Tuesday evenings

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A couple of years ago, my wonderful parents came across four balloon back chairs in Harry Haines’ scrap yard near Wantage, Oxfordshire.  You can imagine their excitement, given that they were matching and cost only £85.  I was furiously saving for a deposit on a flat at the time so we won’t talk about how much it cost to restore the joinery.  I had grown up sitting on balloon back chairs at our family dining room table.  A lifetime of my parents crying “…….don’t rock the chair back” sticks in my mind.  As does giggling every time I heard the creaking of a rotund dinner guest’s bottom on one of those poor chairs.  The look on my father’s face was priceless as he estimated the bill of fixing the damage.  Balloon back chairs are beauties to admire, pretty light to carry and enormously fragile. Looking back on it now I was fairly exasperated, what were my parents thinking?  I was a single person trying to buy my first flat when the Greeks and Chinese were pushing up London property prices left, right and centre!  I didn’t know anyone with a dining room in a London flat!  But I started my upholstery class on Tuesday evenings, much to the amusement of all my friends who thought it impossibly middle aged and girly.  Yes I enjoy sewing, cooking, upholstery and other feminine pursuits.   I don’t know why we are all expected to be career girls and not be able to boil an egg these days but that is a rant for another time.

I had banked on my new found hobby as being one I could take away with me and I could then whip up arm chairs at home.  But who knew there was so much equipment, or so much fun to be had from an air compressed staple gun?  No, I was in it for the long haul and it has taken me more terms than I care to tell you to finish my chairs.  But I do now appreciate the length of time and traditional skills which now go into upholstery.  When you take your nursing chair you picked up at Ardingly for £50 in to an upholsterer and he quotes you £1000 plus fabric to recover it you might realise why from my photos.  The sheer number of layers of webbing and horse hair, linen and hogs hair were epic.  I stabbed my fingers countless times, there were many evenings I considered not going because I was too tired to schelp across town not returning home till 10 pm.  But each time I went my mind became so relaxed from hammering and focusing, I barely thought about anything for two and a half hours……….and that is pretty healthy in my mind!  As I discovered upholstery is a fairly physical hobby so in some ways better suited to men but for some reason it is thought of as a feminine pursuit!   I also met some wonderful people, World of Interior’s stylists, ladies that lunch, lawyers, prison officers and a very wonderful jolly teacher called Francesca.  I loved that I had no connection with any of my new friends through school or work, but I just met them each week and had a chat or not!

I was thrilled when an expert from the V&A came to our class and said my chair dated to the 1830s and (though the mahogany was faded) was a fine example of carving.  My parents were right all along!  The chair was much earlier than I had thought, the very beginning of Queen Victoria's reign.  For me there was a sense that I became a custodian of these lovely little chairs and they had been saved from the scrap heap.  I hate to think of what might have happened to them now as they sit so perfectly in my hall and bedroom.  Did you know that they were often stuffed with whatever was local or lying around and this can often help to decipher where the chair has come from.  The stuffing might consist of seaweed or Victorian knickers as one girl in my class discovered!  I stashed a little note in my last chair saying who I was and the date for the next owner to find.  My writing desk chair today, but maybe my Granddaughter’s in the future.   I think two might have to end up back at my parents’ house as there isn’t quite room in London for all four.  One day they will all be together in a dining room of my dream house.

Now I will be the first to admit I am not a gifted upholsterer and despite doing four of the same chair, I can never remember anything.  I am taking a bit of a sabbatical this term, but I will be back and an Ottoman for my sitting room is next on the menu, poor Francesca!

Before I stripped the chairs they looked something like this, I forgot to take a photo!  In fact the top fabric was much worse than this lovely teal velvet.

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After stripping the chairs, I stretched black and white jute webbing over the frames.

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Staples are kinder to the frame and easier than hammering on such a hard wood such as mahogany.

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First hessian layer..............

Stuffing ties...............

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Handfuls of black fibre( made from coconut) are stuffed into the ties.............

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and teased into shape....................

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The next hessian layer applied with tacks and stretched taught..................

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Bridal ties.....................

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Stitches to form the seat or a pie crust as I like to call it......................

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Hogs hair or your salvaged layer of horse hair if you still have it, upholsterers are a thrifty bunch! My teacher had us all washing it with conditioner, needless to say it smelt like wet dog in my flat and was a disgusting task...............

Skin wadding................

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Calico................

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Stapled into place................

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Final layer of fire proofing for a tight finish...............

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Covered in ticking and from the Cloth House in Berwick street, with double piping which gives it a smart finish.

http://www.clothhouse.com/

A pair of Victorian Cavalier King Charles spaniels keeps guard in my bedroom.

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Looking pretty as a picture in my hall at my writing desk, perfect for penning my thank you notes.

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