Formal training at one of the country’s few auto upholstery schools, years of hands-on experience, love of the craft and an ambition to be his own boss — that’s how Stephen Kurzman came to open The Custom Stitching Co.
Stephen’s shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, is renowned for its unique designs and masterly crafted upholstery, woodwork and metal fabrication. Car collectors and builders from all over the United States have praised The Custom Stitching Co. for it’s superb craftsmanship and attention to detail.
We recently spoke with Stephen about how he got his start in the craft of auto upholstery, his pet peeves and more. Let’s meet the trimmer…
Name: Stephen Kurzman
Business: The Custom Stitching Co.
Location: Charlotte, North Carolina
Equipment: Juki 1508NH and Consew 206RB5
How long have you been trimming? 10 years
How did you learn auto upholstery? After high school I attended, and was formally trained, at Wyotech, in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. Upon graduating from Wyotech, I was offered an entry-level position at a production shop where I simply sewed seat covers and did basic panel repairs. Later, I began working for a restoration/custom shop. There, I started doing more high-end work, including concourse restoration jobs, as well as custom work.
I started to learn that I could utilize other skills I had besides operating a sewing machine — namely metal shaping and woodworking.
After 6 years, I branched out and started The Custom Stitching Co. It was a huge leap of faith. However, once I started working for myself, I was able to focus on the jobs and work I preferred to do. I was able to think outside of the box, and try new things without pressure from “the boss.”
At CSC, we now focus and specialize in custom jobs for high-end modern cars, hot rods and motorcycles. We try not to have a set style. Instead, we adapt to each project and treat them as an individual. We try to style each project to the personality of the car/bike that we work on.
What’s your favorite aspect of the craft? The creative outlet in general is huge! Being able to take a blank slate, design and create a functional and beautiful interior is an extremely satisfying feeling.
In terms of the work itself, I’ve always enjoyed sitting behind the machine. I always seem to go into a calm state when laying down stitches, no matter the stress or pressure we may be under.
What’s your upholstery pet peeve and why? “It’s fine, the interior guy can fix it.” It’s a statement that will always keep you on your toes, and generally cause a discussion or two about why something can or can’t be done, or how much something is going to cost.
Also, shift boots. I’ve never been a huge fan of making them.
What’s the best part about being a trimmer? A major factor is the customers’ appreciation and reaction to a job well done. That overwhelming sense of joy a customer has the first time sitting in a seat. It’s an intoxicating feeling.
I also enjoy being in a fairly uncommon trade that’s gaining in popularity and respect by the automotive industry. There’s a greater focus being applied to interiors by the major manufacturers and it’s having a profound trickle-down effect on the custom industry, which only makes it more exciting to be a trimmer in today’s age.
What concerns you most about the auto upholstery industry? While technology is aiding trimmers in new avenues of creativity and productivity, it’s also hindering trimmers in the ability to work on newer and more high-tech cars. Expensive scanning tools and software are almost mandatory in order to work on some newer and high-end cars. Not to mention the amount of tech some customers want to introduce into their old cars.
I hope the major manufacturers will bear in mind the people like me, who will have to perform repairs and services on these cars, that aren’t employed by a dealership (upholstery being the only service still not offered in house by any dealer).
Meet the trimmer: Stephen of The Custom Stitching Co. will be at the 2017 SEMA Show, where he’ll be doing product demonstrations at NC Carpet Binding & Equipment’s booth (#24193) from October 31 – November 3. See his work, ask him questions and pick his brains for ideas on your latest project.