Jill Arda - Upholstery Bee, Chorley

Gill Arda of Upholstery Bee

Gill Arda of Upholstery Bee - Credit: Archant

A Chorley upholsterer is winning an army of fans for her work

Reupholstering an armchair for a client

Reupholstering an armchair for a client - Credit: Archant

Three years ago, on a wet afternoon, Jill Arda became enthralled by a TV programme about upholstery. Today she owns Upholstery Bee, a workshop that London designers openly admire.

‘It has all been a bit crazy - before that programme, I’d have been hard pushed to identify a piece of webbing and I’d certainly never grappled with a sofa. In fact, that was a learning curve-discovering just how physically demanding the craft can be. Still, I’ve been able to relinquish my gym membership,’ laughs Jill, a UCLan fashion graduate who lives in Chorley.

‘I’ve always loved textiles but a light went on for me that wet afternoon. I looked around the Edwardian house we had just moved into and realised it would look so much better with beautifully upholstered statement furniture; old pieces that could be given a new lease of life. So, I enrolled myself on a short beginners’ course but I got the bug and a year later, I was still studying,’ says Jill who, as well as learning modern methods, became well versed in traditional ones, involving hammer, horsehair and tacks.

She began to place examples of her work on Instagram and before long, enquiries followed.

Footstool details

Footstool details - Credit: Archant

‘I have a website but Instagram is great for visuals. It allows me to post latest examples of my work, although one unexpected side effect is that Lola my cat, who insists on sitting on half-finished pieces of work, now has an army of fans,’ she adds.

And among Jill’s fans is the London fabric designer of the moment, Emma J. Shipley. Emma saw a chair Jill had upholstered, using one of Emma’s own fabrics and she was so impressed she got in touch with Jill offering to buy it. The Curious Department, a fashionable London design studio, are also impressed with Jill. They wanted to showcase their fabrics for a Good Housekeeping photo shoot, saw Jill’s work and knew she was the upholsterer they needed.

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‘I upholstered a chair for them, stripping it right back and covering it in their Electric Lagoon fabric. It appeared in the magazine and they were so pleased with the result they sent me a bright blue butterfly, made by an ethical taxidermist. It delights me because it reminds me my work is appreciated and every craftsperson needs that occasionally,’ says Jill.

‘Most people are now environmentally aware and don’t want to throw away a piece of furniture that can be revitalised as a bespoke piece. Some people even want pieces covered in sentimental material. One thing that is becoming popular is old uniforms being recycled as chair covers: the buttons go down the front of the chair, cuffs on the armrests and lapels on the sides. They’re great as retirement gifts.

And it’s not just sofas, chairs and footstools. Jill also works on bolsters, window seats, bed heads and is about to bring out a Lola Cat inspired range of mini armchairs suitable for the most discerning of cats.

‘That’s if they deign to sit in them - cats are a tough crowd! I’m also going to offer upholstery courses for beginners because I want to pass on the joy it’s given me; although the downside is that I can’t go anywhere without casting a critical eye on the upholstery. If a diamond ring was offered on a cushion, I would probably spend more time inspecting the cushion than the ring!’

To see more of Jill’s work, go to upholstery-bee.com.