BY CHRISTALEE FROESE
As a journalist, I get to meet some pretty interesting folks.
My favourite people are almost always found on farms, or in small towns.
Driving out to Grenfell, Sask. recently, I knew I was destined to meet another favourite person.
Monica Larson is an upholsterer. This Grenfell-born gal returned to her hometown in 2008 to try her hand at turning her love of all things textile-related into a full-time career. The Kootenay School of the Arts graduate spent three years studying textiles and fabrics in Nelson, B.C. before opening Rural Home Upholstery & Design in Grenfell.
Her formal training allows her to visualize a work of art in what others might consider a disheveled piece of furniture destined for the dump, while her rural upbringing allows her to see beauty in old chairs, tables and truck seats.
“There is such an abundance of throw-away furniture because it’s so easily accessible and inexpensive, but that furniture is often made from inferior wood, like particle board, and is cheaply made so it’s not going to stand the test of time and you will be replacing it in two to five years.”
Larson prefers to restore solid furniture pieces that have stood the test of time. Her goal is not only to keep furniture out of the landfill, but to create something for her clients that is full of memories.
“I consider myself a crafts-person and feel a lot of satisfaction and pride in what I do, so being able to use skills that I have developed through a lot of years, blood, sweat, swearing, and tears, and being able to revive an old, run-down, shabby looking piece of furniture makes me feel pretty good,” says the upholstery magician.
While Larson learned many upholstery techniques at art school, the learning continues almost daily as she is faced with new pieces of furniture that challenge her broad base of knowledge.
“Upholstery is an endless learning curve,” says the 42-year-old Grenfell business owner. “Every job is different, every chair or tractor seat or ottoman is different which inevitably requires me to figure out how it was sewn, or put on the frame, or finished with some decorative detail.”
For Larson, the upholstery process starts long before the new fabric is applied. The first step is dismantling the piece she is working on and removing the padding, which can be anything from cotton baton to horse hair. Next is the re-tying of the springs, which is often the most labourious process and the one that requires the greatest strength.
After that, Larson works on re-padding the pieces and then sewing the fabric together to ready it for the final fitting. Then comes detailing the piece, whether it be with piping, stitching or decorative nail heads.
With her background in textiles, Larson said one of her favourite parts of the process is selecting the fabric and finishes with her clients.
“I love trying to figure out how my client’s house is decorated and what they like and giving them suggestions about what I think will work best.”
One of her most recent clients, who brought in a decaying truck bench, was leaning toward all-black vinyl when Larson talked him into adding some bright green stitching to match the restored green body of his antique truck.
“He showed me pictures of the outside of his truck and I said he just had to go for the coloured thread to make it pop and to make it interesting,” said Larson, explaining that every piece of furniture she works on has a story—one that is always worth telling.
“I love opening up a chair or couch and finding a little toy or coins or hairpins because you can start to see where that piece comes from and what it has been through over the years.”
I love meeting interesting folks—ones exactly like Monica Larson.