Furniture restoration: Make do and mend

Don't throw out that tatty chair or sofa - combine an upholstery course with a holiday
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's another New Year - so what better time to set your mind to acquiring some of the practical skills needed to restore your own furniture?

There are countless coursescovering all areas of furniture restoration and restoration of decorative items for the home (including pictures, china and frames), some aimed at the professional restorer but many purely for pleasure - enabling the layman to upholster those extra dining chairs or French polish that badly scratched Victorian chest of drawers.

There are many forms in which these courses are offered, from either daytime or evening classes, part-time on a weekly basis at a local college or education centre, to full-time classes at a residential learning centre, with lots of variations in between.

A good starting point is the website. It is easy to navigate and its courses are broken down into geographical areas so that you can choose the course that's closest to home. Another useful website is, which has been developed to provide high quality post-16 learning. A random browse on upholstery offers 795 courses in 239 locations.

For example, Devon Adult and Community Learning in Exeter has a five-week part-time course in traditional upholstery. Further north, there are a selection of three part-time upholstery courses, one in the day, two in the evening, at Bolton Community College, all running for 14 weeks.

It's worth noting that the year-long courses will have started last September, so there may be less choice of January starters in the council-run colleges. Also, it might be helpful to check on the level of skill and experience required for your chosen course, and the purpose of any qualification attached to it.

This is because it is increasingly common for craft courses in local authority education centres to come with a qualification, which enables them to obtain the necessary government funding. This means that your work will be appraised in one form or another, either by exam or continuous assessment.

Another website, arca., suggests a different approach to adult learning. It is the website of the Adult Residential Colleges Association, offering short-stay residential courses in small colleges throughout England and Wales.

Many of the colleges are run by local authorities, while others are operated by charitable trusts or similar organisations. All are committed to learning throughout life for personal satisfaction and each college publishes its own programme of weekend, midweek and day courses, summer schools and some courses leading to a recognised qualification.

Many of the colleges are historic houses set in beautiful countryside, so you could easily combine learning your chosen skill with a holiday. It's obviously a popular approach because more than 150,000 people each year follow a course of study in one of their residential colleges - taking advantage of the fact that there are opportunities for concentrated study, meeting other people in beautiful surroundings - as well as freedom from external distractions such as cooking meals for the family.

The 28 colleges range from the restored 19th-century Gothic mansion Higham Hall in Cumbria, which has an upholstery course from 19-24 February, to West Dean College in West Sussex, an Edwardian country house that was once owned by Edward James, the patron of the Surrealist movement.

There's a rich variety of courses run by tutors well known in their fields of expertise. Choose from a traditional upholstery for beginners course from 31 January-3 February; further techniques in traditional upholstery from 3-5 February; and chair seating with cane, rush, willow and cord from 3-6 February or 28-30 April.

Or, you could opt for the more personal approach of the small private course providers whose details can be found on the internet or among the adverts in home-interest or crafts magazines. Again, these courses are often residential and in beautiful countryside, thus offering the holiday option, but they will also quote prices for just the course if the idea of learning and living on site does not appeal.

Classes are frequently small, being run from the home or workshop of the tutor, offering intensive learning whereby a half term of one night a week classes can be compressed into a two to three-day course. A relative newcomer to this group is Assington Mill art and craft courses, which are run from a picturesque watermill in Suffolk. There's a two-day course in traditional upholstery from 16-17 March and chair seating in cane and rush for three days from 19-21 April.

In South Wales, The Traditional Upholstery Workshop has been running courses for about 15 years. Many of the students go on to run their own businesses and others return year after year to attend the refresher courses. The courses run for one week from Monday to Friday, and it is suggested that a beginner should be able to complete a drop-in seat, a pin stuffed seat and a sprung dining chair in that time.

The above mentioned courses are a tiny selection of what is on offer so once the choices of time and place of study have been made, and checks made on how many pieces can be completed during your chosen course - no one can reupholster a sofa in a weekend - it is also advisable to check on course contents, class size and equipment requirements.

Assington Mill Art and Craft Courses:, 01787229955

The Traditional Upholstery Workshop: 01239 711265