Upholstery’s Identity Crisis.

chair on beach - by tom van hoogstraten (33916-unsplash)


There was a time in the not-so-distant past when those with a yearning to work with their hands could choose any number of trade schools to learn their favored skill, gain the required measure of hands-on practice (2000+ hours in the case of upholstery) in a classroom setting, then ease into the trade under the experienced supervision of a master.

Upholstery education in transition.

Trade schools have been closing down all over the country, to the point where we now have very few in operation (in 2018), and many of those are ‘teaching out’ (not accepting new enrollment, but allowing already-enrolled students to finish their degrees). Here’s one example & explanation of ‘teach out schools’.

Important note: we’re talking specifically about U.S. re-upholstery market, not the new furniture market, (which of course has its own set of challenges), nor the UK/European upholstery industry, which seems to be enjoying undiminished popularity.

upholstery deconstruction - knocking upholstery staples

Evolution of an industry.

In 2018, the reality is becoming quite apparent (at least in the US) that the trade school-to-apprenticeship-to-pro model is, for whatever reason, no longer working. The closing of the trade schools has left the workrooms in a lurch. A dearth of trained students creates a scarcity of skilled labor available for established workrooms to pull from. The industry seems to be in disarray, with sole proprietor, self-taught start-ups moving to fill demand – some poorly prepared, others gleaning what they can from DIY resources and small business organizations. Is this the chaos that precedes a new order? What new model(s) will emerge when the dust clears? There is certainly potential, and plenty of room, for more than just one business model.

Thanks to Cynthia Bleskachek of The Funky Little Chair for providing some of the information presented here – she goes into much more detail about the upholstery education conundrum in her blog – check it out to learn more!

There’s no denying the world is moving fast these days, and those who insist on sticking with the ‘old ways’ may indeed be left in the dust. Not to say the old models can’t or won’t inform the new. Just saying it’s time for action.

The old systems are falling away. Instead of traditional industrial schools (see Seth Godin’s manifesto: Stop Stealing Dreams), we are experimenting with and experiencing new forms of education: peer-to-peer, open source, freedom of movement – it’s a dance of sorts. Rather than attending compulsory structured schools, we are forming creative collaborations around mutual interests (maker communities). We are teaching each other through sharing – stories, skills, bumps & bruises, break-throughs & victories.

An Upholstery (R)evolution

So where to from here?

forgotten chairs - by paul morris 622705-unsplash

I believe in the power of creative community. I believe every individual accomplishment is strengthened by a supportive community, and I believe the MAKER MOVEMENT provides an important path forward for our current upholstery industry.

Upholstery is not only a hand craft – it is an art as well. 

It begins with the individual’s story…
What’s yours?

Are you inspired by fabric? textile art? furniture design? architecture or interior design?

I believe that each person’s unique perspective is valuable in bringing us closer to a better world, that by sharing and collaborating as an open source community, together we can build a creative solution to waste in the furniture industry, and in our individual lives.

The Funky Little Chair Collaborative.

So named because it’s instigator is none other than the afore-mentioned Cynthia Bleskachek of A Funky Little Chair. It’s a one year (2018-2019) exploration into upholstery. We are a diverse group of upholstery professionals, students and educators.

collaborative heads - by joanjo pavon 563960-unsplash

Our intention is to forge new synergistic relationships – within the greater upholstery community, as well as with outside influencers who can offer a fresh perspective. Our goal is to establish one or more viable education and business models to create a new consciousness around the craft of upholstery that will mesh with today’s rapidly evolving ‘sharing’ economy.

Truth be told, here at the beginning of our year together, we’re busy figuring out exactly how we plan to go about jump-starting this upholstery ‘make-over’, so stay tuned!

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