Upholsterers in the yarn store??

“If we do not allow ourselves – force ourselves, sometimes – to think creatively to behave creatively, to take creative risks, how are we to discover our own potential? . . . Try something new. Experiment. Don’t back down. Value your work and your time. When you’re done, learn to love it, even if you hate it. Learn from it, period. Sit back, take a deep breath , and assess the damage and the benefits. Smile. Repeat. Post lots of photos.” Kim Werker, Crochet Me

Something you may not know about me: I’m an avid crocheter (and a dangerous knitter) 

When I moved into my shop, I brought a handful of books to make the space feel a little NEW.


One of the first books I grabbed was Crochet Me, by Kim Werker. I’m 99% sure it’s the only book I’ve ever purchased for the introduction (It might be the only time I’ve READ an entire introduction.)

I had just started teaching when I happened across this particular book, and Kim’s words resonated with thundering truth. I was seeing first hand how paralyzing the upholstery process  can be – most of us REALLY don’t like to make mistakes. And it makes learning pretty tough.

When I found Kim’s book, I was already casting a loooooooong side eye at the fiber arts.

It was very interesting. Especially for a young upholsterer.

On the one hand, I was listening to my professional community  lament the resolute decline of our skilled trade. New furniture was so cheap! Young people just replaced and replaced and replaced! How was the upholstery community to compete????

On the other hand, I was watching the most amazing renaissance in the fiber crafting community.

Crochet and knitting could have gone quietly into that good night, but they haven’t. Why not???? Why were so many young people rediscovering these traditional crafts?

Clothing manufacturing has stomped market pricing right into the ground.

NOBODY knits socks to save money.

I am among the hordes of crafters who regularly spends more on yarn than I would on the finished item I intend to make.

Thirty dollars for socks????? I think not!!!!!

Thirty dollars for hand dyed alpaca sock yarn????? SIGN ME UP!!! 


Hmmmmmmm. . . . Something was going on here. The people who were hanging out in local yarn stores. . . might they be receptive to what we were saying about the appalling quality of new furniture and all the good reasons for reupholstering? (reasons which increasingly did NOT include, “to save a bunch of money”) 

I started using knitting and crocheting in my facebook filters, hoping to discover new potential upholstery students.

Here’s another gem from my wise friend Kim:

“In a material world consisting overwhelmingly of mass-produced items manufactured under mysterious if not downright shady circumstances, we’re coming back to valuing artisanship and a DIY approach.” Kim Werker, Crochet Me

Yes ma’am, we are.

In my fascination with the yarn crafting community, I was following several facebook pages that included yarn shop owners, and knitwear designers.

If you want to feel better about your bone headed customers, go check out those message boards on occasion. That community was in the TRENCHES.  I read stories that made me cringe, about customers buying yarn at Walmart and then going to their local yarn store for free education from the skilled employees. Customers demanding to know how knitters could ask such outrageous prices for their creations – I can buy a sweater for $20 at Target!!!!! Customers expecting hand spun wool to cost the same as a mass produced acrylic – Micheals has Red Heart on sale, can I use my coupon here?

Sound familiar?????? 

It certainly did to me. 

And yet, these communities found ways to persevere.

Because there ARE consumers prepared to spend more – for quality, or knowledge, or an enjoyable shopping experience, or ethical consumerism.

And these “traditional” craftspeople found ways to work WITH the rapidly changing digital world.

Given the long, rich history of hand crafting, it would be easy to see technology as the enemy.

But in fact,  social media gave this scattered community a voice – and a great big megaphone.

  • Knitters and crocheters were able to connect across long distances: They could suddenly share their stories with the world.
  • YouTube and other video platforms provided new avenues for delivering education in flexible, schedule friendly ways.
  • Etsy and other shopping platforms provided new avenues for selling hand crafted goods to a receptive market.
  • Ravelry came along and suddenly it was super easy to purchase from a giant catalogue of patterns. (google free patterns if you want – I make a regular point to PURCHASE my patterns – both to support the professional artisans I value, and because they tend to be better written, especially for complex items)
  • Clever marketers figured out how to make their products available in new, appealing ways. Have you heard of yarn clubs? Delivered to your door on a regular basis, merry early Christmas to you! (Admit it: You still love snail mail. )

Yes, I saw a lot of dots to connect between my crochet and upholstery worlds . . .

Crocheting and watching Wayne’s World, yes heaven.

In my professional journey, I’ve been inspired by so many examples – and many of them were outside of our industry. Why limit ourselves to just looking at upholstery??

Two years ago, when I started imagining a shop designed around upholstery education, I looked at hair salons and pottery studios. I looked at Maker Spaces and tool libraries. I couldn’t duplicate any of them, but they were worth considering . . .sifting through options and checking the numbers helped me clarify a viable direction.

Can we fit an upholstery class in here???

A year later, when I was struggling to revise my business plan, I had coffee with an entrepreneurial friend (you’ll hear about her again)

I explained my frustration and dilemma: I was working too many hours, and wasn’t sure how to delegate.

I also had advanced students who wanted to stay another year – this was unexpected, and frankly a bit of a problem. These advanced students required less assistance, but if I had to staff an experienced instructor for the occasional question, I  had to charge them a full tuition. That didn’t seem quite FAIR, but if there’s a teacher, there’s a teacher . . . It was great that these folks wanted to stay and keep learning. I didn’t want to boot them if they still saw value in access to weekly support . . .

My clever friend listened, reflected, and then told me about her brother’s karate studio.

She explained how, once a student reaches the level of brown and black belt,  teaching becomes part of their training requirement.  Through teaching, these brown/black belts cultivate leadership skills within themselves. They are sharing their knowledge forward. After years of investing in their own martial arts training, teaching now helps them offset the cost of continuing to train and study. And it allows the owner of the dojo to delegate some teaching obligations and focus on the classes that truly require a master instructor. Certainly, a white belt has much to learn from a brown belt!!!

20 minutes later that I emailed Lindsay Orwig and Amy Otteson to ask if they’d be interested in teaching our Weekend Warrior’s Workshops.

It was a completely brilliant compromise. They got to stay and keep asking questions. when they got nervous or stuck.  I got to slide out of the weekend classes and focus on our advanced/professional groups. Hopefully, Lindsay and Amy saw some improvement in their own comprehension through the process of explaining and demonstrating. They certainly knew enough to instruct our relative newbies (and had the energy to keep up – no small thing!) It kept these two amazing ladies in house and our students got to see more instructors than just me me me.

Very simply, it allowed us all to grow.

And I NEVER would have discovered this translatable model without a random conversation over coffee. I never would have thought that idea to fruition without hearing the details of my friend’s brother’s karate studio.

There’s a reason I’m sharing this now:

Last week, I wrote a fairly bleak post about upholstery. Our old models are increasingly impractical – not just for education, but for our businesses as well.

So what do we do when we can’t look to our own past for answers?

We look around.

We study how other industries have adapted. We use the modern world to our advantage, instead of resisting it like they’re handing out awards for obstinance. We think outside the box. We connect the dots. We do it together.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll be sharing examples for business and education models that I think are worth examining. How can our proud, historic craft evolve and thrive in a modern world? Can we do it without compromising quality? Where on earth do we even start?

One more important thing  about the fiber arts community.

Their resurgence? It didn’t come from some big, powerful interest, some overseeing white knight: It came from the community itself.

It came from thousands of passionate individuals who were determined to keep their traditions alive. It came from crafters who knew how to make websites, who knew how to make videos.  It came from artisans who wanted to produce decadent yarns, beautiful hooks, top-of-the-line needles. It came from writers and teachers and artists and historians. It came from yarn shops working together, and vendors working with artisans. It came from podcasts and blogs and yarn shop hops.

It came from people just like you and me. . .

So let’s look around together.  There are possibilities for our lovely, little industry.

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”
William Blake


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: