How Did You Learn Auto Upholstery?

Published by Naseem Muaddi on February 14th, 2012

Stories about how individual auto trimmers learned the trade has always intrigued me. It’s one of the last remaining crafts where apprenticeship is essential, so there’s always an interesting story to be told.

I’d like to share with you the story of how I learned auto upholstery; and hopefully you’ll share yours in the comments section below. I have a feeling that they’re similar in a lot of ways.

— — —

I guess you can say that I was destined to become an auto trimmer. Nearly everyone in my family – including my parents, three brothers, five uncles, and countless cousins – has been in the trade.

I learned upholstery from my father who has been a trimmer for well over thirty years. Since the age of thirteen, I’d stop by his shop every day on my way home from school to help him in the shop. He liked it because it kept me out of trouble and taught me a skill. I liked it because I got to spend time with my dad and be surrounded by cars.

Of course, I couldn’t do much at first. I’d spend my time sweeping the floor, answering the phone and organizing tools. But just being in that environment and watching my dad work and interact with customers taught me a lot about the trade.

As my interest grew, my father began allowing me to shadow him on the job. I was instructed to watch what he did and learn by asking questions. He said that was the best way to learn. I didn’t know it then, but I was receiving the best type of education a trimmer could get: on-the-job training.

In no time at all, I was cleaning headliner boards and stripping seats. That naturally progressed to installing new headliners and seat covers. After a couple years of doing that, I learned how to strip and prep a convertible top for my father to install. I’d then follow him around the car and study his every move.

One Saturday morning, after removing the top from a 1990 Ford Mustang, my father suddenly announced: “I’m going home, you install the top.” When he returned to work on Monday, he saw a perfect install – wrinkle free and tight as a drum.

Impressed with how quickly I learned, my father decided it was time to teach me how to operate a sewing machine. He sat me down on an old Singer with a rocket for a motor and no reverse; and began teaching me how to thread it, run it and all the different types of seams I would need to know.

For an entire year I experimented with that machine – making wallets, hats, school bags and mock seat covers. My father humored me – encouraging my creativity and teaching me the proper methods of making patterns for whatever I dreamed up.

By the age of seventeen I had sewn my first complete set of seats for my brother’s 1996 Chevy Caprice. It turned out so nice that my father began showing it to customers; and before we knew it people would come to the shop asking for me to work on their cars.

In high school I would count the hours waiting for school to end so that I could go straight to work finish a job. That’s how I knew upholstery was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I continued to work through college. After graduating from Penn State with a degree in business administration, I took a full-time job as a master trimmer in my father’s shop. A few years later, when he retired, I took over the family business – Delaware County Auto Upholstery – which I still run to this day.

How did you learn auto upholstery? Share with us your story in the comments section below.




70 Responses

  1. mike alvarez says:

    Its funny..i was an only child for 24 years (so i thought).i contacted my estranged father at 24 and discovered i had siblings i never knew existed.i ended up stayin with my brother and his family about a year ago and after searching for work for months,my step grandfather gave me a job in the family trim and tint shop.i started slow..sweeping floors and keeping the shop clean.i eventually moved up to stripping seats and then installing the covers,i also learned to prep windows for tint.i’ve been in the business almost a year now and hope to soon move up to sewing covers,even though i could never master the craft the way my step grandfather has.

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      That’s an amazing story Mike, sitck with it and you’ll be a master like your step grandfather.

      • TobyMary says:

        Hi,
        I’m really impressed at your story,wishing you even greater things. Secondly, how can I contact you via mail. I’d appreciate a form of contact. Talk to you soon hopefully

  2. stitcher_guy says:

    Bottom line: I hate ties. It all stems back to a distaste of wearing ties to work. Well, and a bit more. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Eastern Illinois University. I got into that field because I couldn’t do math to save my life. It was my career path for 10 years, serving at several community mid-sized newspapers and then making the swtich to magazine editing/writing/design. An early goal was to be the Editor of Car Craft Magazine, until I found out the cost of living in California and that most of the magazine staff couldn’t afford a project car OR a place in which to work. Throughout my whole tenure in the journalism trade, I always tinkered with my own projects (driving a host of clapped out VW Beetles to work a lot of the time). I had no background in even working on cars, except hobby-based and what I could read through the car magazines. Let alone knowing diddly about upholstery.

    As luck would have it, the journalism field and I parted ways. In my mid-30s, with a mortgage, wife, and car payments, she asked me what I really would like to have done. I said I should have gone to a tech school, become ASE Certified, and purchased the local Shell station in our town. I’d have a building in back doing a couple restorations. Her answer: “So go ahead and do it.” Fate intervened, and the next week an ad in the area newspaper simply stated “Auto restoration shop seeking mechanic. Apprentice considered.” I was the only applicant who provided a resume and wore slacks to fill out the application.

    For two years I worked on vintage british autos, learning metalwork, body work and assembly. An upholstery shop elsewhere in the building (was independent, but became a wing of the shop when he couldn’t pay his rent) was supposed to provide interiors for the cars, but the trimmer was in poor health, no enthusiasm, and not very good. I was asked to help him get caught up for a few weeks one spring. My boss asked if I’d like to take over the upholstery arm of the business when the trimmer finally retired. This came sooner than expected.

    The man deserted the shop, packed up his sewing machine and shears, and the shop sat idle for several months. But it was not empty. Three cars were waiting for interior work, and my boss got nervous about being sued over the work. I was asked to present a “business plan” about how I would make the shop work. My boss was to be my silent partner. He scoffed when I put in the plan “annual meeting in Hawaii” but grudgingly let me get things rolling.

    Within less than a month it was obvious we did not have the same vision for the shop. My accountant strongly advised buying him out, which was done quickly and cheaply. No more silent partner, no more strings attached, and I was off and running.

    I started PRO Stitch sewing on a Singer industrial machine my former boss loaned me. Next to the machine was Don Taylor’s General Auto Upholstery book showing me how to sew. I would do practice panels and lots of welting and biscuit tufting. If it worked, I got out the real material for the car (first car was a lowrider style 1968 Ford Galaxy) and make a panel. I still keep pictures of that car in my brag books to show off, because it was one of a kind.

    Now, 11 years later, I am solid in the shop, feel that I know my craft (but continually learning), and have taught several others to sew and trim over the years. And the former boss? He sold out and closed his shop six months after I opened PRO Stitch.

    Oh, and my wife and I had our second “Annual Meeting” by a resort swimming pool in Hawaii on Christmas Eve, December 2002.

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      You have an impressive story Stitcher Guy. You stuck with your vision all along and that’s why your successful today!

  3. Don Day says:

    I started in a factory in Maine that made theatre seats in 1984,became a foreman,then got a pt job in furniture reuph.in Sanford Me.I had a real knack for it,so the guy didnt let me near a sewing machine.I worked for free for an older craftsman,who showed me around a sewing machine.Then I moved the family to Rockland Me.worked for a shop and on my own there,for a few years.Ex wife wanted to move to Tucson,I worked for 2 shops there in 6 months,got homesick and my previous boss paid our way back,gave me 1.00 per hr.raise,and 1000.00 cash.That was in 1996.In 1999 started Upholstery Unlimited and did all sorts of stuff,including designing streetrod interiors.We worked for famous people and did work in several movies filmed in the area,Empire Falls,and Man Without a Face,among others.I taught upholstery classes in Adult Ed at 5 Town CSD for about 5 years and Region 8 School of Technology for 3 years.Then the divorce came.Financial woes is all Ill say.Had to close that shop,now Im remarried and my new wife and I are starting D&L Restoration andwe are building a new website,plus Im working at an auto trim shop in Waterville,who wants me to go full time by summer.Ive been there for 6 months.(whew!!!)

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      You’ve certainly had your ups and downs in your career Don. I’m glad to hear things are going well for you again. Let us know when the D&L Restoration website is up, we’d love to check it out.

      • Don Day says:

        I am so grateful for this blog!!Im still at Waterville Upholstery and Canvas doing auto upholstery and boat tops and cushions.We have a book of industry standards,time spent on jobs and use timers when working just to see how dialed in we are and how much to charge for labor.I love the extra training!These guys are great,and top notch.Even after 25 years doing furniture and window treatments,still cannot get enough.Being a music minister at our church with my new wife,and upholstery Im where I want to be.Would like to make some friends here and share some of the ideas and the passoin for the trade,and thanks to all….Don

  4. Graham says:

    I started an apprenticeship straight out of school just doing the everyday car yard work – seat repairs, headlinings etc. My boss became certified to undertake aviation upholstery which opened up a very diverse field for me to hone my skills. I have had the great privilege over the years to work on many different aircraft owned by some great, well known Australians.

    After a fantastic 12 years of working for the same company, I have just stepped out and opened our own little business here on the Sunshine Coast which gives me flexibility when combining work with my young family. Looking forward to many more years of doing the job I love!

  5. jeff woodward says:

    I went to Wyo Tech in Laramie in 1989. Worked briefly at two shops, one in Colorado, one in Arizona. Started my own shop when I was 20 out of my garage. I did alot of car lot work then and worked for friends and family.Fact is,I knew this was the career I wanted and worked at being the best I could be.Mistakes were made,the best training tool. I taught at Wyo Tech 12 years later for the duration of one year. I just missed working. I am still learning everyday whether it be how to deal with situations, customers, or whatever comes up. We are problem solvers. After 22 years in the business, I still am happy with my career choice.

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      I have a lot of respect for first generation upholstery men. I was fortunate enough to take over the family business. Nothing was handed to you Jeff, you achieved success all on your own.

  6. gary says:

    ive been around this trade all my life , my grandfather had a shop in highriver alberta in the early 60s and my father followed in his footsteps and started kens upholstery in 1965 , i worked with pop for many years , and a few other shops , but always knew id have my own , the cool thing about my dad was, he didnt just teach me about the trade , he taught me about the business , and after a while working with him , i gained knowledge and skills , ,i started my own shop in 1990 and love it . i think this trade is in my blood , as my dad would say

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      Gary you’re another generation trimmer just like me. The lessons we learned from our fathers are priceless. We’re fortunate we were able to learn the business side of the trade from our dads, it’s just as important as doing the trim work.

  7. Isaac says:

    Headed to Wyotech in Laramie, WY to learn the collision repair and Refinishing trade in 05-06. I had to take a secondary class for the credits to graduate. Decided to take the trim and upholstery class thinking it would be neat to be able to take a car and make it like new inside n out. Ended up liking the upholstery so much I bought a sewing machine while I was still in the class. Bounced around for a couple years after school working odd construction jobs, thankfully having no luck in finding any solid employment. Ended back in my home town of Houghton, MI which is where I wished to be. Couple guys who were looking to have enclosures made for their boats (one being a full camper back) knew about my schooling and my sewing machine came askin if I was interested. Never touching anything to do with marine upholstery or canvas work, and hardly touching my sew machine for 2.5 years I was a little scepticale, but being in a tough spot and having a chance to do some work in the trade I enjoyed so much I wasn’t about to pass up the work. Spent the next year doing a job here and there while workin two part time jobs plus yard work and snow shoveling jobs. Then I tried taking on a full time job at a tire shop to ease the burden but got laid off 3 months later. Being out of other options and with upholstery work slowly increasing by word of mouth took a shot at going all in with the upholstery work. Now I have been self employed doing busines as All Seasons Upholstery as my only source of income going on 3 years. I do auto, marine, furniture and commercial work and love the variety. I would love to get into whole car resto and custom work inside and out, start to finish in the future which is the whole idea that got me started. But still have a lot of building to do.

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      Wow Isaac, completing a marine enclosure after not touch a sewing machine in 2.5 years is very impressive. I’m glad to hear you have your own shop now and I’m sure some day soon you’ll reach your goal of having a complete restoration shop. Keep up the good work!

  8. Chad (merge) says:

    I too enjoy learning how other upholsterers got into the industry, always fascinates me!

    I went to Wyotech in the summer of 2004 for the Collision Refinishing and Street Rod Courses. I also took the ASM course and on was talked into taking the upholstery class last. I had no idea just how much I would enjoy this last class decision, but it fit me perfectly. I have always been a bit creative but never an artist on paper, but custom upholstery allowed me to express myself better than anything I have found since. Anyway, after graduating I found a job one month later for a business aircraft corporation in their seat shop. I am going on seven years of working there and have been honing my skills every day. On the side I love to upholster cars and am working at owning a shop I can sustain financially on someday in the future. I wouldn’t trade my career choice for anything else, I love the fact that very few people in my area do what I do…it’s an exciting time!

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      I’m surprised at how many WyoTech grads choose their minor in upholstery over their major in body or mechanics.
      I can’t draw very well either but like you I can envision what I want my project to look like and then make it happen.
      Keep doing side work and build your reputation and you’ll get your own shop.

      • Chad (merge) says:

        Yeah, there are numerous guys that I know of that went for the upholstery career instead of their major. Thanks for the advise and I plan to keep it up! Thanks again for running this site, I find it both interesting and helpful!

  9. George says:

    In 1976 I was a senior In high school who had taken an auto mechanic course for 2 years at our local vo-tech school. The thursday night before the saturday night graduation, my next door neighbor knocked on our side door while we were eating dinner. He came in and asked me if I had a full time job after high school, for next week. I replied No. He asked me if I would like to work at the body shop/trim shop he managed for a long time. I replied Yes, I would Start at 8:am the following Monday Morning.

    I Was The “Gopher” driving the shop truck & picking up parts for the bodyshop, pushing a broom around as well. The Bodyshop had 9 men, The Trim Shop had 1 Very experienced man. I started helping out more in the trim shop than the body shop & within a few months & was taking seats out & reinstalling them when they were finished. Then he taught me how to take them apart & how to reassemble them. The very first job I learned to do myself, after being his shadow for a while, was removing a sewn headliner, using it as a pattern & sewing up a new one, then installing it.

    I have had my own trim shop business now, next tuesday, February 28, It will be 20 years old. We started in 1992. This June will make 36 years in the Auto Upholstry Business (Total). When I Started I Had 1 Employee I was teaching. Six months later we were teaching another. At one point we had 3 experienced trimmers doing great work!

    Now because of this lousy economy, I’m back on the line trimming again. I have only 1 trimmer helping.

    We WILL GET THROUGH THIS ROTTEN ECONOMY, RIGHT? LOL!

    Callender Auto Tops & Upholstery, Inc.
    Will Survive! We still have plenty of work. Now just to get it completed!

    GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!!!!
    what a gereat website this is!!

  10. Naseem Muaddi says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and joining The Hog Ring George. Congratulations on your 20 year anniversary, that’s quite a milestone!

  11. Steven says:

    I have always been interested in interior work. I guess I got started with doing custom car audio installation in the late 80’s in high school. I was in the Navy for 11 years, continuing the interest and occasionally installing audio systems for myself and friends. I bought an upholstery sewing machine three years ago to work on some of my own projects. I was laid off a year ago. I am now hoping this side work I have been doing for the past little while will turn into making me a living. I am literally at the sh*t or get off the pot point. I am hopeful!!

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      You seem determined Steven, remember the majority of upholsterers started like you by doing side work for friends while honing their skills. Good Luck!

  12. Luis says:

    I started off in high school doing auto body/painting at vocational school. Once I graduated I went to Wyotech in Laramie, WY. Took the collision/refinishing class, business class, street rod/custom fab class and upholstery class. Never touch a sewing machine in my life till the class. I liked it, but knew I wanted to be more of a automotive painter. Graduated in 2004, moved out to Denver to look for a job. Started detailing cars at a body shop, then quit and went to another body shop to do body work. I was good, I liked it, boss was happy, but never wanted to pay me more than $9.50/hr which I was doing everything. From small dents to welding in new radiator core supports to pulling frames. I quit there and went to accessory shop. Started installing Katzkin kit. Decided it was time to go home. In 2006 I moved back to northern IL. No one was hiring at the time for body work. Opened the phone book and started calling upholstery shops to see if anyone was hiring. One shop said yes. Applied and got the job a week later. I’ve started out with small jobs, like replacing sections to complete interiors. 3.5 years later, we close up shop. Not because there was no work,we had tons of work, but because my boss was hinding the money and not paying the rent. So I’m unemployed. Now an opportunity is presented to me. The previous owner of the shop had a contract with my boss. Since he failed to pay the last 6 months. The shop automatically returns to the original owner. I’m good friends with him, so he ask me if I want to take over the balance of the contract and open up my own shop. Yes I will. Feb 1, 2010 I opened up. It’s been 2 years now and I’m busier then when I was working for my boss. Most of my learning was from Wyotech, the rest is from being a fast learn, troubleshooter, to learning by mistakes. Were working on all kinds of cars, from a 1930 Graham Paige to 2010 Ferrari’s. Couldn’t be happier for the opportunity that has been givin to me.

    • Naseem Muaddi says:

      Wow Luis, that’s an impressive story. I think all students at WyoTech should take the upholstery course, you never know when an opportunity might present itself in the future. You’re well trained in autobody/paint, do you have any intentions of expanding your shop into those ty
      pes of services in the future?

  13. roland says:

    i was fresh out of high school living with a friend when his father came home from out of town work and simply stated that i could stay as long as i want if i could hold a steady job. well at the age of 18 a steady job was not my forte. with that said, he took me to a local upholstery shop and dropped me off with a bag of fast food and said “ill be back at 5 to get you” . I started off sweeping and cleaning like everyone else and by the end of that summer i was the ‘headliner’ king! From there i learned to strip seats and install convertable tops and what not. Ive come a looong way from that shop and i can honestly say that my heart is in this job and the kind of work it brings. Now im working in fortworth at a hot rod interior shop named CDIDIT learnin a new twist on my old ways and im happier than ever! granted ill be in learning mode for a while but with the help of some old pros im sure things can only go up from here!!! ps this website is awesome!!!!

  14. Thanks for joining The Hog Ring Roland. You seem to be a fast learner so I’m sure you’ll make the most out of your new opportunity at CDIDIT. Congrats!

  15. mario says:

    my dad told me “your first diaper was a scrap piece of vinyl and two hogrings” JOSE RODRIGUEZ
    MASTER UPHOLSTER i was born 1966 (thanks dad)

  16. 4Hcustoms says:

    my uncle took me in off of living in the streets at the age of 14. That when i found out that upholstery been in my family for over seventy yrs. and i was lucky enough to get the chance to learn this craft.i work in my uncle shop i remember the summers because there was no a.c. we had a water cooler. but i learned alot over the years now i moved to FL. and started up my own shop, my uncle still has his place.
    I am very thankful for the skill he had given me. now im the last genaration So now i have to keep this legacy alive i have three boys so hopefuly this craft will be in our family for seventy more yrs. (short version)

  17. That’s an amazing story. 70 years in the business is truly a legacy. I’m sure your sons will appreciate it.

  18. My grandmothers taught me to sew when I was 7 years old. I started sewing clothes for people in high school. Over the years I have taught myself to make curtains and items for the home. I worked full time in the banking and bookkeeping business for 25 years, while still keeping a parttime sewing business on the side. In 2007, after working for 10 years as a full charge bookkeeper, the company was sold. I was laid off like most of the employees. I found a free auto upholstery class through San Diego City College. I took the class and began my career in the upholstery world. After two years I saved up enough money to go to Palmento Fl to the Marine Canvas Institute. In San Diego there are a lot of Auto Upholsteriers, so I headed into the Marine world. I love working on old cars, but as a single mom, marine canvas and upholostery supports the family.

    • Erica, you’re proof that sometimes losing a job can be a blessing in disguise. That’s really cool that San Diego City College offered a free auto upholstery class.

      Thanks for joining The Hog Ring.

  19. papasage papasage says:

    i was mostley self tought .

  20. […] stories of how other auto trimmers mastered the craft, check out The Hog Ring‘s article: How Did you Learn Auto Upholstery? No Comments » Posted in Better Business, Uncategorized Tags: ACE Custom […]

  21. Very sorry to hear about your father Edward.

  22. Darrel says:

    First time i touched a sewing machine was in 1997 at a local mattress factory. The position was called a surger, didn’t last long an didnt think i’d ever use one again… Always had a love for cars an my first classic was a 1970 Buick Skylark (raggedy old p.o.s.)I wanted to fix it up! I started with the motor and paint! Last thing to do was the interior it never got done so the car sat for many years, but i started other projects. Then i found a local trimmer he told me he’d learned in Prison… That man was the biggest blessing, basically i paid him to learn what he knew. I hung out at his shop almost everyday an shadowed his every move. He would start sewing, an to make time pass i would start tracing patterns. Although he didnt teach me everything he did light a fire thats still goin to this day. A few years later i went to a tech school, and after the first couple weeks i was sewing cushions with welt cord an zippers the teachers told me i had a knack for it, that statement gave me the confidence to finally work on that old skylark. First seat bench seat with an armrest. 2yrs that course lasted i watched every snip tug pull i could…An opportunity for a sewing machine popped up for a reasonable price so i jumped on it (Pfaff 1245). Still wet behind the ears in the the trade i needed a confidence booster. It came, this guy invested in me an trusted i could do the work. First complete interior job was a 1956 Belair, all roll-n-pleat…(alot of sewing)He bought the materials and gave me a couple dollars to live. D & D Auto Upholstery was born, the man was so impressed he gave me a $100.00 tip. Still learning today, an now I’m ready to have a youngster shadow me.

    • I could tell you were dedicated when I read “i paid him to learn what he knew.” Most people want to be paid top dollar while they’re being trained and still know very little.

  23. smiley says:

    My venture with learning auto upholstery started with a move to Laramie Wyoming to attend WyoTech. I started with just the intentions of learning more about the paint and body field and going more in depth and learning streetrod and sheet metal fabrication. After finishing the courses, I decided to go a few steps further. I attended the applied service management courses, chassis and metal fabrication and lastly bust most definitely not least I studied auto upholstery under Charles “MAC” McDonald. He is a very inspirational teacher that I am now able to call a friend. While in his classes, I wanted to learn more and more and more. To this day I contact him with any troublesome questions I may have and he still has alot that he still wants to teach me. I will be going back to Laramie a couple times a year to visit friends but lost importantly to visit with my instructor and soak up anymore knowledge he is willing to share with me. I graduated from WyoTech Sept ’10 with honors and in national honor society as well as 2 outstanding student awards. Since my time at WyoTech, I have started my own shop out of my garage for right now. It has been a slow process building my clientele but I’m almost ready to take the next step into advancing into a shop/storefront. I have tried working at a few different streetrod/interior shops around my area, but they have been run by/managed by crooks that are destined for crashing and burning sooner or later. I have dreams just as anyone else does, and I am excited to learn more in the industry everyday no matter if it gets difficult or sometimes frustrating, it still is exciting to grow in knowledge.

  24. UPHOLSTERYMAN UPHOLSTERYMAN says:

    here’s my story i have never been a fan of school always the class clown or finding a way to get kick out of class just to roam the halls…with that being said a friend in high school asked me if i would like to get out of class for 3 hours the following year i said to him how ..and he said sign up foe auto body at a trade school its from 7 to 10 am everyday and have to b back at highschool by 1045am so i did well the form said pick another course just in case the one u choose is full we picked auto trim not knowing that it was seat ext. well stayed there for 1 /2 years went to work for a furniture upholsterer for a year and then my dad at 18 open me a small shop and have been in biz since i am now 46 years old and my 18 year old son is in training although school taught me how to sew and make patterns..every thing i else like carpets convertibles installs i learn by taking in the jobs and figuring it out myself that includes furnitue boat resturants motorcycle seat airplanes selling a measuring fabrics

  25. Sueann says:

    Well, my Dad owned a glass & upholstery shop he started in the 70’s. I too went to work there, being a gofer – picking up parts and cars, cleaning and pickup after the guys. I watched my Dad as he sewed growing up and he opened a second store. Well, I was recently divorced with three children to support so my Dad asked if I would like to buy his second store in 1989. I didn’t hesitate. I knew how to sew clothing and car upholstery and furniture were the next step. I never had any formal training just watching other people at my Dads shop. It gave me the flexibility to take care of my kids(I had a play room for them- at the time they were 5, 8 and 10) So, I had late nights I could grab dinner and they could be in the room doing homework and I could get cars finished. Or if they were sick I could still take them to work (their was a twin bed) and still do both jobs. It was not easy- but my Father gave me the opportunity to make a living – July 2012 marks my 23 years in business. I have since married and my husband and I run our shop now..(yes, I am still the boss) LOL and Have four children and 2 grand kids. I have a love for cars that has kept our business growing. I am always learning- That is why Hog Ring is Fantastic! I love reading what other trimmers are doing.

  26. Neb_stitcher Neb_stitcher says:

    I just read most of these comments on here how people got started….Very interesting! I too got started by attending WyoTech..I graduated in laramie in 2001. Very good school. After knowing now, i wish i would have pursued upholstery right away after i graduated but instead looked at other jobs for 3-4 yrs til I really knew i wanted to do upholstery. I have my own business which i started shortly after I graduated, but never worked it full time until a few yrs. ago. i couldnt be happier doing what I do. I have more work than i can handle but its better to be busy than wondering where your next paychecks coming from.

  27. cpr customs says:

    wyotech laramie!!! big thanks to charles (mac)mcdonald the best damn instructor there is ! as soon as i graduated a few months ago i started cpr customs and by word of mouth alone i am staying busy! to say the least!like i said mac at the laramie wyotech gave me the knolage to have the best damn job i ever would want .

  28. Gtrimming Gjudd says:

    It started when i was 17 years, mum was fed up with me kicking around the house so sent me to work at a friends place (or hooked me up), he learnt his trimming skills from AC cars back in the day.(UK)

    He was a fantastic trimmer and a outstanding hood maker but he had lost the sparkle and kinda given up…

    I remember my first job was to trim 2 F1 carbon maclearn seat in Alcantara.. i was given a quick breif and that was that… trimming a carbon mould from the knee to the shoulders in ONE peace of Alcantara is a MISSION! the end of my fingers hurt soo much doing that…..but i was into it! the seat looked mint! and for maclearn F1

    Then my mistake i lost my licence and could’nt afford to get the train to work so handed in my notice…..

    At this point in life i had passed my aerospace course at collage but for some reason it did’nt do it for me?

    So thought fook it i’m young i have no ties, i’ll travel the world..which i did, what happened is another story!!! great fun was had!

    I must add my father was a precision engineer with his own factory…i spent most of my time as a kid sliding or “drfting” about on my bike on the cooling fluid in the factory..great times!… he gave me same unique skills

    when i got back from my travels i knew what i wonted to do so started looking around for a trimming job, i managed to score a job with some tallented guys, the guy i’ve been working with for years are X ,AC.panther,bentlty,aston,bentley trimmers

    as a example…

    Dave was the hood maker for AC…no point trying to make a hood for a AC just call dave, he will do it 2,3 times faster to 100% as original spec! dave now does the patterns making for lear ie what you see in audis, bmws he designed!…gets paid quite well for it also!

    the old rolls and bentley guy have some fantastic little tricks!

    i’ve learnt to trim with guys that made the cars first time round with there little tricks and how the car was done originaly…which when restoring a car comes in handy

    I’m sure theres a Pebble beach winner in there some where… (RSW)

  29. Nigel says:

    I guess my story is a little different to many on here, in so much as I am a 55 year old College Lecturer looking at starting a new career!
    My Grandmother was famous as an upholsterer in her home town here in the UK. She stood 4’10”,110 pounds and was strong as an ox! She would work on chairs, cars, bus seats, sofas anything anyone brought to her. She was a great inspiration in my life and I was in awe of her skill.
    Although I can’t claim to have learned any of her secrets I have always loved the creativity and ability to ‘bring something back from the dead’. The main thing she did show me though, was that anything can be done if you take time and care. I have worked on Auto interiors, mainly on my own projects and for fun, over the last 35 years. Starting with my first car, a 1960 Austin Mini, that I trimmed in white fur fabric (it was big in the day guys!). It got a lot of attention as you can imagine, and for a pretty reserved and shy 18 year old the celebrity status boosted my confidence no-end. I was even asked to do some for other people. I’ve since trimmed all my own and my son’s cars and, although still learning, can work to a fairly good standard.
    To cut a long story short I am now thinking about taking early retirement and focussing on doing something that has always given me enormous pleasure and satisfaction. As with many people these days, every year brings more redundancies and I fully expect that my employer will be looking to offer voluntary redundancy in the next few months. I’m hoping to start up a small scale operation part-time until that day comes.

    By the way the forum is excellent and a terrific source of sound advice.

    • Thanks for joining The Hog Ring and sharing your story Nigel. You seem to have a lot of passion for the craft. I’m sure you’ll be successful. . Best of luck to you with your new venture.

  30. Hi, thought i would post up how i got in to upholstery . First a little bit about me , grew up in a custom car hot rod mad family , learning how to weld , fabricate and mechanic from a very early age. 8 years ago my wife and i bought a caravan, the wife didnt like the interior , i bought her a sewing machine . Long and short of it was she couldnt sew at all. So in drunken state one night my male bravado came out and i had ago. Found out that night i could stitch. It then just snowballed from there. I use a toyota compound walking foot machine. Similar to a singer 111w. Oh and my daytime trade , im a refrigeration engineer. I run my trimshop evenings and weekends. Cheers ade

  31. Chris says:

    So may story is still in the making. I was medically retired from the military and I am a 100% disabled veteran at the age of 26. I decided to go to Mobile Technical Training in south Hackensack NJ for training in 12v installation and design. I was using my g.i. bill and decided to take the night upholstery class to keep myself out of trouble. within 2 days my class of 4 made our first seat we designed/patterned and stitched. I was hooked. Sadly this class was only 5 hours a day and 4 days a week. Upon graduating after 3 months certified I was giving a friend a ride to a garage that did an exhaust system in his truck. I saw pictures off trim work all over the shop and asked if they did trim work. They stated no but they wanted to open that section in the shop along with a body shop for custom hot rods. I stressed I was newly graduated and was looking only to apprentice to become more skilled. They stated over and over that I was what they were looking for and the customers were excited because I was young. Well after a few months of working there by myself and dealing with medical issues of almost daily appointments my boss was upset I was not on the same level as his friend who has been doing this for 40 years with a staff. So after weeks of disagreements we parted ways. I enjoy doing trim and am doing side jobs and reading books to better my skills. One day I wish to start a custom audio and trim shop. Until then I am doing everything one seat at a time.

    • Chris, I think you had the right idea when you said you wanted to start an apprenticeship. That’s the best way to hone your skills. Keep practicing and soon you’ll have your own shop.

  32. AL.D. says:

    I was the smart*ss at the back of the class. To me, school was a place to do your daily pennance for being a child, in the government squirrel cage. Got ‘A’s’ when I tried, but the only classes that I really applied myself to were Automotive & Graphic arts. How did I ever end up doing this? After 2 years in an automotive apprenticeship, decided it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. But, I still wanted to work on vehicles. My Dad owned several cabs. He suggested upholstery, & sent me to work with the an older fellow that had a small shop. The first day, he gave me a set of ’70’s ‘Vette seats to recover, then walked out of the shop for the day(!) I knew NOTHING!!! By the end of the day, all I had done was break every needle in the shop for the machine, & had knocked it outa time!
    So I took a 9 month/5day a week course @ BCIT. But the real learning began after that. Worked with some amazing craftsmen in the first 7 years, who unselfishly passed on their knowledge. I can still hear them behind me, walking me through a procedure that they were teaching me, 30 years later!
    From those early beginnings, I have worked up from taxis, to being a lead hand in a shop, in charge of 15 workers making 90-110 hottub covers a day, to a lead hand in a shop doing million $$$ custom interiors in corporate jets. During this time I achieved an ‘Aircraft Mechanical Engineer’ degree.
    But my first love has always been custom & restored auto interiors. Several that I’ve done are national & international award winning show cars. In 1997, a ’32 Ford with one of my interiors, made it into the ‘Great 8’ as a finalist for the ‘Riddler’ award. One of the most prestigious trophies in the hot rod world!
    Now, I work for a small select clientel of auto enthusiats, with multi-car collections. I have also earned a Bachelors Degree in education. Yea! Me! A teacher! Whodathunkit?
    Been doing this for over 33 years now. Self-employed for 25.
    When I started out, all I wanted to do was vehicles. Dad said,”Don’t limit yourself. Do not turn down work.” The stuff I’ve sewn, repaired, &/or fabricated, would fill this page 10X over. Many have had nothing to do with vehicles. But, if it could get into the machine, I’d sew it.
    I’ve made tents, fixed purses, hemmed jeans, bags for anything & everything including windsurfers, custom waterskiis, even a complete semi-truck, trailer & all. Some strange stuff too! Harnesses for bungie jumpers. Leather stuff for the ‘Love’ shop! A pink leather bikini for an exotic dancer! I could go on (& on & on!)
    Since I bought my first machine, which I still have & use, I’ve never been broke, or had to look for work.
    And after all this time, I still look forward to getting into the shop every morning!

    • seatfxr says:

      your story sounds like mine 40 yrs in the trade TURN DOWN NOTHING AND LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY TIME ..CHECK OUT MY INVENTION due to uph work THE FAWSSIT PORTABLE SHOWER

  33. anton says:

    I started out doing trimming when I finished school I was just looking for a part time job but it went from being a part-time job to my passion I worked for a company in east London eastern cape south Africa for 3 years as an apprentice trimmer to the master trimmer but after 3 years the master trimmer decided to relocate and I was left with the task of running the shop thats when I really started enjoying my work well after a year of working as a master trimmer I decided to open up my own shop called sukamiza motor trimmers /upholsterers with my dad as silent partner but after 3 years we decided to split the company and I renamed my shop elite auto trim going on 8 years in the trade with exsperience in small aircraft interiors leather work cotton canvas and tarpaulin boat and seat covers inc furniture I am hoping to go to the USA for a few years to further my career in American cars because to us in S.A American muscles rule I also have a diploma in theology

  34. alican says:

    I’m looking for an experienced foreman turkey automobile upholstery business phone 5464127188

  35. Jeff says:

    I went to wyotech back in 2004 as well for collision and refinishing. When I decided to take upholstery as an elective I had no idea the enjoyment I would get out of the class and the profession. I got out of school and had a very hard time landing a job at a body shop due to my heavy foot on the gas. Finally landed at a floundering custom car shop that wanted to add upholstery to their lineup. I was hesitant but had nothing else and saw an opportunity to show my skills. One of our customers( my first) offered to buy my sewing machine in return for his interior. I agreed and worked for nothing more than my machine and tools for a month designing and stitching this interior. It turned out looking pretty good but I never got to finish because as I said the shop was floundering and shut down. I did quite a few other jobs in between in that month an gained some on the job training by trial and error. In this short time I got two job offers from two top local interior guys who seemed to really like my work but I regretingly turned them both down and left the field for the most part. Through the years I have consistently done work on the side through many different full time jobs upholstery has stuck. I am now looking at beginning my business. I am a full time firefighter which gives me 20 days a month free and plenty of time to work this field. I’m excited but nervous! I’m terrible at pricing and don’t know where to begin, can anyone help me out? Pointers? Thanks to this website and everyone on here it is great! Jeff Hamm

  36. seatfxr says:

    heres a pointer jump in with both feet work with wreckless abandon and youll be fine dont chop up any prices from shops that are now in business dont treat auto uph as a hobby its a profession be professional

  37. Jeff says:

    Thanks seatfxr. I appreciate the advice!

  38. Manny Warren says:

    Always wanted to learn how to do upholstery….

    Well, I made my first doorcard today… or rather I finished it. Feel realy proud as I never sewed before, and had nobody but the interwebs to teach me everything from setting up my grandmother’s ancient pre-war singer with vibrating bobin, to using (making) cloth backed foam. Told my wife tonight I want an industrial machine… This is fun.

    Who knows how I missed out on this. My mother is a master seemstress and my dad used to own the local tailor shop.

    Anyway, at least I can say I learned how now…at 38. It was a riot. It took some precision setting up of that sewing machine and lots of scolding while trying to make it work consistantly with cheap thread…. (don’t even try).

  39. DubRod DubRod says:

    Well my story is still in the making but I still remember being fascinated as a teen by the baseball stitched seats Audi had put in the TT’s and interiors at carshows.
    To make a long story short, after a mechanical engineering degree and environmental studies, lost out of my mind career wise, I opened my own restaurant and spent the last 7 years on a physical and emotional roller-coaster.
    Looking back while typing this, I must have rehupolstered over 50 chairs and built some 50 linear feet of benches before the opening without any knowledge or experience.
    Still, I baught an industrial walking foot machine a few years back after watching some videos online an intended on doing my own interior for my old vw rabbbit. Unfortunately It sat in the dark like most of my projects as I had no time for them nor life itself.

    Then, last year, I couldnt take anymore and decided to sell both of my restaurants ( wich is still in progress).

    Since then, I realised that I need to creatively work with my hands and that I should of studied industrial design instead, but with a young family and all, I decided to learn the most that I can anyway I can. Now I help out at my stepfathers bodyshop and also have put in alot of time learning to sew, I just finished making a brand new hockey goalie chest protector from scratch wich made me learn so much ( I actually have people asking if I’ll make some to sell). I’m Gradually building up my tooling supplies and fabriic knowledge and hope to keep learning and finally do my own interiors as a classic vw bug joined the rabbit in line.

    Ultimately I would like to make it a living eventually and thankfully, with a site like this at my disposal, it will come sooner then later. Thanks.

  40. Well my story is this…. I didn’t grow up around the business. I was a young African American kid that grew up in the inner city. I was raised by my grand parents, who are alcoholics, because my mother and her then boyfriend were addicted to heroin and running the streets with stints in and out of jail cells. The perfect recipe for me to be the classic failure and follow in the footsteps of my mom and my peers and live a life full of drugs and jail. And I did just that as a young lost teenager. I was sent to prison. At that point I decided I had to make a change or something bag was gonna happen to me. So while I was incarcerated I stayed to read a lot of business related books and writing out a business plan. But my business oodles had absolutely nothing to do with upholstery. It was for a cleaning service. Meanwhile, my mom’s now husband was working on bettering himself as well and while incarcerated, he learned the trade of furniture upholstery in the prison industries. He Became really good at it and once he was released stayed working fora local upholstery shop. Fast forward a couple years, I get released from prison with all intentions of following up with my business plan that I so diligently put together. The upholstery shop that my step dad worked at closed down and he decided he didn’t wanna work for another one so he decided to open his own. He called me and asked if I wanted to help him with it. He had acquired a lot of good contacts with interior decorators that were willing to still do business with him so that was start of the business. I put my business aspirations on hold and joined up with him. I stayed out as a “tear down” man. And helped market the business through flyers and talking to local fabric shops. As time went on I learned how to make patterns, sew, and install. I worked by his side for 5 years. Then I decided I wanted to do automotive interiors instead of furniture so I hired in a guy that new that part of the industry. We started advertising and taking in cars for headliners, convertible tops, seat upholstery and so forth. I was like a spine, absorbing everything I could learn about automotive upholstery. Finally I decided it was time for me to spread my wings and go out on my own. I found a building for rent and signed a lease. Set up my business license and tax info and opened up my shop, Ride City Customs in February 2009. It was scary at first not knowing if the business would come but Business has been great and fast forward to 2015, I’m still rolling strong. I owe this all to my step dad, who took a negative time in our lives and turned it into a positive for the both of us. He still has his furniture upholstery shop and I have my automotive trim shop. With the closing of one of the oldest trim shops here, I am now the second oldest brick and mortar trim shop in Lexington Ky.

  41. Chance B says:

    Hi! I am 18 and extremely interested in learning this trade. I have been graduated from HS for 2 years this spring. I have my independent contractors license, and have been working more than full time in the construction and service industries. I contacted Wyoming Tech today, and the recruiter said it is mandatory to take the “core” mechanical or collision courses in order to participate in the upholstery portion. I am not interested in the Mechanic part. Where else can I go to learn this trade? I have been asking around in my local area, and the upholsterers are not taking interns…… thanks!

  42. cup says:

    I was born in the trade you could say. Learned the basics form my father, throughout my highschool years I had a study job, stripping or teardown the work he had be it car or furniture. Still hear my dads words now ” you have to know how it comes apart before you can put it together.”
    Soon he taught me to respring the furniture
    webbing and the 8 way tie. My first solo job a 55 Chevrolet, It came out beautiful,
    It is a wonderful career, Its an ART, and we are the artist.

  43. Josh says:

    Hi just wanted to share my sittuation as a fellow car builder/enthusiast. I started back in 94 working for a local dealership here in south texas as a porter then several months later moved to parts department in the warehouse. I had always loved the whole aspect of the car business but had my goal set high with plans to run a full one stop fabrication design restoration shop one day. I moved around to different employers in the industry looking for a better wage slowly going from parts to a lube tech then later moved to a friends body shop as a body man which also included some help with their painter. However this whole time I had always loved the upholstery side just have never had the possibility to be an apprentice to learn the craft properly. I had a few electives in high school for sewing and loved it. Fast forward to 2001 – 2014 I worked as a software enginerr for a company the finally ended and sold to a larger company that didn’t need me anylonger. For the last 6-7 years I have done many builds at my personal small shop/garage one of which was in 2011 of a one off Supervette at home that have seemed to have cought the attention of many that have had me do their builds to the point that I have ran out of room to even take on all the jobs. Now that my full time 9 to 5 is gone I have decided to go all in with the shop that I have always dreamed of with many car clubs support that I have done many of their cars. However any and all upholstery was subbed out to a shop that I have known for a long time. Recently I closed on a 16k sqft facility. 3k offices/showroom 2900k I plan upholstery area 5k fabrication/speed shop bay with full chassis dyno and a 5k paint and body shop. My question and plan is how hard it will be to find a qualified upholsterer to hire which I plan to pay above avarage wage with benefits and offer an above avarage facility and choice of vehicles to work on as well as a lot of the equipment such as embroidery and sewing machines as needed. The plan would be to watch and learn from my employee if possible. I am concerned and naturally worried with such a large undertaking but with my passion and reputation I believe without a doubt I will succeed.

  44. Joseph Angileri says:

    Hi found your story while searching for a Mini Classic upholstery and this is my story I am a Maltese born 1945 from an Italian Family my father was a a professional tailor in Army,Navy & Airforce uniforms and my mother was his support in finishing like hand made buttonholes and could knit anything without any patters. Was sent to a private college and studied to become a doctor but after one year at university I realised that in those days it was difficult to enter in this trade so I started my working career as a clerk where my father was working as a factory manager producing service uniforms. He used to come to the office and place me near a machinist when I had nothing to do and he used to tell me’just look and learn’ this went for 3 years and when the rag trade started ht in Malta decided to open a small work shop making trousers…had my ups and downs and from 1970 to 1985 I managed a leather and fur factory producing 2000 leather garments and 800 fur garments weekly with 400 employees…unfortunately we had to close down due to government pressure as my bosses were Jewish. (long story)I bought a workshop and was making jackets and shirts to local shops, when the rag trade was taken over by China I had an opportunity to work as Human Resources Manager in the shipping industry going up to Head Human Resources also writing and applying collective agreements. One day a friend of mine asked me to repair his boat cover which I did at my work shop which I used as a store and in no time nearly all the boats in that particular boat yard came to me for anything from a simple zipper to re upholster seat covers….Unfortunately my son,grandsons or my brothers never wanted to take this trade……

  45. Radney Black says:

    Id like to learn the basics, just to work on mine and my buddies stuff. Are there any videos or basic tools you’d recommend for someone just to try and see if they have the ability?

  46. Tyler Singleton says:

    Hi my name is Tyler Singleton from Tenneese an im trying 2 get into the auto upholstery business myself. Its kind of hard for me cause im just learning, but im hanging in their but i was wonderin can u reply bac with a few pointers for me I would appreciate it.


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