Upholstery has been around since the time of ancient Egypt, and its popularity has only increased since then. Although styles and materials have changed over the years, being an upholsterer continues to be a viable and rewarding profession — and one that requires a little know-how to get started.
What an Upholsterer Does
An upholsterer equips furniture with upholstery, including fabric or leather covers, webbing, padding, and springs. Upholsterers can help create new, custom-made furniture, or renovate used furniture that needs either repaired or restyled (referred to as “reupholstery”). With reupholstery, upholsterers need to be able to examine all aspects of the furniture and identify any weaknesses.
Four different fields make up the upholstery business: Residential upholstery applies to domestic furniture, commercial upholstery offers services to businesses, automobile upholstery concerns the seats and trim inside vehicles, and marine upholstery tackles the seating, cushions, and cabin furniture on boats. Although the work varies with each of these fields, they all offer similar benefits and require similar skills and preparations.
Benefits of Becoming an Upholsterer
Being an upholsterer is a satisfying profession that allows you to carry projects from start to finish and see tangible results. Upholsterers are not stuck in an office all day and have to do little paperwork. Instead, they get to solve problems and perform hands-on work on a daily basis. Upholstery can also be an engaging creative outlet for those who enjoy working with fabrics, interior decor, antiques, or other design elements.
Necessary Skills for Upholstery
If you’re interested in becoming an upholsterer, being able to perform the following tasks will put you one step ahead of the competition:
- Cut and sew various fabrics. These are an upholsterer’s most basic duties, so if you can’t (or can’t learn to) cut and sew, upholstery probably isn’t for you.
- Handle the appropriate tools. Upholstery requires using a number of different tools, from scissors and upholstery needles to upholstery regulators and webbing stretchers.
- Pay attention to detail. Creating functional and stylish furniture requires having an eye for the little things.
- Work efficiently without errors. If you can’t provide a quick turnover, customers will go elsewhere.
- Adhere to health and safety procedures. This is especially important when handling tools that could be dangerous if used inappropriately and when working with furniture that must meet specific building codes.
- Interact with customers effectively. Upholsterers need to listen to and communicate clearly with customers in order to ensure their satisfaction. Customers will not always know which materials will best fit their needs, so upholsterers will have to foresee potential issues with their selections and make recommendations. Having past experience in customer service may be useful.
- Keep up with trends in furniture and fabric styles. Customers may look to you for design advice, and you need to be equipped with the expertise to lead them in the right direction.
How to Get Started as an Upholsterer
Although most upholsterers have at least a high school diploma, no formal educational or licensing requirements exist. Because of this, the process of becoming a professional upholsterer varies largely. However, taking the following steps is an effective way to get started.
Do Your Research
If you’re reading this, you’re already one step ahead. Learn about the different types of upholstery, the reupholstery process, the required tools, and any other information you can get your hands on. This research will help you ascertain whether upholstery is for you before you start practicing, and will lay a foundation of knowledge to rely on once you begin with the hands-on work.
Take a Class
After doing your research, you may want to enroll in an upholstery class. Few formal training programs for upholstery exist, but major cities are likely to offer classes. Try searching at local community colleges or fabric stores.
If you can’t find any upholstery courses in your area, Craftsy provides an effective introductory class that teaches you to reupholster a slip seat and side chair, and membership at Kim’s Upholstery grants you access to over 50 video tutorials on reupholstering numerous types of seating. Whichever class you choose, be sure to follow along with your own furniture at home for firsthand experience.
Practice at Home
For many, upholstery starts as a hobby. These individuals reupholster their friends’ and family’s furniture for fun or tackle their own DIY projects in their spare time. Projects may include reupholstering your dining room chairs, creating a bed for your dog or cat, or buying some used furniture to restore.
If you’re interested in upholstery and haven’t gotten any practice in yet, get started right away. This sort of preparation is doubly helpful: It provides you with real experience in your craft, and it also gives you tangible proof that you can do it.
Work in the Field
The most efficient and effective way to become a professional upholsterer is to work in the field. Formal apprenticeships are an effective way to learn under an experienced upholsterer, but can be hard to find. A more realistic option may be to obtain a minor position at an upholstery business and get informal on-the-job training. As you learn, you can take on more challenging upholstery tasks, eventually qualifying as a professional upholsterer.