Last summer, I was in the throes of opening my own shop. I wanted to try something new. We decided to call it … “Advanced Group.” . . .Or “Studio Share”. Or . . . “Tuesdays.”
Okay, I guess we never really settled on a name. Let’s just call it, “The Somewhat-Secret Upholstery Experiment.”
With the loss of degree programs, people are bumping around, wondering how to “go pro” or “semi pro” or even “glorified hobbyist who really likes upholstery and wants to be good at it.”
I don’t know?? But surely we can figure it out.
So I reached out privately to a handful of current students – those who’d been hobbling together education for awhile, those who kept coming back. Instead of signing up to “take a class” here and there, I asked them to stay for 9 months.
Let’s take some of the time limits off the table and see where we can go together, I said. Let’s focus on building a “complete” skill set. Let’s network, and be loud on social media. Let’s throw ourselves into the universe and see what comes back.
There were no promises, no assurances of success. This was a leap of faith for everyone. I didn’t know if anyone would say yes.
To my great relief, a handful did.
So we created a skills list, and a contract. We negotiated pricing and terms, and met to discuss individual goals – how could I help? Where was everyone trying to go? We outlined parameters for the tricky business of sharing a space, eek!!!!
Then we opened 8 spots and dove in.
So what happened???
We had fun. We learned. We hung out on Facebook, and met lots of cool neighbors (MidModMen, Workhorse Coffee, Arc Thrift Stylist, Ferrous Furnishings). We threw around ideas and made a few videos. Some people came, some people went. Eventually, all the spots stayed full. By the time June rolled around, I must say, we had a seriously amazing mix of people – hobbyists, pros, and a groovy handful in between.
Allow me to introduce you:
ANGELA is technically a hobbyist. She’s isn’t interested in a new career: She already has a really good one. She also has kids, a hubby, and a giant stash of cool, old furniture. For Angela, Tuesday nights were about fun – a chance to do something hands-on among creative adults. And, of course, they were a chance to fill her home with vintage furniture and serious bragging rights, oh yeah! In eight months, Angela gutted and reupholstered two groovy wing chairs, six dining chairs, and most of a pretty little loveseat (her first attached cushion) In the fall, she’ll add a skirt 🙂
JACEY, the creative force behind, “The Old Man and the Settee,” works primarily in wood, but he has a passion for restoration, design and all things furniture history. Since woodworkers often run into upholstery, Jacey took an interest in understanding upholstery better. He began as a Weekend Warrior and then then joined our advanced group, hooray! Over the course of several months, Jacey created his first set of boxed cushions (a midcentury must,) redesigned a gorgeous set of sling chairs, and reupholstered a vintage chair of sketchy origins – we re-patterned everything from scratch based on photos, since it had obviously been restyled at some point. There aren’t many folks who work well in wood AND fabric – it’s certainly looking like Jacey is one of them!
KARA, a CPA by profession and a woodworker by hobby, tackled a couple projects for friends, knocked out a few projects for her “new” midcentury home, and then went exploring, using her precise and creative mind to design a pair of biscuit tufted floor cushions with canvas and vinyl. They were truly awesome. Sewing and designing is not for the sloppy or impatient – everything must add up!!!! So perhaps it’s no surprise that our CPA/upholsterer honed in on the most tedious and particular of upholstery tasks: Where many get frustrated, Kara thrived. We need to get this girl into draperies! I wonder what she’s planning to create next??
NIKKI had already completed a few upholstery projects and taken a few classes – this year she focused on refinement of skills, and independence. She gutted and reupholstered a chair for herself, and also reupholstered her first client project – a super fun wing chair for a super funky nun! Somewhere in there, we all took a field trip to Pizza Flame to help Nikki and her family reupholster a section of booths for their family restaurant <3 Nikki also became a charter student member of the Professional Upholstery Association of Minnesota (there are exciting plans afoot!) Nikki is our shy student, we had a hard time talking her into photos, but eventually she agreed to one . . .
GINA has been sewing and upholstering for years – She used Tuesdays to tackle some brave new styles – most notably, her first recliner, and a slipcover! I don’t actually teach slipcovers – for THAT project, Gina watched Kim Chagnon’s Craftsy class and then brought her iPad in to enjoy the perks and tools of a professional shop. This year was also about weighing opportunities – we discussed the pluses and minuses of upholstery as a hobby, selling on consignment, working in someone’s shop, or trying to secure your own clients . . . I won’t lie: Every option is challenging and messy (and potentially rewarding . . .) There are no simple answers, no standardized method for success. Tuesdays were about helping everyone build their own path.
GABE from Cotton Seed Designs has been refurbishing beautiful vintage pieces for some time – she started with wood pieces and a few years ago, added upholstery. For her, Tuesdays were a work day – she consistently had projects for clients or consignment. It was a day to reconnect with upholstery friends, and to spread out in professional space. Gabe came in with specific questions – what foam would work here? How thick should this cushion be? What is up with these springs? Do you think I can restyle this attached cushion? Gabe is very competent and self-motivated: She can get a lot done on her own. But Tuesdays meant dedicated time and space, and a chance to explore new territory with support. Now we just need to talk her into a kick-pleat skirt . . .
AMY (The Fabulous Amy Oh/Amy Oh Design) has been doing upholstery on her own for some time, and has taken her share of upholstery classes. She’s a retired art teacher, among other fabulous things, and has reupholstered all kinds of wild, wonderful furniture, mostly for friends or to sell on consignment. For Amy, Tuesdays were about refining skills. She’s taking more custom work, which is generally trickier (and more lucrative) than consignment – after all, you are selling a product the customer cannot see, and possibly working on a piece with sentimental value. Opening your door to clients brings risks and rewards – it was good to see Amy say YES!
LINDSAY from A Chick and a Chair Upholstery, is a whirlwind self-teacher. She’s taken online courses, worked out of books, and learned loads through trial and error. She found me through Facebook last year and took my Craftsy class. This fall was her first experience with hands-on education, and boy, oh boy, did she hit the ground running. Lindsay used Tuesdays to work through new or challenging skills – spring tying, or patterning cushions from scratch. But Tuesdays were also about professional support – Lindsay already had the start of a lovely cottage industry, but transitioning from hobbyist to professional is tricky. We discussed pricing and policy, scheduling and customer service. Lindsay opened accounts with Fabric Supply, Greenhouse Fabrics, and Charlotte Fabrics in order to provide quality materials as well as services. Her long and happy client list is growing rapidly <3
In conclusion: this year was awesome.
In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a better mix of people for our experiment. People worked and learned and brainstormed together. They celebrated and planned and laughed together. We chased down opportunities – some were good . . . and some we learned not to chase again. We connected with other shops, networked with professionals, got involved with the PUAM.
We had a big, messy, inspiring, informative, collaborative, mostly successful year.
I don’t know what this is, but it feels promising.
Lindsay called it, “mentoring.”
I’m frankly humbled and intimidated by a word that expansive. But “Somewhat-Secret Upholstery Experiment” lacks a certain clarity. So we’ll go with Lindsay’s idea:
It seems we offer an Upholstery Mentorship Program.
Oooh. I just got shivers.
I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that. We’re frantically sorting out plans for next year, deciding what to change and what to keep, considering where to go next. I’ll have more information in the next month or so, along with a few exciting announcements.
But I know we’re doing this again, and I know we’ll have a few openings.
If you are interested in being part of the journey next year, feel free to reach out and let me know. I don’t know that we’ll post a registration – I like the idea of actually talking with each person. This isn’t a degree, or a job, and it certainly isn’t the right answer for everyone. But if you’re picking up what we’re putting down, let’s chat. We just might have a spot for you 🙂
“As we get details pinned down for next year, I will be sharing more specifics. We’re looking forward to another big, messy, inspiring, informative, collaborative year!”