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Traditional Upholstery Skill - shrinking!

Started by baileyuph, August 21, 2019, 05:35:40 am

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More often now I hear this from the market.  Just recently, a customer from more than 60 miles away,
made this comment. 

My comment is; yes, the market at our level (reupholstery) is changing and it is going
to be tough to attract new talents. 

This is not an easy business!

One can expect changes and more are on the way - it appears.



The folks I worked for in Gainesville have been looking for an upholsterer since I left 5 years ago. They have gone through a string of guys who work a few months and one day do not show up. A few months ago the owners son showed up at my shop and asked if I wanted to come back and work for them.

Not only is the work pool shrinking but those of us still in the business are getting close to retirement age. The work is hard and also an apprentice interring the trade will barley make enough money to survive. How many years experience before an upholsterer can demand better wages? 5 years? 10 years? Not many people are willing to put in that much time to learn a new skill. Not many shop owners are willing to spend the time and money and take the risk training someone who likely will leave before that money can be recouped. Also if I were to take someone under my wing I likely will retire before they are fully trained. One other thing to consider, It seems like the younger generation are not taught the basic mechanical skills or problem solving skills needed for this type job.   

A few things we have noticed with the shrinking of the work pool and especially retiring old timers who did high quality work. More business is coming our way. This means I can pick and choose the jobs I want. Rose has a list of jobs we no longer do and the closer we get to retirement the longer the list gets.
There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.


Gene shared this guys videos before - here's a new one within the last 4 months. In my repair work  I'm reusing nails more than trying to find exact replacements because they come 1000 per box


Most things are about money and in the case of this discussion - definitely!

Upholstery items built new today and for a while ago, are not built with techniques that are closely related to those the small shops use today (say 20 for more years ago).  More specific, most of our skills today (custom level) have not changed over time while factory production has changed and the change is even
accelerated in the more recent and present time.

This disparity described will grow in magnified even more as time passes. 

What to do if one is seeking answers to the "disparity" issue is do more repairs than upholstery or try to identify the items that will pay more for out time (usually this might be centered on repairs or even different products! 

We have one member who has identified this problem traditional upholsters are encountering and
is doing the type of work that the market needs  -- If I may say:  This gentleman is MOJO!

This smaller operator (who has grown from the start and continues to grow), has impressively
positioned his business in the contemporary world.

I have moved mine, on a lot of the newer products, from complete redo to repairs, if you will.

Technology has changed so much over the last several years and is accelerating faster as the
days go by.

There is some business opportunity today still in the traditional work but it is fewer and will almost
disappear someday.  The younger market doesn't carry the same interest for the traditional products
as the past and that market will shrink, obviously.

I find the newer and current technology in building products we traditionally work on (I.E. furniture and
older transportation items - cars for example to be interesting in concept - Not putting it down.

A lot said here, but there is one work that sums it up "marketing of products, which are many, has changed and the change will only accelerate!

Run a parallel on what a blacksmith shop did years ago and analyze the status of that activity today.

It is big time or hardly any time today.

I will hand this discussion off to Mojo, his past message(s) is resounding!



Buck is one of those traditional restorers - judging his videos the work is quality and done as close to the original as was done 100 years ago.  But to think he only does antiques is wrong.  It seems he prefers antiques but he can earn doing contemporary work as good as the next guy.  He is not going away.   I believe money is necessary of course but a lot of guys aren't thinking cash when using their skills.  Many years were spent learning and money wasn't the first thought than and it may not be now. How about building a business for the future - for your kids ?  The level you're at giving you the ability to control and run a business - there is a lot of good karma in that.   Starting out if I was able to complete a job without issues money was second. 


We just finished two barrel swivel rockers that are less than 5 years old. Amazingly built solid. And designed with the upholsterer in mind. Its a virgin meaning never recovered before and easy to upholster. These jobs don't come along often but I much prefer this type job over an antique any day.

I'm now working on a low slung 50's style club chair that was screwed up by the last upholstered and needs much work. We're charging her but its never enough. An early 20th century Chippendale camelback sofa was brought in today. A total screw up job by the last upholsterer and the more the customer told us the more we charged. Will we recoup our wages? Time will tell.

One thing for sure, I can cry and moan about how hard our work is but without the vintage and antiques we would be out of business.
There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.


Just a few comments regarding the existing input.  First:  I knew Buck from a good time ago.  He never
was full time at doing this work.  He loved the Vintage work and it did separate him from most uph guys.  He has demonstrated his talents in this segment of the work.  He conducted classes in traditional work at his residence and I wanted to make the trip just once but workload would not fit into the equation.

He stood out for sure, but back then anyway, I don't recall his interest in the traditional work that transpired in and around the 60's and later. He had tremendous patience and a drive in the much older
work that required traditional skills.  The definition of traditional skills does vary among good experienced upholsters.  It is the work performed on furniture built after 1900 +_  (skills that apply), then some, it is work they see several years after turn of the century (even 50 years later).
Technology has/is moving so fast, some technology used just 50 years ago is related to as traditional.
Those skills are also shrinking.

I have done real old techniques, some about half that old and can't leave out the tech used today.  Categorizing the technique used has as much to identify what traditional means - Or it is better defined
by the total technique used and materials used.  Mediums of hair and down used on a piece better classifies how traditional one is when working on older items.  Much of the real old furniture is not actually done with the same techniques/fillers as the originals.  Big difference in definition of what
is traditional. There was no foam (synthetic fillers) - everything used was a natural grown product.

That is definitely the older vintage traditional work,  Buck in my observation was really motivated in this
circle.  Another point, there some of those type of resources one can't get and it gets harder as time

Buck, did not enjoy vintage car (or any car) work, when I communicated in that direction,

I, and truthfully, want to gain all I can from all technologies used to build/manufacture anything.

There are other participants here who do and have done noteworthy items of different technologies.

Look/read what MOJO  has cut out!  Very impressive.  I enjoy his respect for technology - and he demonstrates in all he does (successfully also).

All technology is meaningful to me.