With 36 years as an educator herself Denise knows a bit about learning so having her write this blog for us was a no-brainer.  Be sure to take a look at Denise’s About page on her website.  We’d love to hear how you learned in the comments below.  Enjoy!

 “Where did you start learning upholstery?”

There is a frustrating conversation that comes up over and over again in DIY and professional upholstery groups: “Where did you learn to upholster?” Are you self-taught, or not? Sometimes, in public forums or on social media, there is corresponding shade thrown toward those who are perceived as “self-taught.” Self-taught appears to be defined as those who did not learn to upholster at trade school,  or by way of an apprenticeship. That’s a very narrow definition of learning!

I don’t know about you, but you won’t find any trade schools for upholstery within 250 miles of my home. There aren’t a lot of options. I fell into upholstery quite unintentionally as a rather needy DIYer. Here’s the thing, though: I’m NOT self-taught. When people ask me where I learned to upholster I am proud to say I learned online through Kim’s Upholstery. Kim is my teacher and my mentor.

“Wait a minute,” some might say. “You can’t learn to upholster online. That’s not real teaching!”

Oh, but it is. It really is. Here is a conversation about learning that can go several different ways.

Can you bake bread?
“Yes,” you say with a sentimental smile.
Where did you learn it?
“I learned it from my grandmother. I baked bread every week.”
Can you bake bread?
“Yes,” you say with a proud smile.
Where did you learn it?
“I learned it on YouTube during the pandemic. I baked bread every week.”
Can you bake bread?
“Yes” you respond with a confident smile.
Where did you learn it?
“I learned it at culinary school. I baked bread every week.”

How our bakers learned to make bread is less important  . . .

These three people all learned to bake bread in a variety of settings from a variety of teachers/mentors. These students all baked regularly. (That’s practice!)  Some learned at the shoulder of a beloved family member. Some learned online during the isolation of the pandemic. Others learned in a traditional setting at culinary school. It’s entirely possible that those who learned at the shoulder of Grandma or online, bake bread as delicious as those who went to culinary school. Culinary school is not the only place to learn to bake. Culinary schools are wonderful, but so are grandmothers, and so is anything positive that came out of the pandemic. 

All these bakers learned. They all developed skills. How our bakers learned to make bread is less important than the quality of the bread they were able to serve. Teaching is not opening someone’s head and pouring in information. Teaching is not standing in front of a crowded classroom, or handing someone a diploma or a certificate of completion.

Teaching is crafting a positive learning environment that allows the learner to practice and process new information in a variety of ways.  Practicing what has been taught or demonstrated is how we get better. Learning is applying a new skill under the guidance of an expert, teacher, or mentor.  ALL of this is what Kim does for each of us. Learning through Kim’s Upholstery is legit! Those of you, like me, who learned to upholster from Kim’s Upholstery are NOT self-taught.

These images are work done by our members of Kim’s Upholstery online classes.  Some have only learned from our membership, some have local hands-on mentors in addition to our online classes.

“The Fringe Chair” by Ann Wolford,  Talk about a one of a kind design!

“Just finished these barrel chairs for my daughter. Kim’s videos were so helpful, particularly on how to make a pattern and upholster the barrel back. The original chairs were dated, with tufting on the back and a squared-off cushion. Could not be happier with how they turned out.” Peggy

“The Fringe Chair” shows off the contrasting fabric on the outside.

“Well, I have finally finished my 1st chair. This was a piece of a sectional that belonged to my grandmother. It’s been in my garage for 30 years. It’s taken me awhile, but then I wasn’t in a hurry. Definitely a learning curve. Thanks to Kim’s wonderful videos I was able to make it through the tough parts. There are a few mistakes that I covered up. But, I think I did a pretty good job. Now I’m going to cover a footstool that goes with the chair.”  Regina

“These channel back chairs were so challenging and fun to make. Somedays went smoother than others and we decided to move our entire lives into a new house amidst finishing up this project sooo it took longer than expected. The client wanted a Greyish tone and we used this beautiful eco fabric via @charlottefabrics. First channel backs in the books 🙌🏻” Hannah (Check out her Facebook Page)

This perfect pair was also done by Hannah.  And just look at how perfect the circles are and the smooth finish.

All Skill Levels Can Learn Here

Years ago, when I was teaching First Grade, a little girl spent the first few days of school in miserable tears and silence. I thought she missed her mom. When I finally got her to talk to me about why she was so sad, she said, “But I don’t know how to read! Are you going to kick me out?” The poor child thought she wouldn’t be allowed to stay at school because she couldn’t read! She didn’t think she knew enough to belong at school. Isn’t this each of us? How many times have you begun a sentence with, “This might be a dumb question…”

I share this story because it’s easy to forget that we are here to learn. There are no dumb questions. Frequently learning takes more than one go. How many of you, during your school days, sat in a classroom where the teacher showed you how to do something, and for whatever reason, you didn’t get it the first time? (I assure you, this is a normal part of learning.). You practice a bit, and then you need another demonstration. Maybe you need some hand-holding or some cheerleading? You will find this kind of teaching and learning support at Kim’s Upholstery.

 I watch  Kim’s video on “Making the Cuts” just about every time I upholster. Yes, I get anxious about cutting expensive fabric, so I go back to that lesson again and again, and again…and again! I don’t have to call Kim up or go back to a classroom to get the help I need. I simply roll back the video.  My brain says, “Oh, yeah. I know this,” and I pick up the scissors. I can move on once I’ve had a reminder and some reinforcement.

Many Ways to Learn

There are SO many learning opportunities through Kim’s Upholstery. 

    • Instructional videos – the Cornerstone of Instruction. This satisfies those of us who are visual and auditory learners. We independently practice at home. (Hmmm. Homework! What a concept!) The practice piece satisfies the kinesthetic or hands-on learners. (Remember piano lessons all those years ago? You’ve got to practice!) The benefit of the videos is that you can go back to the instructions as many times as you need it, whenever you need it. If you like to upholster in the wee hours of the night, you can! The videos are the cornerstone! 
    • Questions and Answers – Wednesday Chats  People are social learners. While it is possible to learn on your own, watching Kim’s videos all by yourself,  it’s not nearly as much fun as seeing what others are working on, and hearing from other upholsterers on this same learning path.  It helps me enormously to listen in as Kim helps others work through their upholstery bugaboos. It’s especially important when I think, “I might encounter a problem just like that in the future…” The Q and A sessions are archived. You can go back to them any time you like as well.    
    • 3 Day Workshops  – Kim offers three day, hands-on workshops. At my 3-Day Workshop, I watched Kim fold and tuck a piece of fabric under the inside back of my chair. I said, “Oh my gosh! Is that how you do that?” Mind blown. For those who crave the teacher’s attention, and that personal touch, this might be just right for you. Those in-person workshops give you the social learning opportunity and the hands-on, small group attention, plus a load of confidence. Remember, though, you won’t have the teacher all to yourself!
    • Collaborative Community – Not everyone posts in the membership community, but I think you’re really missing out if you don’t. In the Community, you will find people who are ahead of you in their learning journey, and you will find some who are just beginning. Everyone’s voice matters.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Kim’s Community is where we seek advice and support from others on big and small things. These are collaborative conversations, and they’re a critical piece of every classroom environment. Since we all work at different skill and experience levels, and at different paces, this kind of diversity is great for learning! I’m learning from others while also helping others. Instruction doesn’t flow only from teacher to student, but the conversation looks a little like a web of support. Yes, Kim is there, but so are your upholstery buddies who can help you out as well. You’re not alone in this learning journey. The most powerful instruction comes within the Community itself. We are all teachers. We are all learners.
    • Upholstery Meet-Ups Ups  Did you ever take a field trip when you were in school? Kim’s Upholstery Meet Ups usually do not involve a sack lunch, but they have a lot of the classic hallmarks of a good, old-fashioned field trip. In addition to visiting upholstery suppliers, frame factories, leather suppliers, and other upholstery-friendly spaces, every upholstery Meet Up includes opportunities to network and pick the brains of other upholsterers, both DIY and professional. To learn from others, share ideas, and have collaborative conversations is so important to our learning, and to the strength of the community. Best of all, I made lots of in-person friendships and put real faces on those folks I’d only previously known online.

Given all these learning opportunities, how can anyone say that we who learned through Kim’s Upholstery are self-taught?

The answer to “Self-taught or Not” is emphatically NOT. 

©Kim’s Upholstery 2023, written by Bryan, Denise, Self-Taught or Not? 

This post originally appeared on Kim’s Upholstery Blog on [8/30/2023]. For fair use only. 

Attribution as above with a link back to the original post: 

See you on the inside, Kim