just returned from taking 7 weeks of traditional upholstery training in Cornwall, England. I almost went to the Traditional Upholstery school too, but wasn’t able to get that many consecutive weeks. I LOVED it and truly enjoyed my time learning at Tresithick Upholstery (keep this school in mind for any future trips). I am going through withdrawal since coming back home and am struggling to locate all the traditional materials (I knew this would be an issue as I couldn’t find any traditional courses in the US). All in due time! Have a wonderful time abroad – and I hope to take some modern upholstery courses from you in the near future.


  2. shellyleer says:

    Alyssa–You spent 7 weeks in England!!! Wow! That must have been so much fun (and work). Email me so we can chat about materials.

  3. Hi,
    It has been very interesting reading your posts, I undertook my traditional upholstery training doing an apprenticeship in London, this was 5 years training, four days working on the bench and one day at the London College of Furniture for 3 years where I learnt Frame making, French polishing, Spray lacquering, Plastics, Soft furnishings etc….after 5 years as an apprentice I was asked to leave my place of work and find another upholstery job for two years this was called improvership, after this time the old upholsterers who had trained me would then call me a time served traditional upholsterer. I was trained to hand sew and fit carpets, fit and make curtains and draperies, install fabric-walling and tented ceilings, vintage car interiors, bespoke upholstery work and just about anything to do with upholstery and fabric and still undertake these practises now, I have worked and still work in some of the most prestigious private and state owned houses both in the UK and abroad and have made the odd coffin too. I had the pleasure of working with and also being taught by upholsterers from many countries including UK,USofA, France, Germany, Australia, Spain,Portugal, Ireland even Jamaica and all of them where time served upholsterers, so I was very lucky to have a pool of knowledge to dip in too. Most of the traditional upholstery workshops where these guys worked do not exist anymore so the traditional skills taught to me are not now being passed down from upholsterer to apprentice as they once were, which is a great shame.
    The conservation of upholstery, draperies, fabric-walling and the frames we work on has always been paramount within the trade and the traditional upholstery work I undertake now will hopefully need some attention by another traditional upholsterer in say 50,80 100 years from now.
    I train quite a few students in there late 30s,40s who are now looking for a career change and some are quite shocked at how little people want to pay to have there much loved chair reupholstered…the only way to make money is to be very good at what you do and also become extremely quick too, working in a workshop with other upholsterers gives you these skills.
    Having been in the trade now for 40 years from leaving school at 15,
    Stephen Franklin (Upholder)

    Upholder is an archaic term used for ‘upholsterer’ in the past, although it appears to have a connotation of repairing furniture rather than creating new upholstered pieces from scratch

    In 18th-century London, upholders frequently served as interior decorators responsible for all aspects of a room’s decor. These individuals were members of the Worshipful Company of Upholders, whose traditional role, prior to These individuals were members of the Worshipful Company of Upholders, whose traditional role, prior to the 18th century, was to provide upholstery and textiles and the fittings for funerals….

  4. That castle is beautiful! Pity it’s 3 hours away from me in North Wales…

  5. shellyleer says:

    Wales was beautiful!!