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Old 01-03-2010, 06:31 PM
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Where to learn how to do upholstery?

Many years ago I recovered a headliner and a set of door panels on an old s10 I had. And I really enjoyed it and feel I would be good at upholstery work.
When I decided to go to a trade school I wanted to go for autobody and upholstery. But I could not find anywhere local that had upholstery classes and I ended up taking auto mechanics. Since then Ive played with many cars doing many random upholstery repairs and custom work. Mostly learning as I go, Or finding a tech article online.

So where do you guys learn to do upholstery work? Is it a passed down family trade? did you go to a school? or intern for an upholstery shop?

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Last edited by smithkustoms; 01-03-2010 at 06:32 PM. Reason: I spell like a 7yr old
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Old 01-03-2010, 07:06 PM
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upholstery work.

When I was in school the class was never taught. the classroon with about 6 machines sat empty. I worked at a dealership that had paint and upholstery in the back building. then I worked at the assembly plant and they had a guy that replaced and did upholstery repairs to cars before they were shipped to the dealers. I watched enough to decide I could try a few of my own projects. 50 years ago there used to be a few littlebooks on upholstery. DanTwoLakes has posted a lot of good information here. I'am waiting for him to publish it so I can buy the book and have it all in one place.
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Old 01-03-2010, 07:56 PM
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I've been at it for about 40 years. I'm self trained. I wanted to have hotrods and customs but there was no way I could afford to hire it done so I just figured it out. First I bought a used machine. Went to supply houses that sell cheap material and learned to sew. Also went to different shops and bought their leftovers. They would also sell me supplies. I practiced on furniture. I would take an old chair and recover it and take it to a local auction house and sell it. I never really planned to start a business, just wanted to do my own stuff. Pretty soon you do a job here and there and have been busy ever since. Just stayed with furniture for a long time. At one time it was better money than cars. That market dried up as prices rose and furniture got cheaper and not worth covering. Now you can go buy a couch cheaper then I can get the material for. I use to do a lot of repair for car dealers but they don't repair much anymore. Just take them to the auction. My real bread and butter for a long time was the trucking shops but most around here have closed up or went bankrupt. Now all I do is high end rods and customs. They still seem to be spending money.
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Old 01-03-2010, 10:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gringo
I've been at it for about 40 years. I'm self trained. I wanted to have hotrods and customs but there was no way I could afford to hire it done so I just figured it out. First I bought a used machine. Went to supply houses that sell cheap material and learned to sew. Also went to different shops and bought their leftovers. They would also sell me supplies. I practiced on furniture. I would take an old chair and recover it and take it to a local auction house and sell it. I never really planned to start a business, just wanted to do my own stuff. Pretty soon you do a job here and there and have been busy ever since. Just stayed with furniture for a long time. At one time it was better money than cars. That market dried up as prices rose and furniture got cheaper and not worth covering. Now you can go buy a couch cheaper then I can get the material for. I use to do a lot of repair for car dealers but they don't repair much anymore. Just take them to the auction. My real bread and butter for a long time was the trucking shops but most around here have closed up or went bankrupt. Now all I do is high end rods and customs. They still seem to be spending money.

Ive been told by many that it is a dieing art form. It's cheaper, quicker and easer to go to a junk yard. Like you, I want to learn for myself. I don't have the money to sub contract. plus I like to take a step back and say "I did that"

My guess. The money would be in marine upholstery.
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Old 01-04-2010, 02:58 PM
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The money is in any type of upholstery. If you're good at it, people will beat a path to your door. I live in a small town of 600 people, so I have to take in whatever comes my way. I do furniture, boats, cars, trucks, snowmobiles, motorcycles, personal watercraft, ATVs, airplanes, cornice board window treatments, you name it. I make straps, put in snaps and grommets, repair or replace zippers, carpet fishing boats and pontoon boats. I repair a lot of ripped boat covers and boat covers with rodent holes. (You'd be surprised what you can charge to repair a hole in a $700 boat cover and still have the owner smiling as he walks out the door.) I do a lot of re-filling of old cushions that have gone out of shape. BTW, I've never advertised and I always have a 6 month backlog of work.

I was lucky, and learned in a furniture factory where I could sew with their equipment and fabric all I wanted. I learned from some of the best sewers, upholsterers, and pattern makers in the business. All upholstery uses basically the same sewing and construction methods, the trick is knowing which method to use, and what raw materials to use to make it as easy on yourself as possible. The other trick is knowing what to do to correct a mistake when you make one.

BTW, good luck trying to intern at an upholstery shop. Why would I want to train you to be my competition? The only way that would happen is if the guy was retiring and was selling you his shop and equipment.

It's really tough to learn from a book. I have read upholstery books that confused the hell out of me, and I've been doing this 37 years. It would be much easier to learn from a video. I want to make some videos that are available for download (for a price) on the internet. I think later this year I will be able to start doing stuff like that.
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Old 01-05-2010, 12:03 AM
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Ditto to everything Dan said. I have tried to train a few people over the years but most thought it was too tedious and time consuming.
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Old 01-05-2010, 05:57 AM
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I learned the family tradition from my mother. She worked for a company that made seat covers for GM, mostly Cadillac. Later she worked at another place that did the interiors for Kenworth and Peterbuilt.

I did my first seat while in high school. It was my dad's 1967 Ford truck. Later(after I got out of the service) I worked at a hot rod shop in Maryland. It was there that I learned a lot of the trade from my employer and a handful of Mexican's who could make anything.
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Old 01-05-2010, 06:22 AM
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Hey All,
I was lucky enough to learn sewing from the Federal Goverment!! I was an Aircrew Survival Equipmentman, fancy name for a ParachuteRigger. I was taught to tune up a walking dog sewing machine and to sew so that I could make repairs to chutes and anything else the pilots used as equipment. They taught me how to make parachute bags, suit bags, and then I got into doing motocycle seats and boat covers. Never did any interior work but I believe with my knowledge and a walking dog machine and time I could revive the skills that I once knew. Start out on your Mom's machine with simple cloth and pattern of something like a apron. Get use to how it all works and then move up to bigger projects as your talent progresses. If a boy from th Bayou can be taught anyone can--have faith in yourself and all get busy-- John(Maynor)
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Old 01-05-2010, 10:35 AM
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Here's the way i learned. To do just basic automotive upholstery. First buy a good machine. Unless you want to be a sewing machine repair tech. Because then you'll have to learn two trades at once. I made the mistake of getting an old machine at first and it just didn't work out well. I spent about 3k total on tools. I used everyone at least once. Next i started to practice on any and everything i could find. Asking Dan many questions as i was working. Before i started i read everything that Dan has posted for about the last year. So many hours of reading. Found a few video's on youtube that helped. But i learned the most from Dan and hands on. I'm not a craftsmen like Dan, but i can do basic automotive interiors with out a problem. You'll need to be a very patient person, have some common sense and buy some extra material. If you give it 100% of your effort, attention and don't piss Dan off . Then you'll succeed. Dan Thanks for all you have done. For everyone on this site and especially me...

Just like to add. When you get done with your first job. Its very rewarding to step back and look at what you have accomplished. Really makes it all worth it.
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Old 01-06-2010, 06:10 PM
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I can see upholstery becoming a lost art. With all of the cheap labor available today to produce new products - it looks like its going to become a lost craft.
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Old 01-06-2010, 07:45 PM
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It will never become a lost art because there are no machines that will ever be able to do it. There will never be any machines that can do repairs. There will be, at some point, less capable people doing it, and therefore, at some point, repairs and specialty work done by someone who really knows what they are doing would be able to name their own price. There will never be anyone at a large company to do the small things that most people want done. I would rather do 10 $25 repairs a day than larger jobs. If I make $250 a day doing small repairs, I will gross $137,500 a year.
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Old 01-07-2010, 12:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanTwoLakes
It will never become a lost art because there are no machines that will ever be able to do it. There will never be any machines that can do repairs. There will be, at some point, less capable people doing it, and therefore, at some point, repairs and specialty work done by someone who really knows what they are doing would be able to name their own price. There will never be anyone at a large company to do the small things that most people want done. I would rather do 10 $25 repairs a day than larger jobs. If I make $250 a day doing small repairs, I will gross $137,500 a year.
Sounds very similiar to my business.
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Old 01-11-2010, 12:15 PM
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I to am becoming self taught. A few years back I bought an old kenmore 120 machine. I spent alot of time on the road and was stuck in a hotel frequently. I bought a book and some material and worked though chapter by chapter. I found this website and read everything I could. Dan and the guys on this sight have been a huge help. I found a consew 226 on craigslist for 200 bucks and had it tuned up. i have done a couple of cars worth of seat covers, a headliner and some carpet. I have been doing the work for family and freinds at no charge except materials just to get experience. They have turned out pretty well. I think that a good grasp of measuring and working from centers is a big advantage. EXTREME patience also necesary. A small household machine is good for getting the basic stitches down and seeing if you like it before spending bunches of money
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Old 01-12-2010, 08:12 AM
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household machine

I did my first upholstery work on a Davis foot treddle machine my mother bought in the 20's She used it to make quilts. It had a walking needle. She bought another one and gave it to me. I knew a machine salesman who was trying to make a sale and the lady asked if it would sew vinyl. When vinyl is face down it usually won't feed very well. He laid a thin sheet of tissue gift wrap paper down and said he didn't want to scratch the surface of the new machine . the tissue allowed the material to easily slide and feed. after the lady bought the machine he told her it would work a lot better to use the tissue when doing vinyl and it would be easy to remove from the finished job.
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Old 01-12-2010, 08:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DanTwoLakes
If I make $250 a day doing small repairs, I will gross $137,500 a year.
Umm, ... I think your math is off just a little...

If you work 365 days a year, with no off days, and earn $250 per day it adds up to $91,250. Still nothing to sneeze at by the way...

I think upholstery work would be a whole lot more enjoyable than an hourly job once you developed the skills to do good work. I used to help my wife at her clothing alterations shop by doing the embroidery machine work and really enjoyed it over my regular job.
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