Our guide to soft furnishings design courses


You may not realise it, but the vast majority of us use something that comes under the soft furnishings heading on a daily basis. The chair’s we sit on, the curtains in the evening and the bed sheets we snuggle into at the end of the day are all types of soft furnishings.


Interested in making your own furniture to decorate your home? Have you got a creative mind that would love to experiment working with textiles to try new designs? Whether you want to learn how to make great furniture to brighten up your house or are just keen to improve your sewing skills, a soft furnishings course could be for you.


What are soft furnishings?

Depending on who you speak to, soft furnishings can refer to two different ways to style your home. Typically, the term defines a piece of furniture that has some form of filling to it and is then covered in fabric, which could be your favourite comfy  chair or the padded footrest you regularly use in front of the television. However, many consider soft furnishings as any fabric household items used to decorate a room, which could be almost anything from curtains to bed linen. A soft furnishings programme shares some similarities with upholstery courses and will show you how to make and repair all of those must have items.


The background behind soft furnishings

The technique has been used since the early 18th century as a way of brightening up and adding comfort to homes, with virtually every household today having some form of soft furnishings. The reason why so many people choose to include soft furnishings in their rooms is because not only do they have practical uses, like a blind blocking light in the room and people looking in, but they can make a room feel so much more homely.


The soft furnishings essentials

Soft furnishings courses vary depending on the level of difficulty, with courses ranging from complete textiles beginners to those looking to take their furnishing skills to the next level. Some soft furnishing programmes will show you how cut and measure fabric correctly, as well as stitching together seams using both pattern matching and hand sewing. Other soft furnishings courses will go into more detail to show how to work with more technically demanding designs like curtain making, while all courses will make sure students are aware of health and safety guidelines.


Although general soft furnishings courses are available to give you an overview of all the skills required, there’s a variety of specialist soft furnishings design programmes  and other textile courses to study that will further improve your knowledge. From rug making to curtain making, you’ll end up being able to make your own furnishings to decorate your home. 


Learning the lingo

Like any subject there’s plenty of new jargon to learn when working with soft furnishings. Although you won’t have to understand everything you hear on a soft furnishings course, here are a couple of the key phrases that you will come across:


. Pleat - That’s a common way of securing fabric together by folding it in a certain way. You won’t need to know all of the different types of pleat that can be used (there are more variations than you would think), but knowing the difference between a cartridge pleat and a knife one will become handy when it comes to making curtains and other types of soft furnishing.


. Stitching – Most of us will have stitched at some point, whether it was a school sewing class or trying to fix a hole in your favourite item of clothing, without even knowing the correct name for the stitch being used. With a range of different hand and machine stitches used depending on the type of soft furnishing being made, it’ll be key to quickly be able to distinguish between a few of those.


Ask the expert

For more than two decades, Maggi Loughran has been furnishing and dressmaking, as well as teaching those skills in a number of different adult education courses. During that time, she’s broadened her knowledge in a wide range of textile practices, both as a senior technician and as a tutor, with her teaching work seeing her recently awarded honorary recognition. At present, she combines time as a freelance furnisher with teaching on a number of the furnishing and dressmaking short courses at the London Metropolitan University.


Unsure what courses are available in dressmaking and furnishing? With numerous different types of stitching and styles, there’s always something new to learn. So, whether you’re a complete creative novice looking to try your hand on a sewing machine for the first time, or a regular dressmaker looking to gain some additional skills, a furnishing or dressmaking course could be for you. Hotcourses caught up with Maggi to find out what her top tips are for those students looking to pursue a career in textiles.


What qualifications have you taken to help with your career?

I began by taking City & Guild courses in both upholstery and creative practice – soft furnishing, before I went on to take my teacher training in those two areas. Once I started teaching, I continued my development by taking higher diplomas, before I took the postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning in higher education (PGCTLHE). I’ve also taken other CPD paths to enhance my knowledge in the area that I work in. 


What will students learn on your furnishing and dressmaking courses?

Students will learn the fundamental skills in soft furnishing or dressmaking, focusing on a professional pathway. The use of equipment, including the maintenance of it, is programmed into the course. They’ll also learn both hand and machine stitching, as well as planning and cutting out of fabric, pattern matching, seams, fabric use and lots of other important skills.


What’s the first thing you teach your students?

Making sure they follow health and safety guidelines within the workshop space


What are the benefits of studying your courses?

These courses will enable you to reach a high professional level and could be a stepping stone to starting your own business.


What do you love most about working with soft furnishings?

I love to make things and love to transform space or objects with fabric. A much loved old sofa can become a centre piece of a room given the right TLC!


 Are there any specific qualities you need to succeed in your profession?

You’ll need to have the practical skills required to make what’s needed, plus the communication skills to liaise with customers and the ability to solve problems.


What’s a typical day like in your working life?

There is no typical day! Each day comes with a new challenge from the students. They’re lively, enthusiastic and have a volume of ideas they want to realise.


Tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on…

I was fortunate enough to be asked to commission Cinderella’s coach for Euro Disney when it opened in the early 1990's. I made all the curtains and upholstered the shell shaped seating area inside. I have also completed commissions for Westminster Abbey and also the Oxford Library.  I was commissioned to make a wedding dress in a bohemian style, along with all the bridesmaid outfits and page boy kilts. In the main I work in the domestic environment, creating window treatments or upholstered pieces.


What’s the most important skill required for you to do your job?

A. Getting teacher trained has given me the skills to enable me to pass on my knowledge well to a wide audience.


Is there any advice you have for people interested in getting a job in either furnishing or dressmaking?

Get the right skills and the qualifications to back them up where possible. Start with a short course, as that way you can be sure it’s for you. Do your homework, find out about your tutor and the course. 


Has Maggi got you thinking about the possibility of a career working with textiles? If you’re now considering following in Maggi’s footsteps and taking a soft furnishing or dressmaking course, then look at all of the courses available at London Metropolitan University for you to study, or visit the full list of textile courses  here on Hotcourses.


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