I grew up in an upholstery shop. My mom worked from home, and while I didn’t take a particular interest until my 20’s, I DID take a certain amount of knowledge for granted.
I knew what a button press was and how to use it by the second grade.
I could identify cardboard tack strip, double welt, and coil springs – and I learned the hard way not to go barefoot through the shop.
I certainly knew how to tear back furniture. We all did – it was how we earned allowance. So I knew (much to my chagrin) what a staple lifter looked like.
Fast forward to adulthood.
As a new professional, I began to take a serious interest in our industry. I listened to conversations about the changing market, the apathetic and uninformed consumer, the loss of degree programs, the widening gap between those leaving and those entering our trade.
At one point, I had the honor of speaking at a PUAM anniversary event. My presentation topic?
“The Future of Upholstery”
Late one night, in preparation, I dove down a very scary rabbit hole.
I googled, “How to reupholster a chair”
I won’t lie: I was shocked. The posts were . . . appalling.
This was during the height of shows like, “Trading Spaces” and I think there was a general slant towards making everything fast and easy. And friends: upholstery ain’t.
I saw people covering over the old fabric, stapling in visible locations, or skipping the staples and just tucking and gluing whole projects together. I saw zero discussion of quality products or fabrics, foundation work or frame repair.
And almost without exception, I saw people taking fabric off with the most dangerous and inefficient of DIY makeshifts: Screwdrivers, butterknives, CROCHET HOOKS.
Now this fairly blew my mind. Many articles were from computer savvy DIYers, but others were from well-known and widely read publications. I thought, “Didn’t anyone have even a 5 minute conversation with an actual upholsterer??? Why aren’t they using appropriate tools??”
I don’t want to call anyone onto the carpet: If you want to glue flannel to a coffee table in the privacy of your own home, you go, girl: I support that.
But I didn’t google, “Upcycle” or “Recover”
I googled “Reupholster” and “Upholster”
And as I told the PUAM that fine spring morning, “If we don’t get out there and represent ourselves, then these are the resources that will speak on our behalf”
So what was going on??
I’m a DIY warrior, so I put on my DIY hat: If I wanted to tackle my own upholstery project, and I didn’t have an upholsterer mom, where would I go? Hmmmmmmm.
Hands-on education at the time was really hard to find, particularly if you wanted to do more than a quick slip seat or cushion.
Obviously, younger people were going to the internet. Unfortunately, the pages with good information were WAY down in google searches, and tended to look a tad, ahem . . . dated. So the information was there, but people don’t usually trust (or see) page 3 on a google search – especially if there’s something that seems convincing on page 1. It would be tough to sort through the hits for good resources.
Hmmmmm, where else would I look?
Probably the fabric store or the hardware store.
EEEEEEEEEEK. Sorry, ladies and gentleman. We seem to fall somewhere in between. If you have an upholstery supply store in your area, that extremely fortunate! But the big box stores that dabble in upholstery . . . Pretty slim pickings.
Nowhere oh nowhere could you find a staple gun appropriate for furniture, a high quality foam for your sofa, or a safe and effective tool for removing staples.
There were lots of “cute” looking tools and supplies – webbing that would be good for the centerpieces at your rustic wedding, manual staple guns that could cheerily half drive a staple into plywood while simultaneously giving you carpal tunnel, that kind of thing. But almost nothing that I’d use as a pro.
The tools for removing fabric were usually cheaply made, and designed more for tacks (broader/flatter tips) which is fine when you’re knocking out tacks, but pretty frustrating if you’re lifting out staples. And a screwdriver? Oh my friends, I don’t think I could get through a single chair. I’d certainly come away bloodied and bitter.
Okay, what about the library? I learn EVERYTHING from the library!
When last I looked, they had a handful of antiquated books that taught traditional upholstery. The content was great, but not helpful if you can’t source traditional materials. And I can tell you as a professional in Minnesota: Uhhhhh. . . you can’t. Not even through our wholesale suppliers. If you’re looking for good quality natural cotton, curled hair, or a wide variety of tacks . . . prepare to be disappointed. We’re a modern market.
So what is a determined learner to do????? Where do you look when every logical avenue turns up lemons???
In the best cases, I think upholsterers were simply too overwhelmed or unaware to meet this changing market effectively. They were running businesses. In the very worst cases, upholsterers were hostile, making fun of hobbyists for not knowing “the right way” to do things.
I don’t like that. It sits very wrong with me to criticize anyone who’s trying to learn, especially when education is difficult to find.
We needed to get in the game. If we wanted people to learn, we had to make resources available. If they couldn’t finds us, we needed to figure out why.
Hence this blog. Hence The Funky Little Chair. Hence Reupholster Aunt Bea.
So here are a few assurances from me to you as we dive in:
Ask questions – I promise not to be an ass. I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to talk with you about upholstery. I think good education happens when people feel comfortable opening up – and I wouldn’t dream of shutting the conversation down by being a jerk. Our industry needs good upholsterers, and informed consumers. If you’re trying to learn, I’m happy to help.
Since my, “Future of Upholstery” presentation, I’ve been ecstatic to see professionals around the world taking to the internet, representing on social media, writing thoughtful, informative blogs, opening their shops and this craft to an appreciative market of students and consumers. Bravo!!! Well done, upholsterers <3 I’m proud to call myself one among you.
Over the course of this video project, I’ll be sharing lots of tips on quality tools and materials. But this week, we’re just looking at tear-back, so let me introduce the first upholstery tool (I think) you should own:
This is a C.S.Osborne Staple Lifter. Even if you only plan to do your kitchen chairs, this tool is going to save you a world of time and frustration. C.S. Osborne makes all kinds of wonderful, professional quality hand upholstery tools. They have similar tools for lifting tacks, and one for knocking out staples, chisel style. The point is this: There are tools specifically designed for tearing back furniture, and they make the job a lot easier.
If you know what it’s called, this tool is easy to find online, or through a local upholsterer/upholstery supplier. If you’re near St. Paul, I always try to keep a few in stock for the occasional DIY warrior who shows up with hands full of bandaids and a heart full of rage. “What were you using to take apart? Hmmmm, let me show you a tool that might work better . . . “
This week on YouTube, we’ll show you how to use this clever little tool (if you haven’t used it before!) and give you lots of other tips for taking apart – there’s more to it than you might think.