Upholsterer Helen Bell on her working life…
‘Jobbing’ upholsterer - a trade or craftsperson who will have a broad capability of producing work to a good standard.
Helen Bell was apprenticed to Richard Cooper of Farringdon at the age of 16. Now she is an experienced jobbing upholsterer working in the picturesque village of St Dogmael’s near Cardigan. Helen told me about her working life when I collected two beautifully piped box cushions for our new camper-van.
‘I see this work as an honour. To be trusted with the renovation and finish of some highly personal and valuable pieces. It’s not just the high-value jobs, some of the pieces I work on have been in families for generations, a treasured heirloom from a Grandparent for example…
‘I have lovely customers. I restore their treasured furniture to life, but they give me something too.
‘Since my apprenticeship with a master craftsman, experience has been my teacher. I remember my first painstaking attempt to recover a 1960s egg chair.
‘Boat seating, camper van seats and beds, chairs, dining sets, it’s all been through here.
‘I have been fortunate to have some quite large contracts, recently these have included St. Dogmaels and Cardigan Churches and Theatre Gwaun. These are hard work, but my clients are always pleased that I have done every stitch and with the very personal service.
‘I am most proud of the fact that I have never had an unhappy customer.
‘My two sons grew up in spite of me! I was always busy sticking cloth on chairs as fast as I could. Both my sons helped me immensely as young lads, I really miss them when delivering large pieces. Neither showed a wish to upholster - they grew up seeing how many hours per week it takes to make a living.’
‘I’ve always been self-employed, but it was not until 1987 that I got a proper workshop, which made life a lot easier. Before that I worked from the kitchen table or a spare bedroom.
‘The first piece I ever upholstered was for our family. It was a Regency tub chair which is now displayed in the recently renovated Cardigan Castle (photo left).
‘I’ve worked in some fabulous venues but am discreet about who my customers are.’
Helen’s advice to anyone thinking of becoming an upholsterer?
- Be prepared for hard work, it can be physically demanding
- Have Patience
- Arithmetic (You need to measure and cut carefully and work out amounts and costs of material.)
- Learn to use a sewing machine
- Go to college to get a good basic training.
If you have a commission you would like to discuss with Helen, please call her on 01239 614 370 to discuss.
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