In praise of (self) teaching

I once saw “creativity” explained in neurological terms as the ability to take new information and rapidly connect it existing information.

This, in a nutshell, is what you need to succeed in upholstery.

Because you never see things you’ve seen before: You see VARIATIONS of things you’ve seen before.

The successful upholsterer, then, is one who can look at a new problem and successfully connect it to a whole network of past, possibly related, solutions.

For the candidate who lacks this ability, upholstery is a poor fit indeed.

Which makes education an interesting problem to consider. Though there is value in structure, we’ll NEVER succeed in giving students every combination, permutation and variation they’ll encounter at the bench.


So even as we’re teaching upholstery, we must also teach problem solving – Or, at the very least, call it out in no uncertain terms.


Success goes to those with a resilience for struggle, and the gift of creativity.

But this phrase, “Self-taught” gives me pause.

On the one hand, I’m telling you: we’re ALL , “self-taught” in varying degrees.

What else can you call the act of struggling without supervision? By design or by disaster, successful upholstery training WILL include self-teaching.

But on the other hand . . . can any of us say we’re COMPLETELY self-taught? What does that even mean? Not a degree program? Not a single class? Not a mentor? Not a peer group? Not a video? Not a BOOK?

These are ALL forms of education. Good heavens, I don’t want to meet the professional who isn’t using SOME of these.

In fact, I don’t want to meet the professional who isn’t using AS MANY OF THESE AS YOU CAN GET YOUR GNARLY, CALLOUSED HANDS ON.

I worry when the topic arises on social media, that fear of losing this moniker “SELF-TAUGHT” occasionally discourages average upholsterers from seeking the tools that would make them EXCEPTIONAL upholsterers.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know I’m a fierce proponent of self-taught professionals.

But listen: If you can get your hands on education DO IT.




This phrase, “self-taught” must NEVER limit our determination to seek out the people and experiences that could improve us.

Because if you’re good with trial and error, you’re gonna be great with books and videos.

If you’re great with books and videos, you’re gonna be AMAZING with a teacher.


Seek out ALL the things!!! Books! Videos! Mentors! Peers! Workshops! Conferences!

Education in all forms is infuriatingly hard to come by – you certainly won’t find enough to lose your bragging rights.

Even if you maxed out every single tool and event and resource currently available to you . . . You’d STILL be primarily self-taught.

So PLEASE: don’t hobble yourself any more than the market already has.

Random sidewalk moral support

This post comes at an interesting junction, as we’ve recently announced the pause of our live classroom for one year, in response to Covid-19 and all the inherent uncertainties therein.

Behind the scenes, we’re completely restructuring our business model and approach to education.

Because we’ve discovered two things: In spite of our exhaustive best efforts, local students who depend heavily on the classroom do not progress. They need so much more than we can reasonably deliver. Though the classroom is a valuable instructional component, it does not stand well alone – we need to coach students better on how to use ALL tools available to them – including self-teaching.

Secondly: we’ve unintentionally attracted a national (international?) audience. I had no idea that the training deficits in our local community are echoed from coast to coast. While I’m thrilled at the quality of self-taught professionals we’re hearing from, I didn’t design this business with you in mind. What can we possibly offer students who have to travel so far to learn?

Thankfully, the solution for both audiences is the same: Teach students to depend LESS on the classroom.

Hands-on instruction is a critical, highest value part of the training process: But it’s also INCREDIBLY limited. (even for our local students – surprise!!!)

The classroom’s full value is only unlocked when students understand how to use every resource available to ENHANCE their live experience.

Students who thrive are those who effectively combine the BEST of self-teaching with the BEST of live instruction. They are creative, they are resourceful and they are determined.

Our students are teaching US what works – and we’re learning.

So thank you for your patience as we rearrange our business – it’s going to be worth the wait.

(in the meantime, go self-teach your butt off. )

Cynthia 🙂

4 thoughts on “In praise of (self) teaching”

  1. How timely this post is. I have recently taught 3 different students, who by the way did excellent in class. But I told them to seek out every resource they could to widen their knowledge base and ability to problem solve! I so believe in this philosophy! And now here I am living it out loud! My current project has every single thing stacked against me, the fabric, the frame and my skillset. I have researched every source I can find, workshop documentation, videos, books. I know in my head what I need to do, now I just need to make it happen. That is where persistence and determination come in. I will get there. And in the end I’ll be a better upholsterer!

  2. A mixture of self teaching and hands on evaluation with an experienced upholster makes sense! Along with a knack for figuring out how things are put together. Is just the challenge I would like to tackle, and would love the opportunity to apprentice for a professional upholster to help hone my skill.

  3. So the students you have taught are not talented enough to pool their combined knowledge, ideas, materials and basically some thinking out of the box to solve the problem your facing?

    1. thefunkylittlechair

      HI Jim! Some of our past students are among our greatest assets 🙂 But it is definitely tough to help when they’re still early in their own professional development, and could very much use a few more assists of their own. But they are definitely out there, building forums and associations and businesses. I’m really proud of their hard work, and know it will pay future dividends that will make training easier and more effective. Best luck on your journey and thanks for reading, Cynthia

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