Requiem for a hobby

This was supposed to be a blog post about the importance of careful measuring, planning and cutting. “Take your time!” I would say. “Work on the floor if you don’t have a large table to ensure your lines are straight and accurate!!!” My post would include photos, like this:

Unfortunately, my finished cushion was half an inch too long.

Son of a nutcracker.

I’d aimed for snug and landed on crowded, misjudging JUST slightly where the cushion would meet the angled and turned spindles of the arm.

So I’m composing a different blog post. It will have photos like this:


Staying late on a Friday night, carefully taking apart every seam to move welting, boxing, zipper and ties, I had to muse. . .

If this was my cushion and upholstery was my hobby, I could have – WOULD have – taken it home and enjoyed a celebratory beverage.


Cheers! Someone put on Netflix.

And why not? I accept all kinds of “pretty good” in my non-upholstery life.

No.  . . Not accept . . . Celebrate. Delight in. Advocate for.

It’s a truly beautiful thing.

For example . . .

I love (LOVE!!) to crochet. It doesn’t matter if it takes months to finish a project, or if I get bored and throw it out. If I make the world’s ugliest scarf, I’m allowed to love it anyway.  I’ve made some nice things and some terrible things and lots and lots of unfinished things. Of course I aim to improve, to hone my skills and “perfect” my craft. I just don’t get all bunged up about occasionally bailing or falling short. I’m not interested in making a professional effort, so I don’t expect professional results. And I’m happy as a clam.


Every once in awhile, someone says, “You should teach that!” or “You could sell those on Etsy!”

As-if. I am deeply grateful that others have made crochet their profession so that I can enjoy it as my hobby. Please yes! Write and edit patterns! Make gauge swatches and multiple sizes! Block your work and take good photos (don’t forget to watermark!) Work and rework and rework again! Figure out all the problems so I can roll in and pay for downloadable instructions like the lazy, happy crocheter that I am!


I will be over here, trolling Ravelry in my pjs , making whatever I feel like and not worrying about ANY of those things.


Cheers! Someone put on Netflix.

But with upholstery, I’ve chosen a different path. I stepped over the threshold.

I knew when I did so, that everything would change. I did not step lightly. But it seemed like there were already lots of hobbyists. And less and less professionals.

Maybe this was where I could make a creative living.

Maybe here I could press myself for excellence.

Maybe this was how I could help.

But it meant the death of a hobby. It meant the surrendering of joyful half-assery. It meant staying late to rework details. Again . . . and again. It meant a million different responsibilities that a hobbyist doesn’t have to consider.

So here I am, on a cold, quiet Friday in December, wondering : Do I regret my decision? Do I miss upholstery as a hobby?

And the answer, even in this frustrated moment, is no.

Because it’s a double edged sword.

I don’t just HAVE to press for excellence – I GET to. I don’t have another career competing for my time and attention. I don’t have to put my project away on Sunday. I don’t have to squeeze this particular interest into tiny, stolen blocks of time.


I love upholstery, so many parts of it speak to me. And I simply could not do the quality of work, the variety of work, the complexity of work that I do . . . as a hobbyist. It’s too hard. I would have to narrow my focus, reevaluate my expectations, let go of deadlines completely.

It’s a monstrously challenging medium. I figure I’ve spent over 11,000 hours “at the bench” in the last 15 years  (that’s a CONSERVATIVE estimate.) And there are still days like this –  days of rework, days of struggle. There are frustrated days when I simply cannot meet my own high expectations – despite my very best, determined efforts.

There is still so very much that I do not know.

But I relish the opportunity to learn. To improve. Day by delicious day.


Fixing this cushion is not my idea of fun: It’s my idea of work. But it’s work I’m proud of, work I’m passionate about.  It’s work that will make me a better upholsterer and a better teacher. It’s work that I believe will make our industry stronger. It’s work that I hope that will make my client happy and my mentors proud.

I have plenty of hobbies, and I’m delighted that they’ll STAY hobbies. I want to make terrible meals and pretty good socks. I want to do occasional drawings, and go for unremarkable but enjoyable runs. I want to do so many things without the burden of business. What a delight, what an indulgence! Turning anything into a profession carries opportunities . . . and responsibilities.


It’s something to ponder, I think, for anyone roaming around the upholstery industry. The line between hobbyist and professional is gray indeed. But they are different hats, oh yes.

If you are a hobbyist, my goodness, ENJOY. Learn. Improve. Practice. Take pride in your progress, YES! But if you fall short of your greatest aspirations, don’t ruin a good thing by calling it failure. Be kind to yourself. Love your work. ALL your work. Remember: a hobby is supposed to be FUN.

If you are a professional, I hope that you wear the title with pride, determination and a steadfast commitment to excellence – on the days you feel like it . . . and on the days you don’t.  We owe it to our clients – people who have invested their money and trust in us, instead of buying new. We owe it to each other – in this tiny industry, what I do inevitably reflects on you, and what you do reflects on me. We owe it to those who came before us – the men and women who’ve worked hard to preserve this proud craft. And we owe it to  those who come after – aspiring hobbyists who will look to us as an example of what it means to be a professional.

As for the cushion I stayed late to fix?

It went home happy. And so did I.


Cheers! Someone put on Netflix 🙂


The Red Bench

“This Hitchcock bench is from my paternal grandmother’s home in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ. It came to my childhood home in the late 50’s, and my mother took it with her for five additional moves, ending up in central Pennsylvania, until 2014 when I inherited it, and brought it to Minnesota in the back seat of my car.”


This pretty little bench came into the shop as a well-travelled and much-loved family heirloom. It was referred to in comfortable family vernacular as simply, “The Red Bench.” The existing cushion was sewn years ago by the client’s mother, a confident seamstress and DIY warrior extraordinaire. The foam and fabric were showing the years, as was the webbing underneath. If the bench would be used, it would need some TLC. As for the exquisite paint, it had its share of scars. But Maggie is a woman who appreciates family and history – if she wanted a bench with shiny new paint, I imagine she would have bought one. Instead, Maggie wanted a bench that spoke of people and places she loved. She’s of the opinion that heirlooms are beautiful BECAUSE of their “imperfections,” not in spite of them. I wholeheartedly agree.


Maggie’s first priority was color – when your whole family calls it, “The Red Bench” you don’t reupholster it in green or purple. This heirloom had a name – who were we to change it?? After considering several options, Maggie landed on a lovely choice from Greenhouse Fabrics – a bold red with a soft, comfortable hand, a fitting homage to the old cushion.


The first task was to deal with the deck. The 2″ rubber webbing was stretched and dried out, turning to powder, as this product does over time. My favorite replacement option for rubber webbing is a 12% stretch webbing. It creates a similar feel without the messy deterioration and is much easier to source.

I also created a deck to cover the new webbing – it needed to lay very flat and also move with the webbing. The solution was a simple flat panel created with the same red fabric as the cushion. I top stitched three sides and tack stripped the front edge, anchoring each back corner with a single decorative nail. In addition to giving the whole bench a finished look, the “deck” will help preserve the new cushion, preventing the friction of webbing on fabric.


Once the webbing and deck were finished, we were on to the cushion! Even a seemingly simple cushion like this involves many small decisions. The foam was only 2″ thick, so it was important to use something sturdy. I recommended a 2.2# with an IFD of 45 – just a little cush, but firm enough not to bottom out and dense enough to hold up. Next there were the ties – the old ties had torn out and disappeared long ago, but no worries. Just had to figure out where they should go, how wide they should be, and how long. A little bit of trial and error (plus a fair amount of steam . . . ) produced a satisfyingly cooperative solution – upholstery weight fabrics can be tough for situations like this!!! It was good that Maggie’s selection wasn’t terribly thick! I reenforced the seams where the new straps attached – hopefully they stay put for many, many years to come!


And so in time for Christmas, The Red Bench is headed home. What a delight that this beautiful piece has stayed with its family for generations. How wonderful that its travels included a short stay at my shop. It is a very, very good day anytime I get to work on something so loved 🙂