Covering the basics in Upholstery for beginners

When you're dealing in French furniture it pays to know your subject both inside and out! So I wanted to find out how a chair is made and what it is made off.

I know from my time at Art school and subsequently my jewellery apprenticeship that learning to master a trade or craft takes many years. However, learning the basics of a craft can be done relatively quickly and gives you good insight to its intricacies.

So what isn’t a better way to start than attend night classes at Northcote College here on Auckland's North Shore to learn a little about upholstery.

The Upholstery course is run over 8 weeks every Tuesday night and costs around $120. The course is very popular so you need to book well in advance.

This is not surprising since the class in taught by Michael Broadfoot (mikebroadfoot@yahoo.co.nz) who works as a full-time upholster. He is ably assisted by his son Daniel. Michael knows his stuff , has a fine sense of humour and the patience of a saint, the ideal qualities for the perfect tutor. Mike was not only an expert upholsterer but an expert at allocating his time giving one on one tutoring which is not easy even though the number of students in the class are strictly limited. I know from experience how important this when learning a craft to pick up those hard to grasp techniques.

My goal was to turn this old chair back into the grand piece it once was. I had this beautiful chair. I wanted to turn it into something different. Up beat and bold. Something luxurious to sit on in my bedroom with a good book. So off I strolled to my first class. After meeting Mike and the rest of the class, I knew this class would be both informative and fun.

I must admit my project was relatively modest compared to some of my class mates. Rolled armchairs appeared far more challenging, taking a lot more time and little frustration but still with amazing results.

First of all, we had to take everything off the chair. Something I didn’t think of before the course. Covering up yes, but stripping off no. It was the middle of winter!

The original job on my chair was previously done by a staple happy person. Every staple has to be removed which can be rather frustrating when taking out this many! As with any craft having the right tools on hand is a must. Michael advised us to purchase our own stripping tool that cost around $15. This is a one useful piece of equipment that I’m sure I’ll use again and again. Other tools of the trade are a powerful staple gun (the one at the course was a compressed air type) and a very sharp carpet knife (Stanley knife).

Once the stripping was done, Mike demonstrated how to replace and shape the stuffing for the chair using the upholstery foam and tetron. This is where expert instruction is invaluable in learning the secret tricks of the trade. This is when the chair began to take shape and I began to feel the first pangs of pride from my achievement. Once the stuffing is complete it was time to put on the coverage material. I had selected a pink industrial velvet following a week long hunt around the material dealers in Auckland. This material I sourced from Textiles N' things in Newmarket.

The key to fitting the material is to learn the correct technique for around the corner areas of the chair. Once the material was stapled on I removed the excess material very carefully with a very sharp “Stanley” Knife. The final part of the job was to fit the braiding around the edge of the material.

I had a lot of fun along the way. The class was as upbeat as my chair and I plan to go back at some stage. My basic upholstering skills will be very useful for the more simple jobs like kitchen chairs and minor repair jobs.

For the major jobs, I can see that they are best left to an expert. It’s faster, cheaper to complete in the long run and you can rely on a quality job. However my new skills will enable me to select, instruct and monitor the quality of an upholsterer more effectively.  I’ll also be able to select my purchases with more understanding of the possible alterations or repair requirement costs involved. All in all the course was well worth the money. I highly recommend it.