WHEN Alison Reed is working on an old armchair that has been in a family for generations, she takes pride in knowing that it will be “re-loved”.

“People like to keep furniture that they have lovely memories of. There is sentimental value in pieces that are kept and passed down in families. What I love about upholstery is preserving something from the past, while giving it a new life,” says Alison.

“The quality of a lot of old furniture is really good, but people often want to put their own stamp on something that’s old and treasured - so it can be ‘re-loved’.”

She shows me a square of funky yellow velvet she’s using to cover an armchair a customer has brought in. The chair has been passed down in a family but, covered in faded tweed, has seen better days. Alison’s makeover, complete with turquoise scatter cushions, will transform it into a bright, stylish piece for a modern home, while retaining the original craftsmanship.

Based in her workshop in a converted garage on the edge of Baildon Moor, Alison restores and creates a variety of soft furnishings, from antique pieces to chic contemporary designs. As well as being trained in upholstery - she lived in France, learning the craft - she makes curtains, blinds and cushions.

The gentle whirring of a sewing machine was a familiar sound in Alison’s childhood. “My mum and nan had sewing machines and I always liked to have a go,” she says. “I’ve always loved the feel of fabrics, and I picked up sewing quite early. A cross-stitch that I did when I was eight -years-old still hangs on the wall in my parents’ house.

“When I was doing GCSEs I went on a school trip to New York with the textiles teacher, I bought some bright pink velvet and made a flamboyant fishtail dress from it. I made things at school like a denim jacket and a crazy tank top in bold African colours.”

Alison did A-level textiles and studied fashion and French at university. “I went to the Kent Institute of Art and Design then Southampton,” she says.

“I wanted to do fashion initially, then I spent a year in France, as part of my degree course, and did some upholstery course. That sparked an interest.”

Alison lived in Grenoble, in south east France, where she worked with traditional and modern upholsterers. “With traditional techniques, you’re building the seat in a certain way. Some upholsterers even wash the original horse hair to re-use for stuffing,” she says.

“The traditional upholstery process involves stitching the stuffing in, (some chairs have springs), then stitching in the layers - webbing, hessian, fibre, stitching, wadding, Calico, top cloth - to build the seat up.

“Modern upholstery uses synthetic materials like foam. It’s a quicker, cheaper technique, but some people prefer the traditional way, particularly with antique furniture. It’s the craftsmanship and the history that they fall for.

“I find it really satisfying - and I really love the smell of the fabric!” she adds.

It was while working in a London office that Alison decided to change direction in her life.

“I was working for Molton Brown, in marketing, and I knew it wasn’t for me. I did a short upholstery course in London and started doing bits and pieces for friends,” she says.

“When I’d returned from France I shipped over some lovely old pieces of furniture - French furniture is so beautiful - which went into storage at my parents’ farm. I decided to give upholstery a go and set up a workshop there.”

After moving to Yorkshire from Essex a few years ago, Alison took on upholstery projects initially from home, then took courses in making curtains and Roman blinds.

Now she is so busy she would like to hear from someone who could assist her. “It would have to be someone who could work with me in this space, with the right skills and experience,” she says.

Adds Alison: “There’s a big demand for bespoke curtains and blinds. I work closely with clients on the design, colour and fabric.

“People often have clear ideas, I can tell in their first few sentences what look they’re going for. I measure up, get an idea of their interiors style and advise on what would look good.

“We look at fabrics, colours and designs together. People love that bespoke touch.”

She pulls out some opulent fabric she has been using to make a pair of curtains. The clients asked for a matching dog throw. “I get all kinds of requests,” says Alison. “I upholstered a child’s car seat in tartan for the Goodwood vintage pedal car race. I was invited down there too. I’ve also done motorbike seats and headboards.”

Alison likes the sense of the past that comes with working on old pieces. “I’ve found old coins and sweet wrappers, all sorts of things, down the back of Victorian settees,” she smiles. “Sometimes I’ll strip a dining chair down and it has six layers underneath, it’s been re-covered so many times.”

Nestled among the colourful rolls of fabric, cotton reels, pin cushions and vintage boxes in her workshop is a lovely old button press that she salvaged.

“It belonged to my husband’s friend. He was going to throw it out and I said, ‘I’ll have that!’ It made me so happy,” says Alison, producing a little button to match the brightly-coloured fabric she’s using to upholster a sun-lounger that is bound for a client’s holiday home in the Canary Islands.

Two industrial sewing machines take pride of place in Alison’s workshop, which she and her husband, Matt, converted from a disused garage. Their cute little dog, a Cavachon called Eric, curls up in his basket by the door.

“Sewing skills are still passed down in families. My mum makes curtains, and I love making things for my own home,” says Alison.

The lovely old house she shares in Baildon with Matt and their 20-month-old daughter, Isabella, is filled with pieces of furniture she has upholstered, as well as chairs and foot stools she has made from scratch, and her pretty curtains, cushions and blinds.

“I bought a little pink sewing machine for Isabella. I couldn’t resist. I’m hoping she’ll start early, like me,” smiles Alison.

She uses local fabric suppliers, including Abraham Moon & Sons in Guiseley and Prestigious Textiles in Birkenshaw, as well as Linwood Fabric Company in Hampshire, and works with wood polishers on furniture restorations.

“Fabric trends and styles change; velvet is quite popular right now,” she says. “Muted tones, particularly greys, have been fashionable for a while but that is starting to change now, I think.

“Personally, I love bright colours and designs.”

Alison would like to hear from anyone who can make use of off-cuts of fabric she has in her workshop.

“I often have pieces of leftover material and I don’t want to throw them out. That would be such a waste,” she says.

“I’m always looking for people or organisations who could make use of the fabric. I’d be happy to pass it on.

“Maybe a school or a community group could use some of it for craft work, or a cat shelter could have some of it for bedding.

“I’d like to see the fabric go to good use.”

* Alison Reed Upholstery and Soft Furnishings is at Northgate, Baildon.

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