Upholstery is the use of fabric, leather, foam, cotton, and other materials to provide a covering for seats, ottomans and other types of furniture that traditionally would be used for sitting or resting. The art of upholstery can be traced back as far as the medieval age and earlier, when comfort became the fashion for those with an excess of wealth. Today, upholstery remains a relevant and well-respected craft.
Professional upholsterers begin their careers in a variety of ways. Many of the most successful upholsterers were exposed to the craft at an early age through a relative or friend. Oftentimes, as is the case with many old-style trade professions, the skill is passed down from generation to generation. Others begin their career in upholstery as hobbyists, recovering their own furniture and discovering they have a knack for the trade. Apprenticeships, while less common now, were very popular as a way of both learning the skills necessary to do the work and receiving hands on experience running a business. Some trade schools and community colleges offer upholstery classes.
No matter the avenue, perfecting skills as an upholsterer can take years and building a business that is profitable can take even longer. For most upholsterers with independent businesses, the majority of their orders come from independent clients looking to have pieces recovered. This process involves a number of steps and every upholsterer has a different process when it comes to working with clients. Typically, they hold a consultation with the client to discuss the client’s particular needs and preferences. They’ll discuss fabrics and, if the client has already chosen a fabric, whether or not the fabric choice presented is suitable for the client’s needs. Once they have decided on fabric and materials they will discuss design and details. Will the piece be traditional or more contemporary? Once all of the details are decided the upholsterer will begin the project. Some even offer upholstery cleaning! Every project requires something different, an antique piece may require some research to ensure that the style is keeping with the period. It may also require some restorative work to ensure that it can bear weight. Professional upholsterers are capable of creating intricate designs using buttons and stitching and a variety of different types of fabric and stuffing materials. Typically, a professional upholsterer will work out of a designated work space outfitted with tools and instruments specific to the craft, including an industrial sewing machine capable of easily handling the thick and durable fabrics typical of this type of project.
The time it takes to complete a project depends on the individual upholsterer and the intricacy of the project. Some projects, such as recovering a simple chair cushion, could take just a few hours while other projects, such as recovering an entire sofa, could take weeks or even months for a very busy studio. Cost depends on the same factors. Is your upholsterer a master craftsman? High level of craftsmanship and demand could drive the cost up. Is your piece very intricate and does it require specialized technique? This too could affect the cost. However, for most, great craftsmanship and technique are worth any added cost when working on a valuable piece of one with sentimental value. Whether you are looking to find a great upholsterer or are looking to become one yourself, it is easy to appreciate quality work from a master craftsman!