Our guide to upholstery
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to upholstery

First published date January 30 2014 Amended date January 29 2015

From a deep-buttoned armchair covered in the richest ruby red velvet to a pretty patchwork stool in a hotchpotch of floral, striped and spotty cotton, there is nothing quite like the look and feel of a beautiful fabric to lift a simple piece of furniture. While the high street is bursting at the seams with readymade furniture upholstered in every type of cloth and colour, how about a bespoke piece finished off in a material, trim and edging to your exact wishes? Or perhaps you have a well worn but much loved sofa that could be given a new lease of life with some clever reupholstering – after all 'upcycling' is what all the best design gurus are talking about these days. If all of this has whetted your creative appetite, why not check out our huge selection of upholstery courses, with a class or workshop to suit all levels, from the fresh faced beginner to the more confident student. Upholstery is a brilliant hobby to take up as you will never be short of projects to tackle around the home.


Cover up

Don't worry if you're a novice taking your first steps – or stitches – into the world of upholstery as there are plenty of upholstery courses to teach you the basics in a practical, hands-on environment. Part time, beginners’ workshops will show the basic techniques of stripping, planning, cutting and remaking your own pieces. You will often need to bring a small project but all tools are provided and your work can usually be stored on site. A course focusing on traditional techniques will show you the methods of springing and stuffing up a seat, preparing a tacked edge and stitching the edges in a traditional style. There are also classes on soft furnishings and light upholstery where learners choose individual projects for the home – from lampshades to footstools and dining chairs – as well as specific courses on how to upholster headboards and Ottomans focusing on modern materials such as foam. One-to-one tuition is also available if this might fit in better with your lifestyle.


Moving on

Advanced or intermediate upholstery courses are aimed at the more experienced student, generally with two years of upholstery under their belt. Check if the course has any specific requirements before enrolling, such as being able to upholster a drop-in seat or confident use of a sewing machine. These courses will allow you to restore more complex pieces and teach you advanced techniques for both traditional and modern work, and before you know it, you'll be creating your very own wing-backed chair in a neon fabric with rainbow hued tassels!

These courses might just be the starting block you need if you are interested in setting up your own business or looking for a job in the upholstery industry. (For more information do check out our upholstery careers guide). As well as the all-important practical elements (some courses are heavily practical in nature with around 90% of time spent in workshops) you will learn about health and safety issues, colours and colour combinations, how to take and record accurate measurements and working to set budgets.


Fabric of life

The features of fabric will be covered in your upholstery course but here are some quick tips and pointers:


• Choosing fabric will depend on a room's décor but it should also take into account lifestyle factors. Single person dwellings can indulge in a pale buttermilk soft bouclé that won't need to withstand the rigours of family life; but a house with children and animals might like to opt for removable covers in a machine-washable fabric (such as a cotton-linen mix) and invest in a spare set to extend your sofa's lifespan


• Fabric costs vary dramatically but always choose an upholstery-weight fabric that meets current fire and safety codes. Fabrics for sofas and chairs should be fire-retardant.


• A rub test is used to measure how well a material will wear over time. Generally, the higher the score the more suited the fabric for heavy usage. Domestic fabrics often have a rating of 20,000 rubs while some faux leathers have scores of over 100,000 making them perfect for heavy contract and hotel use.


• Measuring how much fabric you need to reupholster a chair or sofa requires careful calculations – do bear in mind that large patterned fabric will work out more expensive than plain because of the wastage incurred with pattern matching.


• If the finished, upholstered piece of furniture is likely to get shifted from room to room in the future, stick to neutral tones (such as grey, biscuit and chocolate brown) that will work against any backdrop. Accent colours can be picked out with a scattering of cushions.


21ST Century upholsterers we love

These three companies have turned traditional upholstery on its head by creating beautiful one-off pieces and stunning modern day heirlooms that can be cherished for years. And don't forget the art of revamping and upcycling is totally eco-friendly too!


GHOST FURNITURE will take the most mundane item and turn it into a beautiful artefact, like a pair of French salon chairs revamped with a matt dark grey paint and fabulous crimson patent leather. Find out more at www.ghostfurniture.co.uk

THE BAOBAB TREE transforms old furniture using beautiful vintage silk scarves. The result is a quirky, one-off piece that you won't find in any high-street store. Go to www.thebaobabtree.co.uk

VV ROULEAUX is the crème de la crème of passementerie stores, filled to the rafters with every imaginable type of upholstery trimming, from velvet ribbon and glass beads to braids, bows and fluffy pom-poms. There is masses of inspiration too in founder, Annabel Lewis's book 'Ribbons & Trims'. Visit www.vvrouleaux.com


By Lara Sargent

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