Written by Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer and owner of Monday Wash Furniture.
I like stories. Let me tell you a good one.
A while back, around Christmas time, a gifted upholsterer was working in her shop when a man came in from the cold. A couple of decades previous, this upholsterer had begun her training with a master named AL Goss. She had been a star student, a natural who learned quickly and improvised well on her own. Prior to that, since childhood in fact, she’d been an avid DIYer soaking up sewing, embroidery and crocheting skills from the three generations of women in her family who had come before her. Her all-time favorite gift came from her grandmother when she was just eight years old - her grandmother’s own beautiful blue sewing machine, which immediately took the place of honor in her cozy purple bedroom. As a young mother, raising four children and running her own pre-school, this upholsterer-to-be continued to spend what spare time she had creating beautiful window treatments, quilts, and eventually even cushion covers for her sofa hand-in-hand with her mother. That last project was the one that launched her decision to study upholstery. So, you see, this upholsterer, in her shop on that cold winter’s day in Massachusetts, was a person who held three things particularly dear: family, love of learning, and the creation of beautiful and useful things.
Brushing the snow from his shoulders, the young man approached the upholsterer, who was now a teacher of upholstery herself. He wanted to take a hands-on class. He wanted her to be the one to teach him. The man’s grandfather had been a master upholsterer, but he had passed away before the man had had the chance to learn from him. The man’s grandfather was Al Goss. And so, it came full circle. The man would have the chance to learn from his grandfather… through Kim Chagnon.
This is a really good story. It is the story of promise for our trade.
When I video chatted with Kim Chagnon of Kim’s Upholstery a couple of weeks ago, she told me a few other stories, as well: a sweet story of a woman, about to have her first baby, who cried when Kim made ready again the rocker in which the woman’s grandmother had nursed her first child; an inspiring story of a woman and her two daughters who implored Kim, for almost a year, to make them her first hands-on students, leading to significant growth in one daughter’s business refurbishing MCM furniture.
It was nice to share a laugh with Kim. She has a bright smile and a warm demeanor. I know a good many of you are familiar with her face from the numerous expert tutorials she and her husband Bill have posted on YouTube. I was eager to learn about the remarkable evolution of her business. Beyond the YouTube videos, there is so much more.
I learned that Kim was still running the pre-school when she signed up to study with Al Goss. She was on a waitlist for his beginning upholstery class for almost a year and, once enrolled, drove 20 miles one evening per week to get there. She pushed to take on challenging projects beyond the scope of an average beginners’ class. Mr. Goss, noting her strong sewing and artistic eye, encouraged this. She would prove to be one of the best students of his career.
Kim went on to upholster projects for friends and family, which soon led to doing upholstery work for clients with Bill by her side. The volume of work increased rapidly to the point that, one day in 1998, Kim and Bill realized that “something had to give”. They both gave up their day jobs and committed to upholstery full time.
Around 2010, Kim and Bill were invited to do small project tutorials for the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA). It was immediately clear that viewers wanted to dive deeper. In response, Kim and Bill launched a series of YouTube videos to give DIYers and beginning upholsterers a more in depth understanding of what is involved in the completion of a quality upholstery project. The response was overwhelming. The couple found themselves riding a tidal wave of emails from people seeking advice and guidance. They met the demand by creating several more You Tube Videos (today there are over 300) and also began, in 2012, producing and mailing out instructional DVDs.
It was not long after that Kim agreed to venture into hands-on teaching with the mother and daughter trio mentioned earlier. Kim admitted that she was nervous at the time but, “It went very well,” she said. Recalling the way that the daughter’s business took off afterward, Kim smiled broadly, “I just love to see students excel and propel forward.”
In response to ever-increasing demand from DIYers and budding upholsterers, Kim and Bill have transitioned to teaching full time. In 2015, they launched the Kim’s Upholstery Online Classes website with just 12 videos. Today there are close to 100. In addition, the website supports a community forum, and weekly live chats during which Kim and Bill answer members’ questions directly. They also host periodic live sessions for a private Facebook group. Members know they can feel confident asking any question at all. “There is no such thing as a bad question,” said Kim. “We all learn from each other.”
And that’s the way it should be. The vitality of our trade depends on the sharing of knowledge and experience on all levels and from all angles. I am pleased to have the opportunity to write these educator spotlight articles (yes, there will be more to come) because our future lies in the recognition that we never stop learning and that continuing education is crucial.
Toward that end, Kim, in addition to everything else, hosts annual meet-ups for upholstery enthusiasts and professionals to “allow people of all levels to get together to talk about issues like pricing and how to handle client situations” among other things. Of course, there’s an educational component, too. There have been two meet-ups so far. A third, scheduled for September 17th and 18th in Virginia, is tentatively on hold due to Covid-19.
I asked Kim if she and Bill have had to make other adjustments due to the pandemic. Kim explained that hands-on workshops originally scheduled for the summer have been postponed until 2021; those scheduled for October and November may still be a possibility. But Kim’s Upholstery remains ready and able to conduct the majority of its business as usual. There’s so much available in the form of on-line video content, and the forums and weekly video chat sessions provide not only upholstery advice and guidance, but also support and personal connection as members cope with conditions during this stressful and unprecedented time.
If you would like to join me within the Kim’s Upholstery community to share knowledge and strengthen your skills with Kim and Bill, please follow this link to begin your membership. Both monthly and annual membership options are available.
You can find Kim in the following places.