If you are struggling with upholstery skills, you’re not alone

In any upholstery community where people are learning new upholstery skills you might read some comments like this:

  • “I’ve been working on this sofa for 3 years…. I can’t seem to finish it.”
  • “I’ve made my cut wrong 4 times and I don’t have any more fabric.”
  • “I covered this chair with a sheet so I don’t have to look at it anymore.”
  • “My husband wants me to do something with this project or put it on the curb.”
  • “I’ve tried to sew this cushion 4 times. I can’t get the corners to line up.”

These comments are evidence that you are indeed Riding the Struggle Bus.

We’ve all been on the struggle bus. Some days you feel like you’re driving the struggle bus!  Yes, I have been on that bus several times. The point is, we need to get you off that struggle bus!

When we’re learning a new upholstery skills, we all want to be experts right away, but we know that’s not realistic, right? Expertise takes time and practice. You might get frustrated sometimes, and that’s ok. 

So, what are some strategies for success when you’re struggling with upholstery, and how do we develop our new upholstery skills without losing our minds?

1) Discipline – Discipline is when you can complete a task or a skill in a methodical, precise way every time you do it. Discipline is what develops expertise. Discipline is the opposite of winging it. Discipline involves accuracy, attention to detail, and step-by-step precision.

  • Cutting accurately requires discipline.
  • Measuring accurately requires discipline.
  • Sewing accurately requires discipline.

When learning a new upholstery skill, developing a disciplined approach keeps you off the struggle bus.

learn 3 zipper techniqes kim's upholstery

For instance: You hate putting zippers in your cushions because you struggle every time. Find a zipper method you like; I demonstrate several in the membership (Tips and Techniques Section – 3 Zipper Techniques). Stick with one zipper approach until you are comfortable with it. When you’ve mastered one approach to zippers, try another approach. Pay attention to accuracy, and detail, and work on your zipper step by step, every time. Consider practicing putting a zipper in scrap fabric. Continue practicing until you’re confident and accurate with your chosen zipper method. This is discipline, and discipline is what helps you decide when a “do-over” is needed.

Maybe you struggle with one of these: (They are all covered in your membership)

  • Making Cuts
  • Using Curve Ease/Pli-grip
  • Pleats around Arms
  • Mitered T-Decks
  • Making Nice-Looking Corners
  • Pattern Matching
  • Tufting
  • Spring Tying
  • And More

2) The Gift of Time – One of the questions I get over and over again is “How long should this take?” Honestly, there is no definitive answer to that. The only thing that matters is how long it takes YOU. How long does it take you to do your best upholstery work in a disciplined manner? That’s how long it takes. We get on the struggle bus when we push ourselves to go faster than we’re ready to go. Giving yourself the gift of time helps you get off the struggle bus. If you find yourself rushing through work or taking shortcuts just to get done, you may be standing at the bus stop as the struggle bus approaches. Step back, breathe, and slow down.

3) Review Your Successes – Think about how much you’ve learned! Look at photos of past successes. Focusing on your progress and your past success may help you approach a problem with a positive frame of mind. A positive attitude can help you get off the struggle bus.

4) Walk Away – When you reach your frustration point you need a mental reset. Walking away is like restarting your computer. It’s a software update. Take a walk, call a friend, unload the dishwasher, or complete an unrelated task. Then before you return to the upholstery task, review the video one more time. Walking away for a few minutes releases frustration so you can return to the task with fresh eyes and get off the struggle bus. (Note: some people walk away from a piece for months or years. Don’t do that, it’s not helpful.)

5) Talk to a Friend – Talking to a friend, or seeking advice from Kim’s community is an excellent way to stop that struggle with your upholstery skills and get off the bus! You’ll find lots of upholstery friends in our membership, people who know exactly what you’re going through. Post a question on Kim’s Upholstery Community board. Include a photo with your question. Come to our Wednesday Live Chat If you can’t get to a live chat, they are all archived in our membership. Just watching some of the archived conversations about upholstery techniques and hearing what upholstery skills others have struggled with may be all it takes to jumpstart your thinking and help you get back on track. The community is where you can go for support and be understood without the fear of judgment.

6) Be Open to Suggestions – One of the things I have noticed from time to time is that some upholsterers seek help to get off the struggle bus, and then they dismiss the suggestions others make that can truly help.

It can sound like this:

“Nope. Tried that. Doesn’t work.”
“I’ve done this successfully before. I know how to do it, it’s just not working.”
“That’s not my problem.”
“No, it can’t be that.”
“I was careful, it’s not that.”

Unfortunately, often the smallest details indeed create the biggest problems. Small details that are overlooked can keep you on the struggle bus. Those details can be things like where to make a clip in the fabric so you can turn a corner on a cushion. Not cutting deep enough. Not enough precision where you cut. Pulling the fabric as you’re stitching. These are all small details that can keep you on the struggle bus, and these details can be addressed with a disciplined approach and help from friends. So when someone suggests a small thing, allow yourself to listen and double-check your process. They just might be right.

If you’re on the struggle bus, and you need to get off, try these approaches. We are here to help.

You’ve heard the saying “you’ll get better results if you use the right tool for the job”?  Well, it works the same with using the right sewing machine foot for the project you’re sewing.  Download my Free PDF  where I share my go-to sewing machine feet and what they can do for your sewing project.

See you on the inside