SDR Student Stories: Joe Bateman

This week’s student story is from AMUSF Stage 3 student Joe Bateman, spilling secrets about where we keep the biscuits at SDR and where he hides his hundreds of chairs at home…

What brought you to SDR and upholstery?

I have always made ‘things’ whether that was seminars, artwork, theatre shows, magazines, festivals or short films. My path seemed the natural one to follow and I ended up in events and marketing for 25 years. I had an opportunity to renovate my flat and had a few pieces of family furniture I wanted to upholster, something I had always been interested in. I attempted a dining chair, thinking something simple would be a great place to start. I had no idea how much work went into upholstering a traditional dining chair (let alone arm chairs, concave chairs, modern upholstery and everything else we’ve learnt since then) it opened up a whole new universe of possibilities and I knew at that point this was something I needed to learn and understand. 

I looked for courses across London and felt SDR offered the widest program of learning with the opportunity to understand about the work going on within the upholstery business and industry as a whole alongside what we were being taught in the school.

Tell us the best bits about your course or classes and what youre working on

I was surprised by what else I’ve learnt.

My sewing skills were non-existent but after three years of seam allowances, box cushions and pleating, my confidence in tailoring a chair is vastly improved! It’s also extended into extra-curricular activities – everyone gets a cushion for Christmas! I can produce birthday bunting at a moment’s notice. And I’m currently working making curtains, 14 metres worth.

My final three chairs have been the most rewarding.

 At the end of the second year I completed an old armchair renewed in modern upholstery, a personal piece for my partner and a chair that had been left, hidden in a corner covered by a throw. Once neglected and now sat proud. 

This year I have been lucky to have a shapely concave chair which i have covered in Bute’s Masala Tweed. A friend’s chair, trustfully offered to me, as I am currently banned from bringing any more pieces of furniture into the house. They had been looking to have their concave chair upholstered and luckily i found out about it! The fabric was chosen to match their mid-century sofa.

Joes concave chair.

And my second piece this year is the traditional armchair. My own chair. As children, my brother and I would squeeze into this chair after school to watch our small black & white TV. Evidence of arms being pushed out of their joints and tired old springs were clear to see. It hadn’t been buttoned previously and arms were thinner but i wanted to create something snug and inviting, but obviously only for one person at a time! It had also been covered in a pale, dusty pink fabric with floral and stripe patterns (unacceptable!) and Brockhall Designs came to the rescue with their Ramor range.

 One of the most rewarding elements of the course, other than actually learning upholstery, are the friendships I have made and I hope will stay with me for many years to come. There are times when you are struggling, whether it’s with an element of learning or when life just gets in the way and being amongst my fellow student upholsterers (and the studio team) has absolutely supported me through those times. There’s also the weekly pub trip after school, where you reluctantly go for one beer and end up at the open mic night 4 hours and 2 pubs later…

Oh and in the classroom, 3rd draw down on the unit under the sink – that is the biscuit draw. It gets refilled on a Monday and Thursday, the best days to pop in for a cup of tea.

.and the hardest part?

Being willing to:

          Be patient: it’s hard when you know in your head what you want and cannot see the route to achieve that or you know that route will take you many days of lessons and you feel you are making very slow progress.

          Give up time: Finding time, outside of school, to practice sewing, upholster personal projects and complete the required written projects (10% of your final assessment) has been hard especially when balancing the day job, family/ friend commitments, house maintenance and general life admin.

I am also a hoarder and I am tackling that. I’ve recently admitted to the other half that I’m hiding chairs in the attic. The shed is full. Apparently there’s no more room in the house?

Whats next on your upholstery journey?

I now know I absolutely love traditional upholstery and will never stop doing that. But I also very much appreciate modern upholstery and I will definitely be looking to combine both in future projects.

Next up is an Iron Back and then a large King William IV armchair, followed closely by a smaller armchair, one drop in seat, 2 Victorian dining chairs, one Georgian hall chair, a small high backed 2 seater sofa, a large Edwardian 3 seater Chesterfield, a set of 8 dining chairs and the list goes on…

I’m also looking at joinery classes as I would like to learn to fully restore broken furniture frames and completely create my own work.

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

If you love furniture and design then you’ll get a lot out of studying upholstery, and nothing should put you off! But there are a few things I hadn’t considered:

          Time – like anything, the more you commit the more you’ll get out of it. Not just in class but in the yearly written projects you complete as a student. These aren’t difficult but need time at home as you’ll likely want to research more than needed. Start your written project as soon as it’s assigned! (Did I ever learn that….)

          Learning and patience – some processes and techniques take more time to learn than others. Patience is everything and you definitely learn more from making mistakes! You will definitely have you patience tested, and you will find that the first step takes you on to the next and so on.

          Money – you’ll need to invest in upholstery tools and pay for materials as well as your top cloth. Don’t forget to budget for that! Also, it’s good to start buying things like upholstery pins now! You can never have enough.

Tell us your dream upholstery project or goal

One day I’ll have my own workshop (converted barn please) and a team of upholsterers and crafts people to work with. We will probably hold summer schools alongside an end-of-summer craft fair.

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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