The Job and What's Involved

Upholsterers add padding, springs and coverings to furniture such as chairs and sofas.

There are two types of upholsterers - production and craft.

Production upholsterers - work in factories, upholstering new furniture. They often use pre-cut pieces and machinery, much of which is computer-controlled. It is common to specialise in one particular piece of a finished article, such as adding a filling to the arms of a chair.

This type of job can also involve working on seats for aircraft, buses and trains.

Craft upholsterers - work on individual pieces of furniture. They may undertake contract working, such as upholstering furniture in a bar or hotel, and restoration work.

The work includes:

  • Preparing the item by tacking webbing to the underside of the furniture frame, and lacing or stapling the tops of the springs together.
  • Selecting material with which to pad the seats, backs and arms of furniture, and sometimes choosing a type of seat and back support system.
  • Making patterns and templates to mark out shapes on the material.
  • Measuring and cutting material to cover the upholstered areas.
  • Joining sections of material together and tacking or sewing it to the furniture frame.
  • Adding decorative trimming, for example piping, fringing or buttons, and making and filling cushions.

When re-upholstering an older item of furniture, upholsterers need to remove existing upholstery and may have to repair the frame or replace the glue on the frame joints before starting work.

Upholsterers use a range of tools including staple guns and removers, glue guns, magnetic hammers, cutters and upholstery needles. They may also use other skills such as French polishing.

Upholsterers who work alone or for a small business deal directly with their customers. They discuss the work to be carried out, advise on suitable fabric, calculate the amount of material needed and provide an estimate of the cost.

Self-employed upholsterers may also be commissioned by interior designers.

Upholsterers usually work 35 to 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. Self-employed upholsterers, or those working for some small businesses, often have varied working hours according to the volume and type of work. Overtime and weekend work may be required in order to meet deadlines.

Most upholsterers work in workshops or factories. Some may occasionally work on individual furniture items in customers' homes. Working areas may be quite cramped.

Protective clothing, such as aprons, overalls, masks and gloves, is worn when necessary. There is a lot of standing, bending over and sometimes lifting of furniture and heavy materials.

The job may be unsuitable for people with allergies to certain types of fabric.

Self-employed upholsterers are likely to need a driving licence.

The usual starting salary is around £14,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Upholstery jobs are available throughout the UK, although there are often more opportunities in traditional furniture making areas such as Nottingham, South Wales and the West Country. There is currently a shortage of highly skilled craft upholsterers.

Upholsterers are employed by furniture manufacturers, companies making seating (for example for buses, nightclubs and offices), and small upholstery and furniture restoration businesses. It is also possible to work on a self-employed basis.

Jobs are usually advertised in local newspapers. The Association of Master Upholsterers & Soft Furnishers' (AMUSF) website, www.upholsterers.co.uk, also has a job section.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements to become an upholsterer, although some employers prefer applicants with GCSE's/S grades (A-E/1-5). Useful subjects include design, art and crafts. It may be possible to enter the profession through furniture Apprenticeship schemes.

Useful courses and qualifications that include elements covering upholstery include:

  • Degrees in furniture conservation and restoration.
  • BTEC HND's in Furniture Restoration, Furniture Fine Craft and Restoration or Fashion and Textiles.
  • A range of NVQ/SVQ and City & Guilds qualifications.

Entry to a degree course is usually with a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or the equivalent. Entry to an HND course is usually with one A level/two or three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades, or equivalent qualifications. Some courses may also require a portfolio of original art or design work. Applicants should check entry requirements with individual course providers. Degree courses usually last three years while HND courses typically last two years.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Upholsterers working for small craftshops often train on the job, learning from a more experienced employee. Day and block release is common.

There are several NVQ's/SVQ's covering furniture and practical skills. These include:

Level 2 in Making and Installing Furniture - includes components on upholstery.

Level 3 in Making and Installing Production Furniture - designed for those who are manufacturing furniture in modern production line environments.

Level 3 in Making and Repairing Handcrafted Furniture - aimed at those with more advanced craft skills and/or supervisory responsibilities.

Contact the Furniture, Furnishings and Interiors National Training Organisation (FFINTO) for further details.

AMUSF has a membership scheme, and organises training courses and workshops.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An upholsterer should:

  • Be good at working with their hands.
  • Work quickly and neatly.
  • Have normal colour vision.
  • Have basic maths skills for taking measurements.
  • Have strong concentration skills.
  • Be able to use upholstery tools and machinery.
  • Have computer skills for operating some machinery.
  • Be patient, methodical and safety-conscious.
  • Be able to work without supervision.
  • Have good business skills, especially if self-employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

It may be possible for upholsterers working for manufacturers and other large businesses to gain promotion to supervisory or managerial roles. It may also be possible for an upholsterer to move into a training post.

It is possible to progress to become a computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) operator using state of the art design, planning and cutting equipment.

Self-employed upholsterers progress by establishing a strong reputation and obtaining regular work from customers.

There are good opportunities at the high end of the industry, working on bespoke furniture.

Get Further Information

The Association of Master Upholsterers
& Soft Furnishers (AMUSF), Francis Vaughan House,
Q1 Capital Point Business Centre,
Capital Business Park, Parkway,
Cardiff CF3 2PU
Tel: 029 2077 8918
Website: www.upholsterers.co.uk

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