I love mid-century furniture and in particular Ercol chairs. A few years ago I found my first one in a Dorothy House Hospice charity shop and then shortly after I won a pair on eBay. I picked these up for around £100 per chair and didn’t really give much thought initially to how I would reupholster them. They all came home and their tired and dated fabric cushions were simply covered with blankets and quilts.
Over the past few years I have periodically thought about them and wondered about tackling the reupholstering myself – and at one point I even got a quote to have them done professionally (far too expensive for our budget). But every time I thought about it I was worried that doing them myself would result in a finish that I was unhappy with.
Back before Christmas this train of thought came up again and I decided 2020 would be the year to just get on with it. But, feeling committed to wanting a finish that I would love and be proud of, I decided it was a project I wasn’t happy to tackle solo and on my home machine. I then remembered I had started following South West Upholstery School on Facebook some time ago and realized they were located in Chilcompton, Somerset, a mere 1.4 miles from my home.
I started looking at the courses and remembered that I had some birthday money put aside from the autumn and figured this was my opportunity. Plus I do love learning new creative skills! So I fired off an email and was booked in to start a six-week course in January.
I arrived on the first night to meet our lovely tutor, Tony, and a wonderful group of students. Some were newbies like me and others were returning for additional courses to work on different projects. I was fascinated to see the array of projects that were on the benches, including wing backed chairs, stools, and even an old rocking chair that had once been lovingly reupholstered with carpet!
I was hoping to get both Ercol chairs that sit in my living room upholstered across the six weeks. These two chairs are actually different designs and I turned up on night one with the more complicated of the two.
I had a couple of bumps along the way (especially as I had to miss a session due to an injured back) but I have really enjoyed the experience. Tony is incredibly generous with his expertise and patience, and having access to his specialist tools and cutting table have been wonderful. I sewed the covers on two of his machines (an industrial Adler and a light-industrial Juki). I really don’t think my home sewing machine would have coped with the upholstery weight fabrics and the addition of wool piping.
When looking for fabrics for this project Tony recommended I visit Wheeler Fabrics. This is a local fabric warehouse that offers upholstery fabrics by the metre and as roll ends. They open every Saturday between 10am and 4pm. This was my first visit to Wheeler Fabrics and I was very impressed. There was a massive selection of fabric to choose from and the prices of the roll ends were amazing. I chose a denim-coloured ex-John Lewis fabric for the cushions and a beautiful grey wool for the piping.
My project to cover two chairs cost me just under £200 including the course fees and the fabrics. This is significantly cheaper than the quote I received to have them upholstered for me and I am beyond delighted with the results. I just need to make some new throw cushions to pop on them (I have my eye on some beautiful velvet at Wheeler Fabrics!).
I am hoping to return to South West Upholstery School again soon to cover my final chair and would love to think about some other projects in the future. I can’t recommend these two local businesses highly enough!