31 July 2023
Meet the Maker: The Upholstery Lady
At Auric, we’ve built trusted relationships with some incredibly talented craftspeople. These relationships are a huge part of the business and are vital in what we do. This month we thought we’d shine the spotlight on one of these people. Leanne Watts, aka The Upholstery Lady, has been in business since 2019. We caught up with her for a chat to discuss everything from ‘chairlooms’ to teddy bears and all things sustainable.
Firstly, can you introduce yourself and tell us how you got started?
Hello there! My name is Leanne and I’m a planet conscious upholsterer who enjoys breathing new life into old frames. I come from generations of upcyclers, always fixing, crafting and repurposing items for the home. I started my upholstery journey 7 years ago, learning the craft at night school whilst my children were small. The goal once qualified, was always to set up in Business, and in 2019 ‘The Upholstery Lady’ was born.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you work?
I’m so lucky to say that my customer base provides me with a wonderful mix of projects. From family ‘chairlooms’ or existing furniture which is ready to have new life breathed into it and is liked for its size or shape in the existing home, to the opportunity to be a little more creative and build and create new pieces, such as bespoke beds and headboards, banquette seating and window seats, footstools, bar stools, the list goes on…
How important is sustainability to you?
As an upholsterer, doing as much as I possibly can to be sustainable is something which is always on my mind. I hate waste, and I’m always looking at ways in which I can keep waste to a minimum. Some examples of this are; I save all excess Dacron (the white fluffy stuff) and once a month I have a visit from Shelia, who is part of a group of volunteers who sew quilts and make Teddy Bears for the children in our local hospital. Shelia takes the Dacron back to the group and it gets reused and repurposed in the quilts and teddies. All my excess foam goes back to the manufacturer and they compress it down to create recon (hard, compressed, recycled) foam, it can then continue its life and get reused. I work with a lady who makes fabric wreaths, she takes many of my offcuts of fabric to make her wreaths. I work with Greater Manchester Renew Hub, providing them with larger pieces of leftover fabric for their recycle scheme, they save perfectly good pieces of furniture from landfill, then repair, upcycle and sell them – all profits go back into the charity. Finally, I am a proud to say that I am a featured upholsterer on the BBC 1 show Money for Nothing. Working with the show to save items from landfill and breathe new life into perfectly good pieces of furniture, so that each of these items can continue their time on planet earth and outlive us all!
Was sustainability a factor in you opening your business?
Sustainability was a big factor when setting up the business, breathing new life into existing pieces of furniture and saving them from landfill was the initial goal. It’s a feel-good story for me as an upholsterer, and for the customer too. I often think, if chairs could talk, the stories they could share, the conversations they’ve overheard, the secrets they hold. If I’m working on one that’s been in the family for some time, I ask the customer if they would like to write a note, sharing their memories of the chair or maybe of the person the chair belonged to. I then sew these memories into the chair, hopefully ready for the next time it gets upholstered, what a treat for their future owners!
What are your favourite pieces currently in progress?
I currently have 2 oak framed chairs for the TV Show Money for Nothing in the workshop. The frames are a little worn, they have beautiful engravings which, once sanded back and reoiled, will sit so proud. They were originally unholstered in the traditional way, with tacks and horse hair, and I am the first upholsterer to remove the leather and inners, and replace with new. My plan is to keep the chair frames bare (no paint) with a little clear oil, keep them looking the way they were intended, then reupholster them with a printed linen and finish them with a little fun and colourful trim. I really enjoy working on the show, having the freedom to express myself with no pre-prescribed briefs. It makes me happy.
What’s next for you?
I have shared shop space on a vibrant high street in Monton, Salford. This is a place for me to meet customers, for customers to see my work and for me to run upholstery and interior events. Just recently I ran my first upholstery workshop, I welcomed students into the shop, and we spent the day working step by step to create an upholstered cylinder stool. My plan is to have more workshops, inciting creativity, and practical skills to students, with a mix of upcycling old chairs and creating new furniture frames. I get so much joy from teaching others, passing on the skills I have learnt, giving people the confidence to have a go, it’s such a great day. Come and join us!