Here's how upholsterers apply the soft finishes to furniture

Image: 123RF/auremar.

Upholsterers make, restore and/or create custom upholstered furniture, using hand tools and their knowledge of fabrics and upholstery methods. They read work orders and apply their knowledge and experience with materials in order to determine types and amounts of materials required to cover the work pieces.

They discuss upholstery fabrics, colours and styles with customers and provide cost estimates. They design upholstery cover patterns and cutting plans, based on sketches, customer descriptions or blueprints, and draw cutting lines on material following patterns, templates, sketches or blueprints, using chalk, pencils, paint or other methods.

The new covering materials are then cut, following design specifications. Bindings are attached or solutions applied to the edges of the cut material to prevent unravelling. They operate sewing machines or sew upholstery by hand to seam cushions and join various sections of the covering material. Rips and tears in material are sewed or tufting created using needles and thread.

Furniture frames, upholstery, springs and webbing are examined to locate defects. Where necessary, furniture frames are repaired and exposed wood refinished. They adjust or replace webbing, padding and/or springs and secure them in place. The webbing strips are interwoven and fastened to the backs and undersides of the furniture, using small hand tools and fasteners.

Upholsterers build furniture up with loose fibre stuffing, cotton, felt, and/or foam padding to form smooth rounded surfaces, then the material is fitted, installed and secured on the frames, using hand tools, power tools, glue, cement and/or staples. Fasteners, grommets, buttons, buckles, ornamental trim and other accessories are attached to the covers or frames, using hand tools.

In addition to these tasks, the upholsterer may collaborate with interior designers to decorate rooms and coordinate furnishing fabrics, and must maintain records of the time required to perform each job, for purposes of invoicing, and pick up and deliver furniture as required.

Some upholsterers make, repair and/or replace automobile upholstery and convertible and vinyl tops, using their knowledge of fabric and upholstery methods.

Upholsterers should have knowledge of the ergonomics of design, different finishes, fabrics, foams and webbing. They may work in factories, with interior designers or directly with customers who determine the work to be done and the type of fabric to be used.

Personal requirements

  • At least 16 years old
  • Willing to undergo a selection test battery
  • Finger and manual dexterity good coordination
  • Able to move large and heavy pieces of furniture
  • Accurately calculate the amount of material required
  • Enjoy working with your hands
  • Work well without supervision
  • Creative
  • An eye for detail
  • Able to work quickly, accurately and neatly

How to enter

Schooling & School Subjects Grade 8 Certificate.

What to study

Registration is required with a suitable employer offering training. All costs of successful training are borne by the employer. Wage increases during the stages of learnership are dependent on the progress through the system as well as entry level.

Entry levels are more practical than academic. The Furniture Industry Training Board (FITB) enables the industry to provide comprehensive training to all its employees:

  • Theoretical and practical training: Provided by professional trainers at one of the centres of the FITB. Progress depends on the ability to “do” rather than to “know”
  • Duration of course: 2 to 4 years depending on the progress of the candidate in the modular system
  • Final examination: A compulsory trade test at the Centre of Trade Testing at Olifantsfontein as
  • Well as accredited training centres
  • Advanced Training: The Furniture Production Unit of the FITB in Johannesburg offers the following courses
  • Diploma in Furniture Production: 2 year full- time course for matriculants.
  • Certificate in Furniture Production: 3 month course for employees already in the industry.


  • Furniture manufacturers
  • Cabinet makers
  • Kitchen manufacturers
  • Building contractors
  • Self-employment, with enough experience, can start own business

Getting started

  • Try to obtain holiday or part-time work as a helper in a furniture manufacturing company
  • Arrange to speak to upholsterers about this type of career and ask permission to watch them at work
  • Get information about learnership programmes in your area

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