Chairs and Who I am

Upholstering a chair can remind you quite a bit about yourself.

Those who know me well will need now to skip to the end to find the bit where they can say to themselves, ‘Typical!’

(The bits in brackets of what follows are the insights – but probably you would have worked that out for yourselves, and indeed, my best beloved would have pointed that out to me – but I am never one to not state the obvious.)

Firstly, the source of chairs – for I am not at the scale of upholstery which would allow me to whip up a smart sofa of an afternoon – I like a bargain, love auctions, and am on first name terms with the men at the tip – the tip shop is a great place to buy.

(Nothing if not an E in Meyers Briggs terms, I know the tip shop men and they know me.)

So, I buy ugly ducklings of chairs and manage to get them to the state where they can see that, in the next life , they might be swans.

Sometimes I can sell them on Gumtree or E-bay and sometimes I give them away, and sometimes we (that is the royal we) keep them.

Our house is not short of chairs.

(I don’t have business acumen or a business plan so my selling is ad hoc and usually the chairs I think will sell in an instant don’t and those I have botched and badgered, go in a second. Have I worked out what I should be buying and selling, no I have not.)

I will never be a John Lewis woman. Even if I have won (and I have not checked my ticket yet) the £35m lottery win of last night, I wouldn’t shop in John Lewis. It is, I have no doubt a good quality place to buy stuff, but you would find me at an auction somewhere buying ‘brown’ furniture and storing it my newly-bought barn. Of course patronising young furniture designers is another thing altogether and I would be out there with cash in hand.

(I am a person who likes serendipity. I like surprises. I like buying some chair for doodly-squat and thinking what I could do with it.

That is my creative outlet. I know people who are much more creative than I am, and I take my hat off to them, but for me this is enough.

But I like some creativity in my life and at the moment, this is it.)

I go to my upholstery class every Wednesday morning and it is one of my most characteristic Sussex Housewife life activities – so, between deciding on whether it is 10mm fine tacks or bashing in 15mm tacks whilst doing some webbing, we gossip in a Sussex Housewife kind of a way.

(More Meyers Briggs E stuff.)

(I like to pretend that I am a little edgy and not quite of the pack – the Peckham woman still there despite the fact that I am in a village hall doing a hobby that most people don’t have the time or money for – but of course everyone else has another life too – and being a bit different is something I like to think I am, but I need to get over myself on that.)

The bit I like most about upholstery is the fabric.

I like to think if I had my life over again, I would take up some job that involved fabric design or fabric selling or something like that.

(Never a one for specifics.)

But then I think that if I had my life over again, I would do all sorts of things.

I would be in a job that allowed me to know something in very great detail.

Or work in an auction house so that I could know about the stuff I like but know little about.

Or was a hacker – I’d love to be a hacker (but would never have the dedication.)

Or a historian specializing in attitudes to the church changing after the plague or the Mongols – I am fascinated by the Mongols.

Or, or, or – but the list goes on.

(I think that people who are entirely happy with all the choices they made are either extremely boring or extremely lucky – most of us, surely, can think of what else we might have done with our lives however happy we are now.)

So, back to the chairs.

We went to Charleston – the lovely house ‘ home of the Bloomsbury Group’ who mostly I wanted to put against a wall and give a stern talking to, but whose internal house and outside garden design I thought was just lovely and interesting.

(That propensity to want to put people against a wall and give a stern talking to, whilst waving a finger at them, is something I think I will never quite manage to change into an attitude of quiet understanding and a ‘listening mode’.)

I found a chair and re-upholstered it in an homage to Vanessa Bell’s interior décor.


Blimey, did that simple looking chair take an age. What you can’t see is the blue piping and don’t get me on to that.

And that is the thing about chairs – each one is different, each one teaches you something, one side is never the same as the other side.

(The same as people.)

So, my final thought on upholstery and my life is the thing about an eye for detail.

(Ha! Say the people who know me so well.)

The current chair I have worked on with hammer and tacks (nails, to the non upholsterer) has taken me a while.

I have refused point blank to do (so far) a button-backed chair but I found an ugly duckling at the tip shop that had a buttoned mattress –stitched (which I had to replace and re-stitch) seat.

(Please don’t bother with the details of that, I never do.)

And I hadn’t needed the maxim of a fellow upholster, ‘If a blind man, riding a horse can’t see it, it doesn’t matter’ – she is of course a perfectionist.

I  have, to my credit, hand-sewn every bit of the top cover of all the chair and seat – and my upholstery teacher is impressed.

And today I buttoned the seat.

No one (no, really, no one) hand-makes buttons so I had been to Chichester to get them made.

I was going along rather famously with buttoning both sides of the seat.

Leaving the class, I went for a long shift at Oxfam and then came home and took up my two-pointed needle to finish off the job and impress my best beloved and my Friday night guests.

One button after another, one upholster’s knot after another, one tension pull after another…..

I hadn’t got enough buttons.

I hadn’t counted the right number of buttons I needed. A quick count, no going back to check, no re-think, no re-check, and now I am sitting here with several buttons missing, the prospect of having to go back all the way to Chichester to get more made.


( I have always in my life ‘suffered’ from the lack of an eye for detail and a complete lack of Belbin’s definition of a completer-finisher.

My chair with its marker pins – not buttons, says it all. But from a distance it looks fine.

On this occasion, my habit of living by the 80/20 rule – 80 per cent is fine, the last 20 per cent doesn’t matter – just won’t work.)

And if all else fails I can take up a new hobby.






















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