Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Upholsterers

My grandfather was an upholsterer by trade, and I've always been proud of the very idea that he was a skilled worker in a craft like that.

I have, to hand, a recently published Upholsterer’s Step-by-Step Handbook , Alex Law is the author of this informative reference book, which really gets to grips with the practicalities of upholstery. Law, in his modesty, explains in the opening lines of his introduction that though techniques and materials have evolved over centuries, in its pure form, upholstery is a set of basic rules and that similar methods can be applied to many different chairs. There is more to it, I think, a bit of mathematical know how, good design; hands on skill, and a careful, methodical approach needs to be applied, to turn new or existing frameworks into soft furnishing items that are both functional and good looking. The National Careers Service online sums up the necessary attributes required to be an upholsterer: 

'As an upholsterer you would add padding and soft covers to furniture. You would work with textiles, design and colour to cover or re-cover items with materials such as leather, suede or cotton. If you enjoy practical, hands on work and have an interest in style and design, there could be opportunities for you in upholstery.An eye for detail and the ability to work accurately will help you to measure materials and cut them to the right size. You’ll also need to be patient and persevere to make sure your furniture is finished to a high standard'

My grandfather died when my Mum was just a teenager. She remembers him however, sitting at the sewing machine, machining fabric, even working while enjoying family gatherings up on the Norfolk coast. I’m not sure how he acquired the skill for his craft. He may have served some kind of apprenticeship perhaps, I know his father was a Boot Finisher (which might have involved stitching leather), and that my granddad also had aunts who were dressmakers/milliners, and his brother Reg owned a furniture shop, so perhaps there was something in the family's line of work, or the genes, being passed on. Perhaps I'm born to sew after all!I must work at getting better at it. This useful Handbook will help me. I will use it.

Chapter 1, is 56 pages alone, devoted to the tools and materials to fill an upholsterers tool bag and work space. Substituting equipment for items that will be less effective, or simply making do with just a few tools, just makes jobs like this harder, but there will be a fair outlay to fully equip. 

I'd like to think my Granddad was a master upholsterer like Alex Law. I wonder what happened to all my Granddad's kit! I assume it was left behind when my Nan eventually vacated the house they had shared. As was his violin, his WWII mementos from time served at RAF Cardington and the Dutch connections he made, plus other personals. Sentimental I might be, but this book is certainly not, the content is fresh and very giving, with Chapter 6 revealing the Blueprint methods, demonstrating how similar techniques and materials can be applied to a wide variety of chair styles. Recommended!

Alex Law has been working as an upholsterer since the late 1980s. He has followed the traditional path from apprentice, through journeyman and on to master upholsterer. Throughout his career Alex has worked in high-end craft workshops as well as developing a deeper understanding of the craft through teaching upholstery at London Metropolitan University alongside day-to-day bench work. He has been awarded recognition for this work from several trade organisations. He now runs the Kent School of Upholstery, based in Faversham, Kent, as well as designing and making collections of upholstery for various clients

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