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SDR Student Stories: Christina Shepherd

In the run up to graduation 2019, we’re bringing back our Student Stories. This week AMUSF Stage 2 student Tina tells us about taking furniture from dilapidation to renewed beauty, why making mistakes is OK, and her dream to become queen of the overlocker!

What brought you to SDR and upholstery?

I was looking to have some pieces of furniture restored and re-upholstered. The quotes I received (not from SDR!) seemed very high. So I thought that it might be fun to try and learn to do some upholstery myself. After checking course availability and suitability online, I found that SDR was close to where I live and offered both leisure courses (good for a taster) and a three year, full qualification course which would be an option if I felt upholstery was something I would like to pursue.

Being slightly cautious, I started at SDR as a Leisure student and quickly restored and re-covered an old armchair. During the process I received much help and guidance – not so much help that I felt left out of the process but enough to feel that not only had I achieved a satisfying result in the re-covered piece but also that I had fully participated in its refurbishment.

The completion of the leisure class was to lead to me wanting to learn more complex upholstery techniques and to develop skills that I had been introduced to in that class. I enrolled in the first year of the full qualification course. This was an intensive introduction into both traditional and modern upholstery techniques all of which lay the foundations for quality workmanship and concentrate upon excellence in a completed upholstered piece. The work standards are high, but not unattainable, and were very well explained. As in the leisure class no-one was left to ‘sink or swim’ but there was an emphasis on taking responsibility for one’s work. We were taken through various exercises as a foundation and then set to work on our own dining chair. This included preparation of and reviving the timber frames, through to webbing and spring location and lashing, stuffing, covering and finishing. The teachers are extremely pleasant and encouraging and their only motivation is to help students to achieve their very best and create an end product they will be proud of. It was these attributes, as well as having supportive and friendly classmates that made the decision to continue on to year 2 easy.

Year 2 has been challenging in a different way, as we now have to apply the knowledge we have learned so far – and there is a lot to remember. Again though, with class support and a teacher willing to continue to remind us of old lessons and instructing us with new techniques, it’s been another enjoyable and satisfying year of learning – with the added bonus of taking home two pieces of furniture that we have taken from dilapidation to a renewed beauty and a second life. I am very much looking forward to my third year.

Now that I have some real knowledge about what is actually involved in the process of furniture refurbishment, restoration and upholstering, I have to eat humble pie and admit that an excellent piece of upholstery work is worth every penny. I now know how to make the comparison between competent and excellent work and SDR always aims for the latter.

Tell us the best bits about your course or classes and what you’re working on…

We are currently completing work on a traditionally upholstered nursing chair and a mid-century modern armchair. The traditional armchair involves working with springing, lashing, stuffing with coir and animal hair, stitching, tacking etc. etc. The modern armchair means working with modern materials such as foam padding, glues, staple guns, fluting, tailoring and cushioning. As every chair in year 2 (both traditional and modern) is different, there is a large element of individual teaching and learning. It is ‘hammering home’ the earlier lessons as we apply them to the challenges each piece throws up at us and a share in being shown how to overcome problems that may come our way when working on other pieces in the future.

….and the hardest part?

I found the hardest part to be acknowledging that making mistakes is OK, and not to be so hard on myself. Practicing as an upholsterer takes real skill and needs constant practice and care in order to achieve the satisfaction of producing a well-conceived and executed final product. Patience, careful planning and concentration are all involved and have never been my strongest points. But I am learning!

Oh, and doing the written assignment was pretty hard too if only because it has been so long since I had to write one. The good side of this though was, that there is a lot of very interesting information out there about furniture and textiles, all of which we ignore until we have to research and write about them. Only then do you find out how much we take such things for granted and pay less attention to them than we should.

Part of Tina’s fabric cutting plan.

What’s next on your upholstery journey?

I am continuing on at SDR for year 3 of the course. I don’t think that I will set up as a practicing upholsterer on completion as I travel a lot. But I love the idea of continuing to find pieces to do up as gifts for friends or just for the fun of breathing new life into an old piece that doesn’t deserve to be thrown on the rubbish heap. I am also hoping that I can continue the friendships that I have made at SDR and perhaps, if needed, I can keep my hand in by assisting them when they might need help in their own businesses.

The chair before Tina started working on it.

Any words of wisdom for someone thinking of giving it a go?

I would definitely give it a go. Consider doing the leisure course as I did. I keep saying that I am not sure I should be continuing but something keeps me coming back every week. It must be the ups and downs, crises of confidence, wobbly moments, angst and joy, laughter and friendship. It is never boring.

Tell us your dream upholstery project or goal…

My dream is to be confident enough to really get the overlocker whizzing. Apparently I am the slowest overlocker ever!

We’ve got availability on our next round of upholstery courses which start in September, get in touch for more information.

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