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I decided that I’d like to learn some basic upholstery skills – primarily because our dining chairs were shabby and in urgent need of recovering and i really didn’t fancy paying the going rate of c£200 per chair plus fabric to get them recovered professionally.

After a Google search it seemed that most of the courses available in London were either one day or an evening a week over a standard academic term. I needed something a little more intensive.


Barnett Upholstery in Battersea, South London seemed to offer what I wanted – a weeks intensive course where you could work on your own piece at the speed you wanted.

I sent them a picture of the chairs I wanted to work on > and they reckoned I could learn the basics of recovering this particular style of chair and probably complete one chair in the week.

Bottom line – I had a fantastic week, learnt lots, covered the chair and made a pretty good start on a second chair. My week’s tuition cost £350 plus tools and materials… pretty good for five days of expert tuition and a ‘professionally’ recovered chair – the grey carver at the top of this blog.

I’d paid for my week in advance, as the had an intensive slot the following week, and only as an after-thought did I look for any on-line student reviews of the course. While I know to take any consumer reviews – Trip Advisor, Open-Table, Amazon etc – with an open mind it was interesting that the single review I found was pretty negative. It cited poor tuition, poor facilities, tired tools and unfair pricing. If I hadn’t have committed I’d have probably looked elsewhere, which would have been a big mistake. As I said to Bob, who runs the course, and his assistant Sara they really need to mobilise the opinions of all their many satisfied students, but more of that later.

So here is my experience of my one week intensive course…

The course runs from 9am through to 3pm, with a break for lunch. Most of the pupils come for one or two days a week and are taking various Association of Master Upholsterers (AMUSF) certificated courses. So I had the opportunity of meeting a wide variety of students working on a wide range of upholstery projects – most being traditional upholstery rather than just recovering as I was doing.

There were about 6 to 8 students each day – all ages and sexes and with various motivations… from setting up an upholstery business, adding to a work skill set, pure hobbyists and people who just enjoyed the craft skill.

First of all Bob is an excellent and experienced teacher – he teaches by example and mostly one on one, which means you learn at your own speed. There are times when Bob gathers students together to look at a common problem or challenge but this feels like personal tuition rather than being in a class. He can be a little stern – but usually only when he wants you to really understand a point and realise that something is a skill you need to understand in order to save yourself time; the hassle of doing something again; avoid wasting expensive fabric and therefore money or when you can cause yourself physical harm. With a small group of students Bob always has time to guide, demonstrate or just encourage – praise isn’t handed out lightly but when it comes it’s like being praised by that most demanding of school teachers! Sara is always there to provide extra guidance or confirm that what you are doing is right.

Class atmosphere is friendly and mutually supportive – there is a really nice, industrious buzz for the whole day. Time flies… only interrupted by Sara offering tea and biscuits or forcing people to take a lunch break to get some fresh air and relax! In common with many students I’d finish the day absolutely exhausted – concentrating, learning new skills, doing physically demanding stuff and most of all concentrating really hard.

The tools I was loaned for the week were all in good condition – and they are all professional tools. If you plan continuing projects at home or taking more courses it’s worthwhile buying your own tools – they can supply them… as they do fabric, and other sundries like flame retardant and cotton felt, that you’ll need. I checked their prices on various internet sites and some are 5% more but others were less and with sundries like interlining you can buy small quantities as you go along. Equally there is the convenience of getting them there and getting their advice on what you need.

Without exception all the students I spoke to loved the experience, recognised Bob as an excellent teacher – one pupil has been coming back for 10 years – and love what they are doing. Sadly Bob never seems to encourage students to write testimonials – which is crazy, and partly why I’m blogging. Having said this all the course days seem to be pretty busy but they could expand. At no point in my week did I feel under taught or have to wait more than a minute for Bob to come to my rescue.

conranI’ve had a great time, and have just completed three more chairs at home, so I may have all the chairs covered for our New Year’s dinner.

I fully intend returning in the New Year to take their traditional upholstery course… bring on the horse hair and hessian!