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 people just starting out.
This week on the blog, I catch up with Sue Garth from Suzie’s Attic. Starting out as a keen furniture painter, she moved onto soft furnishings and, as well as selling her lovely pieces, she has recently embarked on an upholstery course…
Hi Sue. Tell me a bit about you…
I was a working mum and brought up my son alongside having a very busy London career. After many years, I decided that it was time for a change and moved to the south coast about eight years ago. I love living by the sea, and being close to the South Downs is an added bonus. I do quite a lot of walking and am also a member of a local tennis club, which keeps me very active.
You were formerly a Creative Retoucher. Have you always followed a creative path in life?
I come from a fairly creative family and have always been interested in creative subjects rather than academic ones. I studied Art & Photography at A-level, which eventually, along with encouragement from my dad, led me into a job as a transparency retoucher. Initially, I worked conventionally with bleaches and dyes on transparency film, and later, of course, I retrained on computer. Although I still enjoyed my work, I found sitting in front of a screen such a different experience and I really missed the hands-on approach of working in a busy studio.
You describe yourself as an upcycler, furniture painter and lampshade maker. How did you learn these skills? Did it evolve from a hobby?
After leaving London I wanted to get back to doing something more creative. I started to paint furniture and make lampshades for a friend’s business. I went on a day course to learn about furniture painting and taught myself how to make drum lampshades. I am a very practical person and have always been able to make and mend things, so these skills came relatively easy to me. I also worked as a volunteer for a charity, painting furniture to sell in their charity shops. Later on, I shared a stall in a flea market selling my upcycled pieces, amongst other items I found scouring charity shops and boot fairs. This was all so different to my previous work life and I really enjoyed it.
And now upholstery. What appeals to you and how does it fit the skills you’d picked up in former career?
I have always been interested in upholstery. I did a course many years ago to restore an Arts and Crafts chair which, amazingly, I found by some rubbish bins. Over the last few years, I have looked into doing another course on many occasions, then during lockdown last year I came across Virtual Vintique. This gave me the kick start I was looking for. You were extremely helpful and encouraging and your guide was full of information and advice.
How are you going about learning upholstery?
I am currently training at the Oxford School of Upholstery. They do flexible courses, which I found suited me better than doing one day a week. I do four days every four weeks, which works well for me. I have recently finished AMUSF Level One and have just started Level Two. There is so much to learn about upholstery; it is incredible the amount of work that is involved in a piece of furniture that we take so much for granted.
“I get totally immersed on each of my visits and can’t wait to get back when I leave“
It has been and is a very steep learning curve, not just on the practical side; there is also a written portfolio of work and a project to produce for each level. It is a great combination of a complex practical skill with a creative side. I get totally immersed in each of my visits and can’t wait to get back when I leave.
Tell us about Suzie’s Attic and how that came about…
Suzie’s Attic came about while I was selling a few things online in preparation for moving. When I started painting furniture, I continued to use the name and it has stuck. I developed the furniture painting further, incorporating items that didn’t just need painting but also a bit of upholstery or perhaps the addition of wallpaper. Alongside the lampshades, I also made cushion covers. It has been a self-funding hobby, and any profit I make now goes towards financing my upholstery course. I would like to work towards having a small studio or workspace, maybe working alongside other creatives.
What sort of upholstery projects have you attempted so far and what have you learned?
My upholstery projects so far include footstools, sewing boxes, drop-in seat pads both traditional and modern, stitched and stuffed chair, sprung chair and an ottoman with a buttoned lid. As part of my course, I have just made a start on a Parker Knoll wingback, which I am really excited about.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I am always looking at Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook groups, and I love watching programmes like the Repair Shop, Money For Nothing and Salvage Hunters: The Restorers. But really it’s quite difficult to pin down sources of inspiration except for specific things I’m working on. As an upcycler, quite often it’s down to finding or being given a piece of furniture, and the ideas start to flow from there. For the ottoman, which I picked up on Facebook Marketplace for £8 and re-upholstered for my course, I took my inspiration from where I live, beside the sea. I came across a fabric with a gorgeous seashell design and a teal tweed which I love because it really reflects the colour of a seascape.
What are your top tips for anyone else thinking of upholstery as either a hobby or a career?
If you are interested in upholstery as a hobby or career my advice would be to find a leisure course and give it a go. Also, have a look at your Virtual Vintique guide; it’s full of information and inspiration. It’s never too late to start learning something new. Believe me, I know!
Thank you so much Sue. Looking forward to seeing where your upholstery journey takes you.
If you’d like to follow Sue’s upholstery journey and some of her other work, you can find her via @suziesatticbrighton on Instagram or you can visit her Facebook. 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.