Finance

Learn to re-upholster and take advantage of the huge demand for this well-paid craft


There is a constant demand for upholstery work and there are not enough trained upholsterers to do it. Two semesters of an upholstery course at a local community college can help you land a job that can start at $20 an hour and eventually pay up to $70 an hour.

“I get a call from a company at least every two weeks that they are looking for someone to hire,” said Kathryn Smith, special projects coordinator at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas. “And they’re calling from all over the United States, not just from Texas.”

She hears from a variety of employers, other than traditional furniture upholstery stores. Medical supply companies are in need of someone to upholster examination tables. Auto body shops ask to find people to repair seats.

Upholstery business owners across the country say they have customers waiting months, even years for the work to be done because they don’t have enough well-trained upholsterers in the profession.

We talked to business people in this area. Here are their tips on how to learn upholstery and fill a lucrative unmet demand.

“I am working on a sofa starting next week and the owners have been waiting for two years,” John said.

Levi, who owns Zim’s of Catalina Furniture Company on Catalina Island, California. He is ready to immediately hire a qualified employee for $30 an hour.

“I have a lot of work to do and I don’t know what to do with it,” said Chris Chirrica, who co-owns Caribe Interiors Furniture & Upholstery in St. Few people do it well. I can’t even find anyone to teach.”

How to learn upholstery

There are many resources—both virtual and in person—for people who want to pursue upholstery as a career or side job.

Take courses at a technical school or community college

Top left, upholstery banner hangs at the Tomlinson Adult Education Center in Saint Petersburg, Florida, top right, Garcinsky working on a chair. She sells some of her finished products on Facebook Marketplace. Bottom left, Mary Fletcher has been taking the Learning Center’s ongoing upholstery class intermittently for 20 years. Bottom right, referees are hanging in the upholstery class.

Schools across the country are teaching students how to re-upholstery at different levels. Some prefer a “weekend warrior” who wants to take back the dining room chairs they found at a garage sale or even take a stab at an avoided sofa. Others offer continuing education certificates and teach skills they can use in an existing upholstery business or start their own business.

Smith said that when students finish a year at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, for example, they are ready for a career in upholstery.

Here’s how this program works:

The Tarrant first semester covers the basics of upholstery while the second semester covers intermediate upholstery. Each requires 96 hours of instruction. A summer course that teaches car and boat upholstery in 108 hours. Classes meet twice a week from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Courses cost $300 per semester and many students are eligible for financial aid. Upon completion, students receive a certificate proving that they are qualified to work in the profession of reupholstering.

Check with your local technical school or community college to see what types of courses are available.

The National Upholstery Association also has Guide Of the classes taught by master upholstery experts and other professionals.

Take upholstery lessons online

Kim Chagnon took upholstery lessons twice a week for a year in 1996. She started upholstering for friends and family as a side business and then made it her full time job. After building a thriving business in Greenfield, Massachusetts.In 2010 she started posting YouTube tutorials to share her knowledge with viewers who want to follow the upholstery industry. Since then, she and her husband Bill have done more than 200 posts, have 75,000 subscribers and over 8 million views.

Their work, Kim’s Upholstery, offers lessons through website With more in-depth training. For $25 per month or $240 per year, students have unlimited access to training videos available around the clock. Subscribers talk regularly to offer each other help, and Chagnon is easily reachable.

Subscribers can learn to re-upholster all types of furniture including chaise longue, channel back chair, wrap sofa, any type of cushion, tufted ottoman, Queen Anne chair, and curved headboard to name a few. Chagnon also teaches slipcovers for a wraparound armrest, replacing a zigzag spring, matching plaid and yardage fabric.

Kim’s Upholstery also offers a three-day in-person attendance Workshops For people who want to learn upholstery in one project for $600. There are two coming in Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Continue practicing upholstery

Many upholsterers learned their skills working for a family business.

With the need for trained staff on the rise, Smith said she has spoken with employers who will take someone as an intern and pay them to improve their skills.

“If they can get someone who knows at least halfway through what they are doing and can use a commercial and industrial sewing machine, they are interested in that,” she said.

“I’ve learned every aspect of what it takes to fully do a job,” said Scirica of Caribe Interiors. His father, a skilled craftsman from Sicily, Italy, passed on his extensive knowledge to Scirica and his brother. Scirica believes that many community college courses are more for do-it-yourselfers who don’t need to learn complex upholstery skills.

“They don’t know how to make diamond tufts or how to sew horse hair,” he said. “The best way to start a business like this is to find someone and an apprentice.”

Merita Whitfield of Bradenton, Florida, rehabilitated a French regional chair at the Learning Center. Many who attend upholstery classes do so to save money on re-upholstering their furniture, but some have moved on to start successful businesses. Chris Zuba / Penny Horder

How to start an upholstery business

No matter how you learned your upholstery skills, if you want to start your own business, you need to invest around $1500 to $2000 in equipment.

According to Smith, a good industrial sewing machine costs an average of $1,500. A basic upholstery kit is another $500.

Chagnon has given strong reviews for LS-1 walking core sewing machine, Which sells for $795. It comes with a 3-hour video to teach users everything they need to know about the device.

Once you prove yourself with friends and family, start networking. Contact antique dealers, antique store owners, and estate sales managers who can hand your card over when they sell a piece of furniture that needs work. Realtors also get to know a lot of people who want to beautify their homes and refurnish the furniture. Connect with interior designers as well, of course.

Profitability varies. While there is a steady demand for the upholstery business, Scirica says his business is far from a profitable cow.

“It’s a labor of love,” he said. For example, an upholsterer might spend 10 hours working on a high back wing chair and charge a client $700. The $70 per hour earned on this chair should also help cover expenses like energy, insurance, and rent for the workspace.

Smith said that setting up a business in your home certainly allows more room for profit.

Miles Denny, owner of a diversified upholstery service in Knoxville, Tennessee, has a lucrative business doing upholstery repairs for warranty companies that cover furniture. It is a one man shop, travels to customers’ homes to fix their furniture.

“I get paid $90 for a service call and then $70 an hour,” Denny said, explaining that the escrow companies are paying him, not the furniture owner. “I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I make a good living on this.”

Katherine Snow Smith is a staff writer for The Penny Hoarder.






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