When I embarked on my upholstery journey over 10 years ago, I knew hardly anyone who was an absolute beginner like me. Since I launched my online guide to getting into upholstery Virtual Vintique: Upholstery Uncovered, with its own private online community, I’ve loved hearing all the stories of other people’s pathways into this incredible profession.
This week on the blog, I catch up with Indya Hanlon of Indya Creates. Starting out as a nurse, she describes her journey as circling back to the workshop where her father spent many years as an upholsterer. I caught up with her to find out more…
Hi Indya. Tell me a bit about you…
Hi! Thanks so much for inviting me to be on your blog, it really is an honour! I’m Indya, I’m 35 and from Northern Ireland, where I live with my two doggos, Harley and Bella.
You’ve recently got into surface design. Have you always followed a creative path in life?
So, I’ve always been a doodler and a painter, but as far as a creative career path goes, it started and ended with my art GCSE. I actually went to uni and became a nurse, and art fell away in my life until I took some watercolour classes about seven years ago and the creativity was reignited. I discovered surface design in 2017 and was absolutely hooked. The endless possibilities within this sphere got me dreaming of having a career doing this but due to my personal circumstances at the time, surface design and art were stuck in the background.
My circumstances changed in 2019 when I left my marriage. As I rediscovered my freedom, I realised that I had the power to make my own path in life, and more than ever was filled with the conviction that life is just TOO short to spend it doing things that don’t fulfil you and light you up. Fast forward to now and I’m self-employed with a fledgling creative business, after leaving my nursing job in October 2021.
How did you get into upholstery?
Upholstery is a family thing for me. My dad owned his own upholstery business before I was even a twinkle in his eye and I have fond memories of being in the workshop as a youngster. I didn’t take an interest in learning upholstery until recent years and I wish I had when I was 16. However, I also believe that life is too short for regrets and I’m just happy that my journey has circled back to the workshop now.
“My dad owned his own upholstery business before I was even a twinkle in his eye and I have fond memories of being in the workshop as a youngster.”
What appeals to you about upholstery and how does it fit the skills you’d picked up in your former career?
Looking back to my time nursing, I can definitely see different qualities it developed in me that are good for upholstery, like resilience, problem solving and being no stranger to hard work. Most notably though, is the desire to have a positive impact on people. It’s why I became a nurse and that part of me hasn’t changed, I’ve just found a different way to do it. I believe we all deserve a space that makes us happy and to be able to contribute to that in tangible ways with art and upholstery absolutely delights me.
Tell us about your dad – a fellow upholsterer…
In short, my dad is a total legend. He can turn his hand to anything from cars to computers, and he was also an on-call firefighter until his 50s. He learned upholstery as a teen before going out on his own and I feel so lucky to have him to learn from.
How did you go about learning upholstery, what is your plan for training?
As of yet, I haven’t done any courses or classes and at this point, learning in the workshop with my own projects is working for me but that is likely to change as time goes on.
Having decided to buy the Virtual Vintique guide, how did it meet your expectations and what was your biggest takeaway from it?
I bought the guide because I was considering whether upholstery was something I could take on as more than a hobby, I wanted to know exactly what would be involved in getting formal training and working as an upholsterer. It did not disappoint!
Virtual Vintique is an absolute wealth of information, presented in a really approachable way. My biggest takeaway from it is that I can really see how upholstery lines up with my creativity and love for pattern and colour; and my values of reusing and rescuing items, making them beautiful and ready to be enjoyed for many more years to come.
I also love the Facebook community and your house tour.
What sort of upholstery projects have you attempted so far and what have you learned?
The main things I’ve done so far by myself have been drop in seats and stools, and then helping my dad with larger projects like sofas and armchairs. One of my happiest moments so far was being asked to design and make a set of scatter cushions (on my second day of self-employment) and then having the customer message me and tell me she absolutely loves them and smiles every time she looks at them. That’s exactly the result I want to achieve with my work and I’ll be chasing that high with every project!
As for challenges/learning, everyday in the workshop is full of these because every piece of furniture has its own story and will present you with its own set of challenges when it gets to the workbench. I had a real big learning curve recently when I stripped down a wingback armchair. It was the first one I’d stripped by myself, and boy, it was hard work but it was the best way to get a real understanding of how it’s all put together!
Oh, I absolutely loved that! I got that wee stool from the charity shop for five shiny pounds and it was definitely a bit ratty but it was solid and just needed some TLC. The seat pad had nothing salvageable except the wood itself, so I put some new foam on and then covered it with velvet that I had printed with my own design. When I put it all back together, I had the perfect little accent stool for my living room.
Here’s a closer look at Indya’s piano stool project:
What are your hopes for the future?
My long-term plan is to have my art licensed within various industries but an absolute dream would be to have it available on upholstery fabric. In the short term, this means continuing to make lots of art – I’m currently working on a pattern collection inspired by my motorcycle trip along Route 66 in 2019, and another upholstery/soft furnishing specific pattern collection. I am excited to see how this grows alongside the upholstery, as I am in quite a unique position to be able to design fabric as well as use it for my own projects… I’m pretty much living the dream!
Finally Indya, do you have any top tips for anyone else thinking of upholstery as either a hobby or a career…
- Find a recreational course at a college near you to try it out first. You’ll have access to all the right tools and can eliminate a lot of the trial and error you might face with a DIY project at home. Warning, you will get hooked!
- Start small – like the advice Sharon gives, choose a project like a dining chair with a drop in seat pad, a piano stool, an ottoman – especially if you’re doing a course with limited time and sessions, a smaller item will mean you can start with the fundamentals and have it completed within the time frame.
- Ask friends and family if they have any pieces they would like done – charity shops are wonderful but I have had to stop myself looking for the time being because I’ll end up with lots of lovely furniture and nowhere for it to go! At least if you do items for other people, they will have homes to go to.
- Which leads me to, don’t work for free. If you’re going to take this on as a career, make sure you understand the value of what you’re doing! Even at the beginning, if you’ve volunteered to do pieces for friends and family, at least ask them to cover the cost of materials. Obviously, as your skills increase and your work improves, you will be able to charge more but remember that your time has value even as a novice. Upholstery is highly skilled and downright hard work!
Thank you so much Indya. Looking forward to seeing where your upholstery journey takes you.
If you’d like to follow Indya’s upholstery journey find her on Instagram via @indyacreates or on her website indyacreates.com. You can also still sign up to Virtual Vintique: Upholstery Uncovered and take the first step towards seeing if learning upholstery could be for you.