Thursday, 30 January 2014

an especially varied week in the shed

by the end of last week i came to the conclusion that being an upholsteress really is the most happy sort of job. this is how it went...

busy-ing in the shed in full apron n clogs attire, working on a very yellow velvety lovely lady’s chair (the chair being velvety, not the lady)

tutoring my Tuesday Lovelies in their morning and evening upholstery workshops across the fields @theFarm.

full apron n clogs attire again, this time covering a lovely lady’s little Victorian chair in a smart woolly blanket.
any earlier misgivings about deep buttoning in large geometric patterns were utterly misplaced.

Thursday morning
tutoring the last session of  a three-part ‘Paint Techniques for Furniture’ workshop, again @theFarm.

i don’t usually make two appearances in a week @theFarm and this was a bit of a trial run, brewed up by me and em after many requests. i’m pleased to report that much fun was had perfecting crackle glaze, craquelure, rubbed-back aging and even hand-painted pattern. 
after keeping my paint-y recipes and tricks a secret for so long (and indeedy blowing the dust off my pots and brushes) it was rather lovely to share. happily, new dates for this workshop are in May.

Thursday afternoon
an appointment in the big town with the lovely owner of interiors shop and studios The Marmalade House to reveal the results of my challenge to create some prototypes of ‘baggy linen’ lampshades.

Vanessa, The Marmalade House's lovely owner, holding up a 'find' which was our starting point

as they were prototypes and not for actual use, I made do with coat-hanger wire the frames and calico ‘linen’. here they are:

a plain one…

small H offered to be photographer's assistant

and one with shell frills, which i particularly liked…

happily, they were ‘almost just right’. a few tweaks to proportion ( a little wider at the bottom), seams (on show or not?) and we’re almost there. and in a happy bit of creative teamwork, Vanessa's going to have a go at dyeing them while i rustle up a 'final prototype'. 

it really would have been full apron n clogs attire again and on a mission to finish the woolly blanket chair… but I went skipping off to feed the lions and tigers instead.


this is what happened… Mr H was invited to write a review of this splendid 'VIP experience' at not-so-far-away Longleat Safari Park, and he happened to mention that he was allowed to take a guest...

no need for any pondering. the whole point of being a Shed Dweller and Upholsteress in Charge, is that diaries and deadlines can be juggled and Fridays should include feeding lions, tigers, cheetahs and wolves if the occasion crops up. 

helping the Longleat wardens was a truly splendid way to play truant from the Shed… even the gory bits like trying not to slip over while rattling along in a caged-in trailer knee-deep in horse flesh. being chased by a pride of happy lions made it a lot of fun.

a few extra notes:

The Marmalade House dedicates itself to painted English country interiors, and is stuffed with fabrics, homely treasures of an eclectic nature and a workroom where Annie Sloane’s chalk paints are used. i will also be teaching some classes there soon. do have a look at their website for details.

Monday, 13 January 2014

learning upholstery at NFWI Denman… or the upholsteress ventures forth again

2014 Upholstery Workshops at Denman College

Upholstery for Beginners: Drop-in Seats
31st March to 2nd April 2014
8th to 10th August 2014

Immerse Yourself in Upholstery
22nd to 25th September
8th to 12th December

NFWI Denman's Upholstery Tutor at Large

this year i'll be practising my future role as Upholstery Mistress-at-Large of my own Traditional Upholstery School by teaching at various well-esteemed venues, including the WI's Oxfordshire HQ Denman College.

these upholstery workshops at Denman include two-day 'Drop in Seats for Beginners' and week-long 'Immerse Yourself in Upholstery' sessions for those who want to earn their blisters and achieve impressive results. 

these classes signify a revival of upholstery at the WI, of which i am most proud. 

the Epping WI a very long time ago (check out that pouffe*)

a little bit more about 
'Immerse Yourself in Upholstery' 
at Denman with Joanna Heptinstall 
(in case you're thinking of booking)

there is no set structure to this workshop. the intention is to give my Upholstery Lovelies the time and space, tools and materials to crack on with their furniture and learn new skills as they work. my task is to keep them busy and working safely and to be on hand to explain and demonstrate traditional upholstery skills and each new process as they come to it. 

mini masterclasses in specialist skills such rustling up double piping and creating perfect scrolls are presented as required.

my inaugural november 2013 class of Upholstery Lovelies included Sam, Jim, Kathy, Linda, Andrea and Pamela. their projects included:
  • 15 drop-in seats (i know! 15!!!!!!)
  • two mid-century fireside chairs
  • two wing arm chairs
  • one curvaceous throne
  • one pouffe, according to the dictionary it's pronounced ‘poof’ or ‘poof-ay’, depending on how silly you want to feel (see end note*)
we were based in the Craft School's Bawden Studio, where the messier crafts are taught so happily it was OK to allow tacks to ping onto the floor, and wade through piles of fluff and hair.

typically, our first day was incredibly noisy as it involved much stripping off old fabric and tacks using mallets and chisels with inevitable blisters and bumps. (indeed our jubilant hammering raised eyebrows, but noise is a necessary part of upholsterers' fun so we shut the doors and carried on). some of my Lovelies had never seen a magnetic hammer before, others were determined to make headway in an unfinished evening class project, so there was plenty of ideas and know-how being shared around. by day two all were beginning to tackle corners, expertly smooth and stretch and hammer accurately. 

for me, watching their happy frowny faces immersed in their work was quite lovely...

in between bouts of frowny contentment, there was much banter and i remember enjoying a highly informative rummage in Pamela's well-stocked tool box.

and Upholstery Lovely Andrea added an additional bit of excellence with an elegant webbing style learned from a past tutor…

…of course, i knew that.

happily my first Immerse Yourself in Upholstery workshop at Denman was voted a success by my Upholstery Lovelies, who had all made huge headway that they could be very proud of.

in fact they did so well that i would like to offer them congratulations…

the Class of 2013 Awards

Jim – for perseverance, ambition, generosity and stamina

Linda – for careful workmanship and cheeriness in the face of tricky complications

Kathy – for careful workmanship to achieve quality results despite an endless battle with gimp pins

Sam – for making enormous headway with a daunting task

Andrea – for achieving quality results and making a real difference

Pamela – for miles of exquisite stitchery, sharing her skills and having  completed chair to take home

Well done, one and all!

and as Denman's Upholstery Tutor-at-Large, i would like to offer them a few little words of advice to remember when they continue the fine craft of upholstery their own homes. here are my…

Most Useful Important Rules
  • only attempt a corner when your fabric is smoothed and fixed to a perfectly snug fit.
  • cut a dummy calico corner before committing scissors to your top fabric. if it’s not perfect, adjust and try again until you are confident of getting it spot on.
  • never cut a corner at the end of the day when you are tired. save it for a new day and tidy up instead.

suitable projects for 
Immerse Yourself in Upholstery at Denman

it is most important to enjoy the process of learning your new skills without feeling as though you are racing against time. so here is a list of furniture which would suit a three or four day upholstery course at Denman…
  • a stuff-over chair or, possibly, a pair
  • drop in seat chairs (allow one per day)
  • a piano stool
  • a footstool
  • a fireside chair with upholstered seat and back but not fully upholstered arms



* a final note about pouffes
i'm quite sure doris called hers a 'puffy'. (an east yorkshire accent probably had quite a lot to do with this). hers looked like a giant kneeler and i believe that, as an enterprising and skilled handmaker, she upholstered it herself. i remember that puffy well... on Friday evenings i would squabble with my sister about who got to perch on it in front of the fire and balance their ham and mustard sandwiches on their knees while watching Dr Who on doris' black and white television.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

the perfect sofa moment…

…or the importance of a handmade dishcloth

the funny thing about being Someone Who Works With Her Hands is that, when the day is done, if there is a teeny bit of time left, it is almost impossible to sit and 'do nothing'. 

watching tv is not remotely relaxing on its own. for full sofa contentment there has to be some form of crafty busy-ness.

unfortunately the enjoyable embellishment of lovely ladies' lampshades is too tricky for a sofa moment (see here for why)… and anyway no Upholsteress would attempt 'proper work' unless in the workroom wearing apron and business-like attitude. 

the ideal Sofa Moment involves a creative task that can be done without making a big noise, getting up and down, thinking too hard or following a tricky pattern. it also needs to be finish-able quickly as a sense of achievement is paramount for contentment.

i believe i have finally found the perfect The Sofa Moment project. here is

The Crochet Dishcloth


now, I knoooow you can buy multi-packs of dishcloths for pennies,
but when every day involves technically skilled challenges to be solved artfully and perfectly, what could be a more enjoyable way to wind down than by creating something so simple and lovely? 
and of course back in doris' day a kitchen sink sporting a handmade dishcloth was a badge of honour in terms of housekeeping prowess. shop bought didn't 'do'

if you're not already sold, let me share with you one more thought… 
there is simply nothing nicer than stepping out of the bath and reaching for a beautiful soft and yarny white dishcloth with which to chase a squirt of Cif about. and when all is rinsed and smelling Cif-y, the cloth looks pretty draped out to dry until the next bathtime.

it's true that the handmade dishcloths in the kitchen and utility sinks have acquired a patina of age, especially those 'mistakenly borrowed' to clean the car. but the great thing about natural white cotton dishcloth yarn, unlike its shop-bought inferiors, is that when soaked in a bleachy solution it comes up soft, strong and sparkly again.

The Crochet Dishcloth Pattern

to be frank, there is no set pattern. as long as your dishcloth ends up a sensible sized square, you have got it right. about 10in is a comfortable size to wring out with both hands when wet. 

after being taught the basics of crochet, i decided to teach myself new patterns by picking squares from this book:

i'm sure that any crochet book with a few square patterns will do just nicely.

for crochet beginners, creating a square is a fine way to practice new stitches and patterns. my favourite dishcloth is simple double crochet with a teeny picot edge. so simple that it can virtually be done in the dark, it makes a good choice for a cosy Sofa Moment.

as craft cotton comes in lovely colours as well as pure white and natural white there is nothing to stop you from using your Sofa Moment to make a 'treble crochet stripe dishcloth' … 

or a 'granny square dishcloth'…  

or keep to simple white and make a lovely 'flower square dishcloth'…

by happy coincidence, you will require the size of a dishcloth in terms of pattern repeats ('rounds') to perfect the technique of fancy crochet stitches. 
this of course means that handmade dishcloths are hugely economical both creatively and technically. and as a ball of dishcloth yarn costs less than £1 from which you can create two dishcloths, well it's a wonder we aren't all still doing it.

The Crochet Dishcloth Gift

imagine after the end of a wonderful dinner, weekend visit, or christmas gift-giving, handing your host a creamy white handmade dishcloth all tied up with a bar of pure fragrant household soap. her thrill with the lovely handmade goodness of your gift will mean more than a lifetime's supply of shop-bought dishcloths. it have cost you pennies… and by creating it you will have enjoyed a Happy Sofa Moment and added a brand new crochet stitch to your repertoire of craftiness.

Win win!

A Pattern for the 
Simple Double Crochet Dishcloth

(i'm not a crochet expert or pattern-writer, but this should see you though)

using a ball of natural white dishcloth cotton and a 5mm hook:
• make 31 ch.
• 1dc in 2nd ch from hook, 1 dc in each remaining chain. Turn.
• repeat working these rows until you have made a square.

To make the picot edging, working around the edge of the dishcloth, 1ch, 1dc in the same place as the ss, 1dc in the next 2dc, *3ch, ss in last dc worked (one picot made), 1dc in each on nect 3dc, repeat from * to end.