When your childhood ambition was to be a travelling sculptor, it's a safe bet that you won't settle for the life of an office worker. That was certainly true for Ilona Hadfield, from Salford, Manchester, England.
Despite her quirky childhood dreams, the adult Ilona found herself working as an insurance broker. Later, she moved into a stressful administration role within the National Health Service. But something told her that this was not what she should be doing with her life.
After quitting her job and swearing never to set foot in an office again, Ilona went about reinventing herself. At first, she launched herself into studying archeology and ancient history. This was punctuated with what she calls 'ladies who lunch craft courses'. One of those courses was free-motion embroidery, and it was a revelation. Here was something creative that she could do.
Actually, that's not fair. Ilona had spent her life painting any piece of furniture 'that stood still long enough'. Restoring furniture fascinated her, but her lack of skill was frustrating. After a silk painting course and a basic course in soft furnishing, her vocation emerged. She had decided to become an upholsterer.
That was when she signed up for one of our upholstery courses at the Traditional Upholstery Workshop. As she put it:
"..accommodation on site, fabulous reviews and stunning views from the workshop. It was a no-brainer."
How Ilona started upholstery
By her own admission, Ilona turned up at the workshop full of confidence:
"I thought I'd knock out a drop-in seat by the end of day one. Turns out I am not a natural and I am also the slowest upholsterer in the world. Was I put off? Hell no!"
By the end of the first day, she knew she was hooked.
It helped that she felt immediately at home in the workshop. Even though she says she felt 'in awe' of the other students on her course, who were tackling advanced skills, she says:
"Liz and Emily never doubted that I would be able to learn to that standard and that is the mainstay of the teaching that keeps me coming back"
Office life was over. For good.
Ilona's upholstery courses
After a day in the workshop, Ilona likes to retire to her 'personal holiday home', no more than 100 metres away. Other students know her holiday home as Jo Kind's Kind Cottage, available to rent at a modest rate. But don't tell Ilona...
When she's not hard at work, Ilona shows exquisite taste by frequenting the Fish and Chip shop in nearby St Clears. The long queue says it all, and once you have acquired your hard-won supper, there is no shortage of places to enjoy it.
Top of Ilona's list is the bench opposite the chip shop! And for a change of scene, there is beautiful Laugharne, which she describes as: a lovely place to unwind'. Add in:
"Narbeth for the lovely shopping street and antiques, and Saundersfoot for padding and seafood on the seafront"
And you've got a recipe for a magical week.
Now that she is an experienced upholsterer, what is it about the craft that keeps her interested?
"It's taught me to slow down and enjoy the experience of creating something beautiful, and to have pride in what I do."
Ilona's favourite piece is usually the one she has just finished. But she has a special affection for her first iron framed chair.
As the name suggests, these unusual pieces of furniture have a frame made of thin metal rods, in place of the usual wood. This requires a completely different upholstery technique. Rather than tacking the various layers onto the frame, the structure of the chair is sewn around the metal rods.
The craft of upholstery
Re-covering an iron-framed chair is an advanced skill, usually taught after the Fast Track diploma. To celebrate mastering the skill, Ilona went mad with colour, adorning her iron-frame with fuscia pink and lime green paisley velvet. The result, you'll no doubt agree, was fabulous. See the picture below to decide for yourself.
Favourite projects, favourite fabrics
If you are thinking of following Ilona into our upholstery courses, her advice would be:
Be prepared for some hard work though. Ilona cancelled her gym membership in favour of wrestling with heavy chairs. As she says, what you save on membership fees you can splurge on delicious fabrics instead.
On a more practical note, she suggests wearing sturdy shoes. Not only are you on your feed for hours, but dropped chairs and hammers are a painful hazard.
And then there is the matter of scissors. As you may know, many upholsterers are very precious about their scissors. Ilona suggests investing in your own pair and bringing them along to the workshop. This is especially important for her, as she favours a left-handed model.
Above all, Ilona says:
"Just believe you can do it!"
Advice for new students
See more of Ilona's work, or get in touch with her directly, find her here on Facebook.
Ilona is also willing to consider commissions.
Her website is coming soon!
How to get in touch with Ilona
As her training progressed, friends and family came to hear about her new skills. Before long, she found herself upholstering one chair after another as a favour. Then it dawned on her: there was money to be made!
So, in early 2016, she founded Fandangle Interiors. She as been hard at work designing and opening her first shop, in Swinton Manchester. A website is about to launch too.
Ilona has thrown her all into this venture, making it her full-time job. At the moment, she works half on commissions and half on creating unique pieces of her own to sell in the shop.
In time, she hopes to take on an apprentice so that she can pass on her skills. Meanwhile, she continues to perfect her craft with periodic return visits to the Traditional Upholstery Workshop.