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  • Writer's pictureRobin

Lessons from The Good… Um… The “Just OK” Upholstress

OK, I admit it. I have been humbled by my first real job. It was a just a leeeetle more than what I expected. “Sure, I can redo those chairs – they’re just like the ottoman Mom and I did, but bigger. Piece of cake!”

Famous last words.

I won’t bore you with the details of the job itself; we’ll just say I learned. A. LOT. Like:

1) Think outside the boxing. [Upholstery pun. :-) ] Just because the factory built a piece a certain way, does not mean an upholsterer should have to rebuild in the same manner – as long as the process is sound and the end result is what the client wants.

2) Tools matter. Invest in the right tools for the right job. I did a pretty good job researching and investing in proper small tools. For this job, I had issues with the style of my staple gun – one I already owned. A different gun would have been a bigger investment that my business can’t afford yet. As my business grows, I’ll be able to invest in tools that really do the job properly – saving time, money and sanity.

3) Learn when to move on. Mom put it best as I was fussing over making a particularly tricky area just perfectly smooth and puckerless: “When you look at design magazines marketing high-dollar designer pieces, the best shots are by professional photographers using the best lighting and you still see imperfections in the craftsmanship.” Translation: Stop obsessing.

4) Don't try to salvage everything. In reducing costs, it is tempting to reuse materials such as cotton batting for padding that seems in good shape. I even (briefly) thought about reusing the cushion zippers. However, consider the time it takes to salvage something in the first place; whether its useful life can match everything else that’s now new; and, if reusing materials slows down the overall process because they then require special treatment, too.

5) Have a mentor. Have someone to help you work through the technical stuff. (Mom.)

6) Have a cheerleader. Have someone to help you work through the mental stuff. (Ray.)


7) Breaks for creme drops should always be required.

My first client was a dream client. She was very communicative of her desires throughout the process. I didn’t have a very large portfolio of work to show her, yet she was very trusting of my abilities and my judgment. After completing her two chairs, I can proudly say I do feel like a good upholstress. Oh, but for sure, along the way I faced times of extreme self-doubt if I could complete the job to her satisfaction. And I worked tirelessly to achieve that. So really, there is one final lesson.

8) Treat each client as your first client – as if your reputation depends on it.

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