Student Stories – Rowena Murphy

200St9-2Student Stories is a chance to meet current and past SDR students and find out about what they have learnt along the way.

This month we are talking to Rowena Murphy about what inspired her to change career and the positive effect it’s had on her life.

When did you begin studying at SDR and what stage are you at now?

I started at SDR two years ago on the level 2 and I am just about to start the post level 3 conversion course.

What field did you work in before and what persuaded you to retrain in Upholstery?

I was working in events before, mainly decor and event management. I got into upholstery after I was diagnosed as Bi Polar. Whilst I was in recovery, so not working, I started helping out at an upholstery shop that was just around the corner from me. The owner of the shop had loads of chairs and fabric and he let me go wild! I discovered that I love upholstery and the more I thought about it the more i realised that it could be the ideal proffession for me.

When I was working in events I often worked 24 hour days and it was totally irregular which is not condusive to good mental health. With upholstery I would eventually be able to set my own hours to establish a good routine (very important for mental health) and I realised that even before I was ready to work for myself  I would hopefully have regular working hours whilst working for some one else. So for change, not only did I love it, it was also good for me!

Rowena's Stage 3 armchair, upholstered in Flock fabric

Rowena’s Stage 3 chair upholstered in Flock fabric.

As well as the course at SDR you’ve been working for various London Upholsterers. Was it always important to you to do both?

Yes. I started in an upholsterers and I learnt a lot. I want to eventually make this into a business and working at various upholsterers has given me great insight in to how to make that work. As well as showing me what I need to do it has shown me things that I don’t want to do. But I could not have got the subsequent positions I’ve had without everything I have learnt at SDR. I think they go hand in hand. I learn a lot at SDR and I have been able to put that into practice at work which in turn has made me more confident at SDR.



Rowena’s Stage 3 Modern chair, also in Flock Fabric.

Who are you working for at the moment? Tell is a bit about what you’ve worked on and the atmosphere in the workshop…

I’m working for Ray Clarke Upholstery and Design at the moment. Ray is great, really supportive of me and my dreams, as well as being willing to teach and share his knowledge. I’ve worked with Ray on quite a few pieces as well as working on a chair myself. I’ve only been with him this summer and so have not finished the chair I’m working on as I often stop to assist him. But in assisting him I’ve been able to work on bigger projects such as sofas and  two projects for a TV show. The chair I’m working on is a double scroll, wingback traditional arm chair. It has been a challenge and I’ve made mistakes, but Ray is very supportive of this, recognising that it is part of the process.


At work in Ray Clarke’s workshop

Do you feel like you are now an Upholsterer!? Are you aware of all the new skills you’ve learnt and more confident to use them?

No sadly I don’t quite feel like an upholsterer…yet! I think one of the drawbacks of working with people so much more experienced than you, is you’re aware of how far there is still to go! But I am definitley aware of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learnt. When I started at SDR I thought I was far more advanced than I was. Although I learnt a lot working at the upholstery shop, it was only in certain areas and after one week at SDR I realised how much I didn’t know which shook my confidence. But If I look back to then and compare it to now, I’m so much more knowledgable and confident. I feel that I will some day be a great upholsterer.


At work on the traditional wingback.

What are your plans for the future?

After the conversion course I plan on finding full time employment with an upholsterer. This might mean I continuing with Ray two days a week and finding someone else for the other three. Or I might end up full time with one person. I plan on working like that for 2-3 years before I get my own studio. I just want to learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can before I set out on my own. Obviously this all depends on me getting a job! If I can’t find employment I might have to rethink.

What advice would you give to new students – things to do alongside the course or ways to extend your learning?

I would definitely suggest working with an upholsterer. I started doing two days a week for free just for the learning experience and after six months I was offered paid work. It’s the thing that’s helped my confidence most. Other than that just upholster!!! Work on anything you can at home – the more you do the more you learn. And my other big tip is write up your notes from class each week. It stays much fresher in your mind and you end up with better notes.

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