Monday, 19 June 2017

Second Sitters exhibition at Geffrye Museum, London

I was asked to take part in an exhibition of contemporary upholstery at the Geffrye Museum in London by the ever-wonderful Second Sitters and what an altogether wonderful thing it was.

Anyone familiar with the Geffrye Museum in London's old furniture district of Shoreditch will know it's the perfect location for a show about upholstery - you walk through a long corridor of rooms displaying furniture throughout the ages until you reach the gallery space in which you'd expect to find a timeline of the history of upholstery with a great display of all the components of stuffed furniture and then a nice display of lovely contemporary upholstered chairs.

But it was nothing like that. Well the first bit was, the history of upholstery was excellently researched and the wonderful range of upholstery bits and pieces would be fascinating to anyone but as soon as you turned the corner to the 'contemporary upholstery' you were faced with the weirdest gathering of furniture made by the biggest bunch of nutters you'll ever see in your life.

This is where Second Sitters are so strong - they are utterly uncompromising. The show included: whoopee cushion chairs that make various noises when you sit down, a hanging burnt armchair, a chair upholstered with only flotsam and jetsam, a chair half upholstered in Hermes scarves, a chair about Hiroshima, a chair with horses' hooves for legs, a pair of stools somehow wired into the walls and an armchair emblazoned with the word RIOT. These are chairs that make a POINT.

Don't get me wrong, these are not unlovely chairs, they are all beautifully upholstered and perfectly appointed. But this is not a furniture showroom, it's a showroom of ideas. And these ideas are not for the faint hearted. The show wasn't called Evolution to Revolution for nothing.

For my own part, I included 15 framed photographs of my guerilla upholstery bus stop chairs and two of my 'conjoint chairs'.

The Beast with two Backs

and, wait for it...

The Beast with Three Backs

The 'point' of these chairs is not exactly obvious, I know. They're experimental and slightly daft which is exactly how I like things. Like the bus stop chairs they're saved from landfill and using waste materials, particularly the tapestry fabrics which I love and that everybody still hates (they're coming back, you mark my words) but the 'point' has something to do with joining things together and joining people together - that's as far as I'm letting on, you'll have to fill the rest in yourselves.

Apparently some choice comments were overheard from people looking at these - one lady was convinced that the Beast with Two Backs was "for a baby, it's for a baby, yes that's what it is, it's for a baby" before quickly moving on. I love that many visitors probably don't come across this type of thing in art galleries, etc and among them may have been some bemused visitors but it was quite clear that people were well able to take away the idea that as well as doing their jobs, upholsterers might have a point to make too.

My favourite comment came from upholsterer and chair caner extraordinaire, Rachael South who whilst stood looking at my chairs asked me "have you got access to my nightmares?"


Because Second Sitters are thorough in how they " promote independent UK and international upholsterers through publications, exhibitions, collaborative working and education days" there were also lots of upholstery demonstrations, workshops, discussions and other events held during the three weeks. The Geffrye Museum were also very supportive, promoting products made by exhibitors (including mine) free of charge. And a host of volunteers came forward to help with invigilation, etc, so  the whole thing was very well supported and visited (see the World Upholsterers Map at the show) by those in the upholstery business. By that I guess I mean the REupholstery business as I don't think anyone from DFS would have got out alive.

The exhibition is over now and the world has gone back to normal - most of the exhibitors are making beautiful but 'normal' chairs again. But it DID happen and who knows, it might happen again. Maybe some forward thinking art or craft gallery might come forward to take the show elsewhere or maybe there'll be another, similar thing in the future. I will certainly keep experimenting with slightly daft/slightly worrying chair experiments and the world will keep turning and the world of upholstery will move slowly but surely on. It just won't be quite the same as it used to be. 

Second Sitters we salute you.


Second Sitters are Jude Dennis and Hannah Stanton, contact via their website

Many thanks to Corrine of Frame & Cover whose photos I (and everyone else) nicked numerous times during the show  - her excellent review of the show with pics of all the chairs can be seen here
and you can check out her great upholstery fabrics here

Exhibitors were:

Jude Dennis
Hannah Stanton
Miss Pokeno
Polly Granville
Alex Law
Electra Read-Dagg
Rachael South

1990's armchair in Camira Fabrics wool

1990's armchair reupholstered in Camira Fabrics wool

Really love the colour of this, it's called 'beetroot' but it's not like any beetroot I've ever eaten. When you get close up with the camera it really changes hue.

Whatever colour it is it's going to look great in its new home - strong colour for single armchairs, that's the rule. No wimps among our customers I can tell you.

This was a commission

Long stool in William Morris print

Long piano stool reupholstered in William Morris Golden Lily print fabric

Designed by J.H. Dearle in 1899 and still in production today, the Golden Lily print is one of Morris & Co's greatest legacies. Here he is working it out with a pencil

Thanks John Henry, it looks alright on this stool doesn't it?

This was a commission

Milking stool in vintage Welshwool

Hand made oak milking stool from our 'Welsh Vernacular' range upholstered with real horse hair and handstitched to a piped edge.

Not sure which mill the wool comes from but I'd say 1960's - if anyone knows please get in touch.

For sale - £75

Parker Knoll armchair in Melin Tregwynt wool fabric

A Parker Knoll 720 armchair reupholstered in Melin Tregwynt Vintage Rose Olive 100% wool fabric

If you look through the pages of this blog you'll see lots of these chairs dotted around, I've lost count of how many we've done and I have no idea how many of them Parker Knoll have sold over the years but they're still in production (they're called Penshurst now) and for good reason -they're very comfortable and they reupholster very well. Add some Welsh wool fabric to the equation and you have a real winner.

You can buy a new one for about £1800 or you can find an old one for less than £100 and bring it to your local upholsterer. If you bring it to us we can make it look like the above - what are you waiting for?

Here's a short film about how Lynplan (now out of business) would reupholster them. We do it similar to this but with rubberised hair, hessian and all closures hand-stitched because we like to do it that way. And why not eh?

"Bring out your 720s, bring out your 720s"

This was a commission

1930's armchair in Melin Tregwynt wool

A 1930's bentwood armchair reupholstered in Melin Tregwynt Nexus Ochre 100% wool fabric.

More terrific fabric from Melin Tregwynt that seems to suit everything we put it on - I love how it hugs the shape of this chair without distorting the pattern.

Quality like.

This was a commission

Laura Ashley armchair in Sanderson fabric

A 1990's Laura Ashley armchair reupholstered in Sanderson trilby fabric

Something of a reproduction Victorian button-back chair, we decided to shallow-button it because there really wasn't enough room for the pleats and according to the customer they had gone baggy very quickly. As the seat was constructed of a moulded-foam shape with no springs in the seat we had to modify it a great deal, but it worked out fine in the end.

And orange too. I know I live in wales but I'm a lifelong fan of Luton Town Foottbal Club so anything in orange is always in favour with me. Actually, given recent political events and the attempted 'coalition of chaos' with the DUP, that statement is no longer as simple as it was. But let's try to keep politics out of upholstery eh?

This was a commission.

Wingback armchair in Melin Tregwynt wool

1900's wingback armchair reupholstered in Melin Tregwynt Vintage Rose olive 100% wool fabric.

This is the first time we've used the lighter side of this doublecloth and I have to say it's pretty terrific as I'm sure you agree. It's perfect for this type of chair giving you a traditional look that's somehow also very contemporary - how do Melin Tregwynt keep managing that?

 The chair had been picked up at auction and was in poor repair so we stripped it right back to the frame and reinforced the wobbly arms, put right the various amendments to the shape that had been made over the years and reupholstered it in the traditional way. Sometimes reupholstery is like getting a haircut - the upholsterer might say 'who upholstered this last time? it's terrible' but unlike in the hairdresser's you don't have to suffer the shame of it because it has nothing to do with you. Here's the bottom of the chair with the springs removed

...that's a huge bit of foam prolapsing through the hessian and the front edge had a piece of bent ply nailed into it to keep the foam in place. I love a good bodge, particularly some of the Heath Robinson have-a-go-at-home jobs we come across but this had been done in a proper upholstery workshop - quite how some people operate beggars belief.

Anyway, the seat has been properly made now, here's the new springs after the tying and lashing stage - we don't do fancy tying or beautiful lashing, nor do we do perfectly measured and stitched horsehair pads, but we work quickly, we use the proper equipment in the right way and we make something that we hope will last for years to come. And if for any reason it doesn't last for years, we make it clear you must bring it back and we'll do it again.

It's my guess the last upholsterer doesn't offer that kinda guarantee.

This was a commission.

Parker Knoll 720 in Melin Tregwynt wool

A Parker Knoll 720 armchair reupholstered in Melin Tregwynt wool

Tidy Tidy Tidy.

1960's bentwood suite in Bute tweed

A 1960's bentwood suite reconditioned and reupholstered in bright orange Bute tweed.

As ever we made a new bench seat from foam and bespoke back feather cushions to better expose the woodwork.

Smart or what?