An Apple For Teacher

It’s tough is this. This upholstery lark.

Many are the times I would have happily thrown in the hessian, the double ended needle and the wax coated twine. The dining room has given itself over to an upholstery workshop. I can’t quite remember how many times I have had the Dyson to bits to facilitate the extrication of wads of compacted horsehair from deep within its bowels. My fingers give a realistic impression of what a pincushion must feel like. And one elbow has blown up to double the normal size and filled up with fluid. I must have walloped it at some point but I can’t even remember when.

But no. I tell myself that this is all part of the pain of learning a new skill. There are (fleeting) moments of insight into what it could be like when the processes involved become intuitive and less a result of hard fought conscious effort. When the sinuous curves of a chair emerge seemingly unbidden under the gentle caress of my hands. By which time my nails might even have grown back. And so it was that during a bleeding break yesterday afternoon I calmly watched the YouTube video on edge stitching for the umpteenth time, a tissue pressed firmly against the wound. The trail of my DNA across household projects continues unabated. I can only hope there is never a need for forensics in this house. They would have a field day.



You may recall that I started the upholstery lessons back in September. It isn’t a structured course exactly, more of a rolling workshop where we take in our projects whatever they may be and whatever stage we are at. That comes with its own set of frustrations but it’s interesting to see what other people are tackling and comforting to know that any problems I might be encountering are by no means unique to me.



Edge stitching in progress


When I signed up for the course, way back last Spring, I thought it would be the perfect way to learn given that I could work on the chairs we already had. True, a pair of antique French chairs is perhaps not the best place to start for an absolute beginner. Something with straight lines is what is needed apparently. Such as a footstool. My chairs are somewhat more complicated and..



ummm.. fairly round.

(And yes, we have still to get the sand blasters in for the fireplace.)


The ultimate shape one is aiming for is open to interpretation. I take my cues from the structure of the frame. But how much should the upholstery overhang the side of the arm? Should it be flat on top or slightly rounded? How much extra stuffing does that take? And of course as soon as I am happy with one arm the other arm has then to be created in its exact mirror image. So why not go for broke and compound the problem by taking on a matching pair of chairs?

As is usually the case, I am my own worst enemy. At roughly one day of tuition a month progress isn’t exactly rapid. The theory was that I would work on one of the chairs in class and then consolidate the learning by bringing the second chair up to the same level at home. With perhaps a bit of additional homework thrown in to keep things moving. And what did we always do with homework then? Leave it until the last possible day before the deadline and then work flat out with precious little time to spare? Yep. This, I can tell you, is also the most reliable way of discovering that you didn’t pay as much attention to teacher’s instructions as you might. Especially when distracting things like Christmas intervene.



 Mike accompanied me to the most recent lesson which was a 1:1. Which means of course that the Under Upholsterer now comes equipped with knowledge, able and more than willing to offer all manner of useful advice. It’s a brave man who tells his wife that her edge roll is too small. Especially when she has a ten inch double ended needle in her hand at the time. Remember the forensic evidence Jessica, remember.




If I am very lucky. Maybe if I took in an apple?


2018-01-23T09:24:57+00:00January 22nd, 2018|Tags: |


  1. Christina January 22, 2018 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    Wow! I’m very impressed Jessica. I do know what you mean by starting with something simple – it’s something I never manage either. But they look great; I suppose a question to ask is do you enjoy doing it?

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:05 pm - Reply

      I blow hot and cold at the moment. When I know what I’m doing and it’s going well, yes. The rest of the time I wish I’d never started it. Hopefully with experience and practice the former will prevail!

  2. Backlane Notebook January 22, 2018 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Gosh you are a brave woman to tackle those complicated shapes. I have two, far less interesting, Edwardian chairs to upholster. I now realise that I will not be attempting it myself.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:07 pm - Reply

      I’ve had these chairs for several years, waiting for me to get round to working on them. It’s the determination to get them done, at minimal cost, that is keeping me going.

  3. Cheryl West January 22, 2018 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    You are indeed brave to take on such a project. It must take a lot of brute strength with the stitching and pulling the underfabric tight and smooth. I do not have that power any more. The finished product will no doubt be beautiful and you will have the satisfaction of personal accomplishment. I hope all your wounds heal quickly.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:15 pm - Reply

      I hope I will end up with a sense of achievement. I’m already quite keen to try something else, if only to correct all the mistakes I know I’ve made with these. Lesson 1: never cut the hessian seam allowances until you’re absolutely sure you’ve got all the stuffing in.

  4. Anne Wheaton January 22, 2018 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    Now I realise why it’s so expensive to get someone to upholster a chair. I bet they’ll look fab when they’re finished.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:19 pm - Reply

      It is expensive but then so is the training. My rationale is that I can use the knowledge to go on and do other things thus saving money in the future. There are plenty of other projects lined up..

  5. Caro January 22, 2018 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Wow. Awesome work, Jessica. Could a new career beckon at the end of this? Possibly in footstools which you will no doubt find a complete doddle after this. Injuries aside, it will be so satisfying when the chairs are finished. It’s a skill I’d love to have (the piano stool needs reupholstering) but so far I’ve been unable to find a regular class that doesn’t entail an hour’s tube ride, presumably with a chair under my arm. The search continues.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks Caro. I hope you’re right because I do need two footstools!
      I hope you find a class. There aren’t that many, at least not down here. I’m having to do a three hour round trip which is why I’m limiting it to a day a month. If I started again I would go with something easier as a first project. It’s a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. I taught myself to make blinds and curtains via internet tutorials. This is a completely different league.

  6. womanwalkingblog January 22, 2018 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Wow. Looks A+++ to me. Ceri

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      I will soon find out. I just see all the mistakes I’ve made!

  7. stephanie young January 22, 2018 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    Are you kidding???? THat’s AAAA++++++ work if I ever saw it! I am now totally convinced you can do ANYTHING. (I actually thought that before….takes it over the top now.) What treasures you are producing. And surely the worst is now behind you? (I know nothing…..-0-…..about upholstering……I HOPE the worst is behind you!)

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:32 pm - Reply

      I am hoping so too. But there’s the sprung seat to come and I had an awful struggle with it when I tried to do it myself. There is plenty of scope left for grief and/or injury!

  8. Kristin January 22, 2018 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    My mother-in-law was an upholsterer (she’s happily retired from that extremely physical labor!), and I think your work is absolutely lovely. You are very brave, or maybe stubborn, to tackle such a project.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:36 pm - Reply

      Upholstery is definitely physically demanding, much more so than I thought. I’m flaked out at the end of the day and having no difficulty keeping my weight down at the moment! Kudos to your mother-in-law, I know how hard she must have worked.

  9. Colleen January 22, 2018 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    Upholstery! SO hard on the hands. And the back. I did it for a couple of years at a local authority run course which had wonderful – old – facilities.But my hands are not strong enough for sustaining anything other than light work (Depuytren”s Contracture doing its worse). Well done for persevering. They really are shaping up there.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      Hard on everything. I’ve got a platform on wheels to put the chair on to raise it to working height and help move it around but there’s still a lot of stretching and wriggling into cramped places.

  10. bumbleandme January 22, 2018 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    They look amazing, well done. Perseverance will definitely win on this one! X

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:41 pm - Reply

      Thanks. It will take a lot of perseverance yet!

  11. Archie The Wonder Dog January 22, 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    They’re looking magnificent!

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:43 pm - Reply

      Thank you! I hope the top layers look OK too. The foundation work takes a huge amount of time but I know it’s essential to get it right. Otherwise I’ll be wasting my time continuing.

  12. Island Threads January 22, 2018 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    you are doing well Jessica, they look like they are coming along nicely, when I worked in theatre costume it was said to be lucky if you bled on your work, so you should have lots of luck 😉

    a word about getting it all to match, in antiques, matched work = machine made, unmatch work = handmade, it’s the uniqueness of handmade items, furniture, lace, etc. that identify it as handmade, if it all matches perfectly then it is considered machine made, I learnt this when I became interested in antiques, particularly antique lace, yes, I know you and Mike are perfectionists, Frances x

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:49 pm - Reply

      I would agree totally about the appearance of hand made Frances. This time though it is not me and Mike who are the perfectionists, it is ‘Miss’ who has very exacting standards. I suppose that is what you need when you’re paying someone to teach you a new skill, I’m just impatient to move on.

      • Island Threads January 25, 2018 at 7:30 pm - Reply

        ahh, I see what you mean and now understand the title better, do you think it will work 😉

        I suppose she feels a responsibility to teach you and help you get it ‘right’ make the most of her experience while you can, good luck, Frances

        • Jessica January 29, 2018 at 12:38 pm - Reply

          Well she didn’t undo too much of it. But I have double homework for next time..

  13. jannaschreier January 22, 2018 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    Being in the middle of planning our new kitchen, I can just imagine how many decisions you have to make (and how many google images you have to google image) in order to progress with your chair. You’re a better woman than I!

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:54 pm - Reply

      I don’t know how we’d manage without google and YouTube now. Learning something like upholstery is so much harder from a book. It’s the video tutorials which score and there are so many of them.

  14. Kris P January 22, 2018 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    It may be a slow (and injurious) process but I’m mightily impressed, Jessica! And once again your described your travails in a way that had me laughing throughout (in sympathy of course!). It also occurred to me that your post will be very helpful in clearing your husband of any suspicion should forensic investigators ever find it necessary to visit your home. And surely the degree of difficulty will be a consideration in assigning a grade to your work!

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 7:59 pm - Reply

      Mike might be cleared of suspicion. Perhaps I would need to disappear in the Australian outback after all. I think level of difficulty ceased to be a mitigating factor when I declined to accept teacher’s (perfectly valid) advice on starting with a footstool.

  15. pollymacleod January 22, 2018 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    wow, brilliant Jessica, you are so clever, and brave!

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:00 pm - Reply

      I would say stupid. In retrospect. 😉

  16. Beth @ PlantPostings January 23, 2018 at 3:41 am - Reply

    Very impressive! I can’t even imagine taking that on. Thanks for showing us the progression.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Thanks Beth. Perhaps if I’d known what was involved I wouldn’t have taken it on either. Perhaps.

  17. derrickjknight January 23, 2018 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Yet another wonderful, well executed, project. Has the elbow subsided yet, or is it a bursitis?

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:05 pm - Reply

      It could well be bursitis, which would explain why I don’t remember a specific injury. No pain though, so no hindrance to ongoing work. Not sure whether that’s a good thing or not..

  18. Jayne Hill January 23, 2018 at 9:08 am - Reply

    I had not appreciated just how many potentially lethal instruments were involved in upholstery. The round headed spike/pin/things you have stablising the edges look particularly fearsome – beware future forensics indeed 🙂

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:11 pm - Reply

      Oh yes. You should see some of the heftier circular needles and other bent spear like things. I haven’t worked out what the latter are for yet. Then there are the staple removers with razor shape edges and points. And staple guns. And hammers. Extreme Gardening has nothing on this.

  19. Alistair January 23, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Totally out of my depth, but I sure can see the skill – and patience.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:18 pm - Reply

      It’s totally different to anything else I’ve done. Very much a creative thing but it does take time and practice to develop a good ‘eye’.

  20. Brenda January 23, 2018 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Better you than me! They look fantastic and how satisfying it will be the first time you sit yourself down in one of those chairs.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:20 pm - Reply

      I will be listening out for a great ripping noise. Or waiting for a sinking feeling!

  21. Brian Skeys January 24, 2018 at 12:05 am - Reply

    ….and a glass of something for the pupil!

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      Plenty of those already. I figure I’m burning off all the extra calories with the work.

  22. Virginia January 24, 2018 at 6:17 am - Reply

    Goodness Jessica! that is NOT a Beginner’s project … and to quadruple the difficulty level,,, a pair! I did some amateur upholstery a long time ago (wouldn’t have the strength for it now). I saw someone making a pair and they marked each pair of hessian pattern pieces with a ‘sewing line’ in a contrasting thread which I guess would help you know you were following a similar line on the second chair…. Don’t know if that’s any help at all! DO please let us see how it progresses, and the recovery of your elbow! I’d leave the Assistant to do the hard work for a while and give that elbow a thorough rest.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:28 pm - Reply

      Oh gosh, marking the hessian sounds very proficient. One of my problems has been cutting it too short, not allowing for the extra stuffing I added in later. There are two hessian extension pieces in there already and many places where it only just fits. If I continue with this and acquire better skills I may well do these chairs again in the fullness of time. For the moment I won’t be spending a fortune on the top fabric!

  23. smallsunnygarden January 24, 2018 at 7:14 am - Reply

    I am in awe, Jessica… 🙂 Teacher should be quite impressed, with or without an apple! You are definitely maxing out on your learning project 😉

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      Teacher is very critical, in a supportive way, which is how it should be if you’re trying to learn something new. I hope by the next lesson I’ll be far enough ahead to be able to start the next layer. But I’m not confident..

  24. ginaferrari January 24, 2018 at 9:34 am - Reply

    You’ve had me laughing all through this post… it is just the sort of thing I would do, wanting to run before I can walk. But I am seriously impressed with what you’ve done so far. Those chairs are going to be fabulous.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      I’ve always been like it. Too impatient by half. In this case it’s more like starting a marathon! Thanks Gina.

  25. CherryPie January 24, 2018 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    They seem to be coming along nicely even if not as quickly as you had hoped.

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks Cherie. I think I underestimated the amount of work involved and how long it would take. I shall know better next time.

  26. Cathy January 24, 2018 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Regardless of your any inconsistency in your edge rolls, when you have finished you can justifiably be proud that the project is something you have achieved yourself ps I have an Edwardian nursing chair I bought about (ahem!) 20 years ago that is waiting my renovation… 😉

    • Jessica January 24, 2018 at 8:38 pm - Reply

      That makes me feel better about the five years or so I’ve had these. But even before I started them I bought another chair for the bedroom in a similar state. That really needs a footstool to go with it. A footstool in the sitting room would be good too. Just as well there are plenty of wet weather days down here!

  27. Torrington Tina January 25, 2018 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Not stupid, an achievement and inspiration to those of us who struggle with lesser projects. Keep going and I hope your wounds settle down soon.

    • Jessica January 29, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

      It is grim determination to get it done now!

  28. Sarah Shoesmith January 25, 2018 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Oh blood, sweat and tears! You’ll need a sit down once you’ve finished them. I did giggle at your description of your injuries (sorry). When my kids were little, they would drag up their beanbags and sit and watch me sew, just to see how long it would take before they saw blood. They weren’t usually in for much of a wait so I’m not sure why they bothered with the beanbags. Good luck! I look forward to seeing you perching on your thrones some time in 2050.

    • Jessica January 29, 2018 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      As soon as that? 😉

  29. offtheedgegardening January 26, 2018 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Well I think it is fantastic! I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. My hat is off to you!

    • Jessica January 29, 2018 at 12:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gill. “I haven’t a clue” has been on my lips quite a lot recently. Thank goodness for YouTube.

  30. Caroline January 26, 2018 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    Your work is SO neat! wow, I think it looks fabulous.

    • Jessica January 29, 2018 at 12:42 pm - Reply

      That twine is really hard on the fingers. Perhaps that is why upholstery is just as much a man thing, they don’t have such delicate skin!

  31. bittster February 4, 2018 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    I’ve been holding onto an old chair with the intention of doing something similar. You’ve inspired me to leave it in the basement for another couple years!
    It looks extremely promising though. A work of art at least, if not yet the most comfortable seating.

    • Jessica February 5, 2018 at 9:27 am - Reply

      It’s a virtual seat. It exists in my mind’s eye. 😉

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