An education in upholstery

July 24th, 2017 / By: / Feature

Cynthia Bleskachek, owner of The Funky Little Chair in St. Paul., Minn., offers pointers to a student in one of her upholstery classes. Photo: Steve Foley.

The owner of The Funky Little Chair sets out to preserve quality and services by offering upholstery classes at her shop.

“The Funky Little Chair” could be the title of a children’s book, but Cynthia Bleskachek’s lessons are for adults.

“If people want to be a professional upholsterer, they have to dig in and figure out how to do it without traditional support in place,” says the owner of The Funky Little Chair in St. Paul, Minn. “But they sure could use some help, especially to do the professional work where expectations are high and turnaround needs to be relatively quick.”

Bleskachek’s own background goes back to her mother, a self-taught upholsterer with a home-based business. In 2001, she went to work for A-1 Foam & Fabrics, where she learned skills from Diana Shroyer Guenther, the third female graduate of Minnesota Technical College. In 2010, Bleskachek began teaching upholstery at a woodworker’s studio, and last year opened The Funky Little Chair (“dedicated to the preservation of top-quality upholstery education and services”).

Even before delving deeper into teaching firsthand, Bleskachek gained a following through step-by-step video instructions on upholstering a chair. Available at Craftsy.com, “Getting Started With Upholstery” has reached sales of more than 6,000 since being introduced two years ago.

Classes at The Funky Little Chair include Weekend Warrior workshops for the DIY market and 12-hour advanced classes broken into weekly sessions for people who want to do more than, say, reupholster a chair they picked up at a garage sale.

“We work on honing their skills and filling in skill gaps,” Bleskachek says of the advanced curriculum. “Some students have started building a client base. Some are doing work for shops, either there or as a contractor.

“The line between hobbyist and professional is gray and ever-changing,” she adds. “We have people sliding in and out of those categories.”

Jacey Reese, a student at Cynthia Bleskachek’s The Funky Little Chair in St. Paul, Minn., measures the back of a bench during an upholstery class offered at her shop. Reese’s business name, incidentally, is “Old Man and the Settee.” Photo: Steve Foley.
Master class

Each month, The Funky Little Chair teaches eight students in advanced classes (four each in daytime and evening sessions) and another eight in Weekend Warrior (four per weekend, with two workshops a month). Enrollment is consistently full.

Bleskachek also teaches one-day master classes at shops beyond St. Paul with Steve Cone, a retired shop owner and upholstery teacher at Minnesota’s Century College (the college dropped the curriculum in 2000) and the author of “Singer: Upholstery Basics.”

“The master classes are meant for people who are doing client work but may be largely self-taught,” Bleskachek says. In July, she and Cone presented the intensive training in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Outing, Minn.

She arranged to have HomeDecGal Susan Woodcock as a guest instructor in June. Woodcock produces three-day Custom Workroom Conferences, such as one last October in North Carolina and this past May in Tennessee.

“We don’t learn our craft from one person,” Bleskachek says. “I created my business model to have a place to attract professional-level teachers that might have specialties outside of mine [modern custom residential].

“It just seems that education is going to have to come out of private shops or it’s not going to come at all,” she adds.

While Bleskachek focuses on teaching aspiring professionals, she plans to enlist her advanced students to lead Weekend Warrior sessions.

“I am hoping to cultivate a pipeline,” she explains.

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer and editor living in San Diego, Calif.

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