This chair had bugged me for years. Threadbare, the stuffing hanging out, it looked pathetic. But it had a lovely shape and was so comfortable. All it needed was a spot of loving care.
‘I’ll re-cover it,’ I said.
20+ years passed. The chair lived in the spare room, and then as the children grew it took refuge in a teenager’s bedroom, buried under a sea of discarded clothing.
Even when the child was long gone, the chair stayed in her room, dusty and unloved, a reproachful un-begun project.
Impulsively one day I dragged it downstairs, tucked a blanket over to hide its shameful state, and placed it by a window in a perfect spot for a morning coffee. And there it stood, for another 18 months.
Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to start the rescue job. I was game to tackle it, but doing it alone? In the quiet house? Not fun.
YouTube? Or a teacher?
And that’s how my chair and I came to spend a morning down among the cornfields, in a warehouse near Bungay in deepest Suffolk, where upholstery happens under the expert guidance of Libby and Tam, two young professionals who met at upholstery school and set up business together as Perkins & Gibbs.
I’m set to work by Libby. ‘Get that old cover off, and let’s see what we’ve got.’
To my surprise, I love the hammering. It’s great to use my body, feel the strength of my hands, and give full concentration to prising those stubborn gimp pins OUT.
Assured and confident, Libby has a passion for bringing dishevelled chairs and sofas out of ruination and back to a state of beauty. She peers at my chair frame, runs an expert thumb over it – I’ve missed a tack.
‘Get him out. Put the tack lifter just there, get it well under…push, push, push…use the mallet…if it doesn’t just lift out, tap down… There!’
It is so much more enjoyable to be guided, taught and inspired by a real live teacher, than to follow a video on YouTube. To share the pleasure of a tack well-lifted, and the careful process of restoration. And it’s stimulating to work with people who love their craft.
Making a thing of beauty
With a firm hand Libby smooths the calico firmly over the underlying wadding, caressing it into shape over the edge of the seat. ‘We’re going to add a lovely billowy layer of polyester wadding, like collagen under the skin [she was a beautician in a former life]. It’ll give the corners a beautiful rounded shape.’
Collagen may be seriously lacking under my corners these days, but at least I can make my chair invitingly plumptious.
There are 3 students in today, and with all of us working away there’s a good feeling of warmth and friendliness, coupled with a strong sense of purpose and creativity. I feel relaxed, at home. Nearby a puppy snoozes in a basket as its owner stretches an embroidered cloth on to the seat of the delicate bedroom chair she’s restoring. Each step is discussed and considered, and we offer opinions on each others’ work as we progress through the morning.
I’m brought tea, offered biscuits. There’s a bit of chat, but never at the expense of the tasks in hand. Outside, seen across of the stable door, a peaceful cornfield stretches away in the sunshine.
Fabrics, with their glorious colours and textures, are exclaimed over and fondled like newborn babies . My chair will be resplendent in a bold choice of rich purple velvet trimmed with a soft orange braid. Both these colours echo shades in curtains and pictures in the room where the chair will live, which I’ve decorated freshly for this stage of my life.
‘I love the care you’ve taken to think this colour scheme through,’ says Libby and I feel as proud as if teacher had given me a gold star.
It’s about being inspired
I could have done this alone with YouTube and even made a passable job. Working here, I’m inspired and encouraged. It has cost me some money, but it’s saved me having to buy materials and tools, so the outlay is offset.
The real gain though, is in my mood of excitement and satisfaction as I drive away from the warehouse in the cornfield, until my next session when we are going to ‘tackle the back’!
And that is what exploring new interests is about now that I’m beyond 60 and am not in a rush.
It’s not just in the doing. It’s in the sharing.