Budding interior designers take note! Whether you want to pep up your sofa with a scattering of homemade cushions, try your hand at a patchwork throw or even master the art of 'haute couture' embroidery, then you're sure to find an inspiring soft furnishings course among the staggering 1,500 different ones on offer around the country. You might already work in the interior design field and want to try out something fresh or just fancy learning a new skill (who can resist the intriguingly named experimental tapestry for instance?). Either way, the world of soft furnishings is bursting with colour, print, pattern and a host of inspiring courses that are fun and practical at the same time.
A broad introduction...
If you have your sights set on becoming the new Kelly Hoppen, then perhaps a broad overview of soft furnishings is a good place to start. Remember, good design will inject a large dose of wow factor and comfort into your home and boost its saleability to potential buyers if you are planning to sell. Generally taking place as a series of part time, evening classes, these all round courses will introduce you to a number of key soft furnishing techniques including how to make curtains, cushions, blinds, tiebacks and pelmets. You will learn the correct way to measure and estimate fabrics, layout, cutting, making up, pattern matching and hand sewing. Check course details and requirements, although most soft furnishing courses of this type are aimed at the complete beginner and the more advanced learner alike, with projects tailored to both. Sewing machine and hand sewing skills are an advantage but not always an essential – but again, do check before you start. You will leave the course having learnt how to make a variety of beautiful soft furnishings for your home to a really professional standard. And just think you will be able to revamp your home, season after season, with a brand new set of tailor made curtains and bespoke cushions – and be the envy of all your neighbours!
Or something more specific...
Whether you are a beginner or a design professional, why not enrol on a specific soft furnishings course where you can learn something new and exciting. A week long digital embroidery course for example is great for those from a textiles, fashion, graphics or decorative arts background. You might simply be an enthusiastic amateur who wishes to learn the basics of the multi-head machine and digital design software and create beautiful embroidery samples. There are also a number of beginners’ hand embroidery courses where you can learn ribbon work, smocking, appliqué and a range of basic stitches amongst others, as well as the delightfully named 'haute couture embroidery' using sumptuous materials like organza and silk dupion. How about a dip-dyeing class, an evening course on patchwork quilts or a day workshop learning how to create corsages from silk flowers – all of which will add a touch of bespoke luxury to your home accessories and your wardrobe if you wish!
And, judging by the huge array of felting courses on offer, who would imagine that this humble cloth is so versatile, practical and totally on-trend? A short felting taster course will show you how to make a felted woollen item in one day – either a small bag, corsage, scarf or purse – and embellish it with a stunning embroidery stitches. Other felt making courses will teach you essential felt making techniques (including the wet method with hot water and soap and needle felting) and how to turn your fabric into a beautiful design to take home.
Don't forget, there is a soft furnishings course to suit all abilities, experiences and desires. Should you wish to learn fabric printing, silk painting and lace making, or knitting, crocheting and how to make a Roman blind, these are fun, short courses where you will meet a new group of people and learn a clutch of creative and useful skills at the same time.
Five top interior designers
Check out these five top interior design gurus for masses of inspiration on soft furnishings:
Kelly Hoppen: Internationally-acclaimed interior designer, Kelly Hoppen, is known for her cool neutrals, clean lines, classic furniture and subtle fusion of East meets West. She has also had a stint as a Dragon in TV programme Dragon's Den.
Michael Reeves: Neutral, chic interiors are the trademark of Michael Reeves, As well as working on interior design commissions for private homes and commercial buildings around the globe, he sells his own range of sofas, tables and rugs from his Pimlico Road showroom in London.
Charlotte Crosland: The work of interior designer Charlotte Crosland is all about comfort and colour – big bold splashes of patterned wallpaper, opulent lighting and rich, textured fabrics. With three children of her own, Charlotte has also become a specialist in interiors for families.
Louise Bradley: Louise Bradley's signature style is a byword in luxury. She creates beautiful, functional spaces tailored to the client's needs and wishes. Her own collection of furniture and accessories ranges from simple gold bowls to silver leaf cabinets and decadent crystal chandeliers.
Nina Campbell: From designer wallpaper to scented candles and luxury glassware, interiors guru, Nina Campbell, offers an extensive homeware collection (both online and in-store) as well a sought-after interior design service. She is said to be one of the world's most respected and influential interior designers working in the residential and commercial fields.
By Lara Sargent
The competitive world of furniture design and soft furnishings takes no prisoners. Like fashion, fabrics and styles go in and out of vogue and the challenge of the designer is making timeless yet modern pieces. One man who has achieved this is Mark Gabbertas, the brains behind the award winning Mark Gabbertas studios. Yet this was not always the case. After quitting his high-paid advertising job to become an adult apprentice cabinet maker, Mark is the picture perfect example of how completing an apprenticeship can change your life at any age.
Mark agreed to re-live his life changing decision and tell us more about the apprenticeship that led to him becoming one of the most respected designers in the UK.
It’s safe to say your apprenticeship changed your life. What was the most important lesson you have taken from your time as an apprentice?
That’s tricky – I learnt so much. My first apprenticeship, which lasted a year with Codrington Furniture, was the most exhilarating process I have ever experienced, as I tried to learn how to use my hands and actually make things. It was, however, bizarrely stressful, as the critical relationship between time and money became all too apparent and I saw how easily a job can become unprofitable. After that year, I left to join Stemmer and Sharp in a communal workshop in Hackney as I now wanted to learn how to make finer furniture using more involved techniques. Andrea and Fiona had formidable reputations as designers and makers, both having trained at Parnham, then run by John Makepiece and to which I would have loved to have gone, but financial reality precluded. I found I was actually a very good cabinet maker and relished the requirement for precision. Most rewarding was the joy that came from seeing a completed piece.
During all this time, I think I came to realise that the ability to make beautifully was not an end in itself, but merely a means to another. Superb technical ability was to be applauded and it was important to have this knowledge, but more important was knowing how to use it to one’s advantage rather than becoming a slave to its siren call.
How did you get from being an apprentice to starting up your own studio?
I spent ten years as a designer/ maker in the workshop in Hackney, designing and making for both private and commercial clients, including Virgin, the Geffyre Museum et al. The business developed and grew and then one of those wonderful auspicious events occurred whereby a college from my days in advertising who had been equally suspicious of that industry, called to say she too had decided to pursue her dreams and was opening a restaurant in Soho, and would I design the furniture. The restaurant was called Atelier and the furniture won awards. I was subsequently called by a high profile manufacturing brand, Allermuir, who asked if I was interested in licensing the design for one of the chairs to them. Without realising my business model changed overnight and I switched from designing and making furniture to concentrate purely on design and licensing these to brands.
What was the hardest part of getting your studio off the ground?
Our approach to business was extraordinarily competitive and it took another ten years to establish a reputation as a designer with all the financial implications of this struggle all too apparent. The Gabbertas Studio was established in 2002 and it was a leap of faith in that we bought premises in west London, but financed this by renting space out within them and also taking on work which paid bills but about which we didn’t shout. Long hours, lots of knocking on doors and speculative pitching - all part and parcel of making a reputation.
What has been your proudest moment in your career as a furniture designer?
It has become apparent that expectations change. I was trying to catch up with people who had ten years on me and I would wander around exhibitions where these established and much revered ‘peers’ were exhibiting, wondering how I could possibly get to do the same. My first exhibition at a group show therefore at New Designers in Islington was wonderful as I felt vindicated in all my decisions and indeed my ability. 20 years later, my ambitions are different and my expectations changed...ask me in five years and I will tell you if I have fulfilled them.
What is the best part of your job?
Knowing that we are good and always getting better...to be frank, we never stop learning and are constantly challenging ourselves and our clients both strategically and aesthetically. When a particularly brave decision not just by us but also by the client company proves successful, it is a great feeling. We are producing our best work now, and it is reassuring to feel that one’s ability grows and develops over time, contrary to so many other industry types.
What is your inspiration?
It has taken a long time to figure out what makes us tick and what specifically is the design language with which we feel comfortable. We best describe this as the desire to create character through simplicity. This is an antidote both to the rigorous pursuit of minimalism and also the overly expressive, and instead it is intended to produce designs with longevity and that old fashioned concept of elegance is central to this.
What skills do you think you need to make it in this industry?
Getting into furniture design is difficult and even more difficult to make it work. My advice would be to get the basic skills under your belt; such as the ability to use the relevant CAD software, the ability to sketch and express your ideas, and ideally the ability to make to a decent standard. These are probably best done at college full or part time, and then find yourself an internship or apprenticeship with the very best people you can find from whom you must aim to learn as much as you can. The successful designers our there have achieved by a combination of persistence and hard work with serious ability as a given.
What is your dream project?
I would love to design a set of cutlery.
If Mark’s story has inspired you, remember when it comes to getting to the top there is no blueprint answer. Enrolling on an interior design or soft furnishing course is a great opportunity to learn the basics and find your aesthetic.
On the shorter hobby courses this is unlikely – however that’s not to say you couldn’t ask your teacher for advice and help as they’re probably experts in the industry and may be working professionally themselves.
Not exactly. Most soft furnishings courses are about teaching you how to make certain items for the home. However, you can study interior design right up to postgraduate level, so this could be a way of taking your soft furnishings knowledge to the next step.
No! Just because you wear blue and green together or could never use a colouring book properly as a kid, doesn’t mean you won’t have an eye for making beautiful soft furnishings. Creating for interiors is very different to any other type of art form because items have to be practical as well as beautiful, so there’s every chance you could have a knack for dressing furniture even if you struggle to dress yourself.
CAD is an important part of the design industry in the 21st century and as such, longer interior design courses (which will cover soft furnishings) always cover it – they’ll show you how to use the programmes most common to the industry. Shorter evening classes in soft furnishings though are likely to be more focused on teaching you how to make items for your own home and thus probably won’t go into much detail about how to use computers to help you.
The most obvious one is soft furnishings designer/maker. This would mean you’re producing different types of soft furnishings, perhaps for individual clients or for home stores. Another fairly obvious one is interior designer. This might be working freelance for different clients, or you might be working in house for a specific company that often has to decorate the interior of buildings. Examples could be an architectural practice or a retail business. You’ll probably need to do more courses though before you can really make a career of this, for example a degree in interior design.
A lot of the course will involve using your creativity to come up with ideas yourself and then learning the skills to create different types of soft furnishings, but the only way to do this well is to understand designers that are already working in the industry. As such, there will be a bit of theory work as you study what has gone before and learn about what works and what does in furnishing. There will be a bit of interior design involved too, to help contextualise what you’re taught.
You can do. This is especially helpful if you’re taking a short soft furnishings course in order to improve your own home as this will give you the opportunity to get opinions from your fellow students and teachers and make items that you’ll actually use. Your teacher will probably have quite a few swatches for you to look at if you haven’t got any ideas of fabrics you’d like to use yourself.
In case you need a little more inspiration, here are some of our favourite photo galleries from course providers offering soft furnishings courses...
Basic Woodwork workshops at The Goodlife Centre are for absolute beginners.
Upholstery workshops at The Goodlife Centre are for absolute beginners.
Evening, weekend and daytime courses in DIY & Home Maintenance, Painting & Decorating, Upholstery, Furniture Restoration and Woodworking.
All tools and materials are supplied and included in the course fees.
A light and airy workspace in Waterloo where all our courses take place.
Our Sewing Studio
Impress your friends - learn to Screenprint on fabrics of your choice. This fab 2-day course will take you through all the steps to print a repeat pattern in 3-4 colours.
Etching is a lot of fun as well as an amazing process.
Learn Screenprinting from our silkscreen guru Ling Chiu.
A beautiful mono screenprint. If this appeals you can do a one-to-one session - just call or email us for advice.
Choosing type for Adana Letterpress
Sometimes we get just the best views here at Thames Barrier Print Studio!
A fantastic day's work on our Etching course.
Adana Letterpress is ever so trendy these days! If you have an Adana and want to get the most out of it or if you want to come back and join our studio afterwards - this course is perfect for you.
Get more ideas and be inspired; we've scoured the web to bring you some of our favourite soft furnishings videos...
When it comes to furnishing a house, the costs add up, and trying to find something unique can be hard in a world filled with flat packs. We have therefore scoured the internet for our favourite pieces of recycled furniture, some weird, some cool and some, well, made of cuddly toys...
1. ‘Work is driving me mental’
For the ultimate car lover this has to be the best desk ever. We’re wondering if the wheels actually work and whether this could double up as transport to and from the office.
2. ‘On your bike’
When we heard about a chair made out of bike parts we winced at the thought of sitting on a saddle to watch TV, but this weirdly works. We can imagine it looking cool in a pimped out VW Camper Van.
3. ‘Just in case’
Classy and cool, most of the Hotcourses office would like this suitcase-come-chair. We also think there’s something in turning luggage into seats for those long commutes...Dragons, take note.
4. ‘That looks crate’
For anyone who struggles for storage these crate tables are ideal. Just don’t follow the milkman’s lead and keep your milk there; we tried it and it won’t stay fresh.
5. ‘Sofa bears all’
This just gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘soft furnishings’. We can’t decide if it’s the cutest, most comfortable creation ever... or just a bit creepy.
By Hotcourses Editor, 9th May 2012
Spring is all about new beginnings as the trees turn green again, flowers bloom, and animals are born. It’s also the perfect time to try something new and taking a course is the ideal opportunity to do this. Spring courses come in a variety of guises so...
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