Friday, 7 June 2013

After an overly long adjournment in proceedings I'm back with a book review.*

The book in question is Contemporary Upholstery by Hannah Stanton, a former graphic designer who caught the bug and signed up for a course in Traditional and Modern Upholstery taught by the 'legendary' Malcolm Hopkins.  And he is legendary - even I've heard of him, spoken to him (before I was 'legendary' that is) and have his book sitting on the shelf.

Now I suppose at this point I should come clean - I've dabbled in upholstery, spent two years in a workshop learning how to upholster chairs using traditional methods and materials, took courses in traditional and modern upholstery and so on - I know a bit about the subject matter and just how tricky it is to master this craft.  I also have a handful of books on upholstery - some good, some not so good.  And for all these reasons I was eager to see how Hannah was going to approach her chosen topic and convey her expertise to the novice, would-be upholsterer.

To give you the blurb, the book is divided into three main sections, beginning with an overview of the essential tools and materials needed. This section includes photographic descriptions as well as a helpful narratives.  A good start.  The second section includes detailed advice on choosing and working with fabric. This section is comprehensive, and I particularly liked the general considerations that should be thought through when selecting a fabric as well as the chapter which discussed making fabric - digital printing, screen printing and the like.

Lastly, section three provides step-by-step tutorials that are technique rather than project driven and range from quick makeovers to simple solutions for particular upholstery processes.  Accompanied by colourful illustrations, I like the way Hannah has included both modern and traditional techniques in this section, giving the reader the option of trying out different methods. And this section is truly comprehensive, covering topics ranging from a drop-in seat to lashing springs and tufting.  My only criticism here would be the use of illustrations over photography.  That being said, the book deemed the upholsterer's bible - Practical Upholstering by Frederick Palmer - contains nothing more than illustrations all the way through.  So perhaps there is something to be said of utilising illustrations to convey what can sometimes be complicated instructions.

Alongside the techniques are case studies of projects by contemporary upholsterers which feature before and after photos of salvaged pieces alongside an explanation as to how the upholsterer tackled each project, the challenges faced and the knowledge they learnt.  There are some great upholsterers featured here whose work I really admire - think Eleanor Young.  And throughout the book there are contributions from other names which I have previously featured on the blog - Claire-Anne O-Brien, Tortie Hoare and Urban Upholstery, to name but a few.

Overall, the book is well presented with each page containing something informative or inspirational.  Whilst I've tackled all of the projects covered in the book, there are one or two I haven't tried in a while, and this book had me thinking affectionately about laid cord and double cone springs and the huge sense of personal achievement that can be gained from taking on and completing any of the projects covered in Hannah's book.  All in all, I'd like Contemporary Upholstery to sit on my book shelf, I'd like to flick through it from time to time and I know I would definitely refer to it in times of 'oh crumbs, now what do I do, does the needle go in this way, or that way, how does that knot go again?'.

* So we're all quite clear, I've not been paid (in money or in chairs) to write this review and I do not know and have never met the author.  The only thing in it for me was the potential enjoyment of reading a good book.  End of.


  1. Sounds like a good one. The workshop I planned to use for my upholstery projects is now my living room and bedroom, so my upholstering career ended before it began. It's probably just as well that my class fell through. I don't think my SIL would want a novice working on a Papa Bear chair.

  2. Thanks for the review. My wife and I are looking at doing a couple of complete projects. Building the furniture designing the cushion design and doing then upholstery. This looks like a good book to have around for the "what to do now?" portions.

    A note on the illustrations vs photos. Having studied graphic design/illustration, and as a photographer, I can say without a doubt that for instructional images, illustrations a lot of the time are better. It's simply that with an illustration you can eliminate the nasty contrasts or extra textures that can confuse the eye in photos. Since, many close up or tight space areas are difficult to light clearly, many times an illustration can ,well... illustrate it more understandably. Just thought that might help.

  3. I love book reviews! I love how everything is set out with pictures and everything is easy to understand. I feel so much better when I have a reference guide. Thanks for posting this great review.

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  4. Great review, love having a physical book to look at rather than just online pictures.

    Best wishes, Nick

  5. it's a great article, i love the pictures. Thanks for sharing this bookmarking your website as we speak lol xx
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  6. Hello Sir,
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  7. Pity you weren't paid in chairs, I bet a lot of folk will be in hot pursuit. I have Malcolm Hopkin's book and yes he is a legend but this book just looks... prettier. Can't wait to get my hands on it!

  8. Really cool blogs, thanks for sharing

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  10. Nice review of this book. Upholstery is a skill spoken by many but mastered by few. I think this will adorn the coffee table within our offices.

  11. Great article and pictures. Will be sure to check out your other posts! .
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  12. Great article and pictures. Will be sure to check out your other posts! .
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