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Upholstery Sewing Machinist - A dying profession ?

Updated on October 6, 2013

Machinist Shortages in the UK

Upholstery Manufacture in the North of England was a significant contributor to the UK's Manufacturing output as recently as 20 years ago. Increasingly UK Sofa Manufacturers have switched their own production from sites in the UK to the Middle East or Eastern Europe, or have been forced out of Manufacturing all together. Some UK manufacturers have adopted a mix mode approach, offering a limited range from their UK factory, but producing the majority of the range overseas, at the expense of local workings. Workers in Preston were affected significantly in recent years by one well known manufacturer moving it's production to maintain margin and remain competitive.

One UK manufacturer with two factories in Manchester and Lancashire, England employing over 80 staff continue to struggle to find the skill set within the respective locations.

"We are challenged by the apparent lack of skilled workers in the field of Upholstery Sewing / Machinist." Dave Foster.

Whilst the company continues to grow, the business is challenged in it's growth by the apparent lack of skilled upholstery workers in the Manchester area. The downturn in local skills in manufacturing in general is as a result of the change in the manufacturing landscape in the UK and the North of England, a consequence of the effects of increased imports. Agencies do offer a solution, but many offer the services of Machinist who live outside the UK, including Poland and Romania. The risk with bringing staff from outside the UK apart from the disappointment of not being able to directly support the existing local community, is the risk of failure to integrate, language barriers and time scale before employment can begin.

Chesterfield Sofas are a true British product that requires craft, skill and guile, the traits often past down through families from generation to generation is slowly being eroded through a period of short time working and years of disillusion. Getting skilled staff back into UK manufacturing is a challenge for many other UK manufacturers attempting to grow their business. The reach and search for the recruitment for the positions of Upholstery Machinist and Deep Buttoned Upholsterers is becoming wider, with adverts currently placed in the Bolton, Bury, Accrington and Macclesfield press for jobs required in the Manchester factory.

Regrettably however often with workers based outside the UK and often without experience or knowledge of upholstery techniques such as over locking, and top stitching. Other sewing techniques usually akin to leather working include twin needle stitch also known as twinning or double stitch, and this in particular is a skill often unfamiliar to some machinist. In addition to the stitch and method of sewing, upholstery machinists are required to work with both leather and fabric materials. Leather being considerably heavier than most fabrics makes sewing more difficult as a result of the weight when handling and maneuvering the panels, when compared to fine fabrics often found in dress making or other general sewing.

Different Upholstery Stitch Details

Twin Stich Detail shown on Leather Sofa.
Twin Stich Detail shown on Leather Sofa.
Top Stitch Detail shown on arm.
Top Stitch Detail shown on arm.
Straight Stitch - Plain Stitch
Straight Stitch - Plain Stitch
Top Stitch Detail throughout
Top Stitch Detail throughout
Piped Sewing Detail
Piped Sewing Detail

Stitch Types

Shown Top : Twin Needle (Twinning) or Double Stitch sewn leather sofa. The tram-line appearance often used in the manufacture of leather sofas, bags and shoes. Particularly popular with leather furniture, yet occasionally seen in fabric. Attention to detail and precision is required to create the twinned effect, although attractive, this is a cosmetic finish as the sewing that secures the fabric together is a basic straight stitch which is completed prior to twinning.

Middle : Top Stitch - Appropriate for both fabric and leather finishes, creates a clean line, and is considered a neat yet secure sewn finish.

Bottom Right: Straight Stitch or Plain Stitch - Basic method of stitch to join two pieces of fabric or leather. Shown on the outside arm adjoining the inside back. A quick and simply stitch finish lacking detail.

Final Image: Piping - Piping is the process of rolling fabric or leather around a a piping cord and they sewing two pieces together to create the tubular like finish you often see around arm facings, cushion seats and back cushions and sometime on the outside back of furniture. Piping cord can be made from paper (paper piping) or plastic, usually coming on a roll of several meters in length. Piping cord is usually cut to size by hand and is common is both upholstery and clothing and accessories.


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