One of the (many) reasons we love featuring our makers each month is because there are always good stories behind the final product—whether related to the creative process, an artist’s journey to their craft, or the materials they use. We have a feeling you’ll love our November Maker of the Month, Nicole Crowder, a Washington D.C.-based upholsterer. Read on to learn more about Nicole and her craft!
Upholstery is a somewhat unusual career path—can you tell us a little bit about how you got here and what drew you to the craft?
I got into upholstery about eight years ago when I started tinkering around with a couple of inexpensive chairs and fabric that I had purchased at a secondhand vintage shop. Something really crystallized for me when I saw how I could make over a chair and give it a whole new personality just by switching out the fabric. I was really fascinated by the idea that you could salvage something, and, just by adding color and texture to it, you can make it new again.
The path to becoming an upholsterer was very non-linear as I was still working as a photo editor in the publishing industry for several years. I continue to finesse and build a portfolio by sketching ideas and being endlessly inspired by things around me.
So much of your upholstery work features bold patterns and vibrant colors—what inspires these fun complements to sometimes traditional and antique furniture pieces?
When it comes to the fabric choices that I make and the color contrast that I love to use, I’m inspired by challenging my imagination to see beyond what I’m used to. There’s just too much color, too many different patterns, too many different variations of design to get comfortable with repetition or with something that feels basic. And basic is different than simple. I love simplicity, but I love applying a maximalist approach to simplicity if possible. Clean lines emphasized with bold color or a contrasting piping set against a large print textile make me so happy.
I never want to get too comfortable or to a place where my brain is on autopilot and I am defaulting to the same shapes or colors when approaching my work. I was very close to getting there when I observed my portfolio from the past year and saw that it was largely made up of blue textiles and patterns. Blue is beautiful, but it also felt very safe in my work, and so I’m in a position now where I love to challenge myself to think outside the box and dream of different color combinations that do not incorporate blue or turquoise or teal.
Your mediation pillows are one of your most popular items. Why is meditation important to you, and what inspired you to create your own line of pillows?
Meditation is important to me because it helps me to have a reset point when things in my life feel out of alignment. I’m someone who is very impulsive and always wants to go and do and create, but that energy needs to be rooted in something from time to time—otherwise it becomes chaotic. Meditation is a reminder to re-center and come back to myself as often as I can, wherever I am.
Sometimes it’s really hard to slow my mind down and be in the space to meditate, so I don’t do it as often as I would like. But I was inspired to create these pillows because I wanted to create the thing that would inspire me to meditate more, and creating something that was beautiful and colorful seems like it would provide more motivation to want to engage with it. I initially thought about creating a pillow for myself and for a couple of friends, but then saw how quickly they were resonating with a wider community of people who were also looking to either start or continue in their own practice. That was really beautiful to witness and be a part of.
You’ve described your work as “slow creation,” due to the deliberate and handmade nature of your work. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process?
When I first began upholstery there was a really nice, slow rhythm because I was working on fewer chairs, but with longer lead times. I had more time to sit with them, to study them in order to really understand their shape and how to build them up. I remember it feeling like a peaceful process where I could just take my time, have a decent lunch break, call a friend in the middle of the day, etc. As my business began to grow and I started to acquire more work and opportunities, I found my pace of working had quickened and I was working in a much more hurried fashion—which also equated to making more small mistakes, which then led to significant overwhelm and burnout.
I knew that in order to reclaim the reason why I began upholstery in the first place, which is my love for creating, I had to shift my pace in spite of the workload in front of me. Creating slowly is in some way an act of resistance toward the idea that you need to have large output and fast turnaround times that are essentially arbitrary (because you set those timelines).
Working slowly allows me to do a better job, form better relationships with my clients (and also form relationships with the furniture that I’m working on), and it frees my mind up to enjoy labor versus seeing it as a tedious process.
“What a gift to be able to use your hands to nurture an inner desire.”
What advice do you have for other women looking to learn a craft and maybe even make the switch to a more “hands-on” career?
My advice for any woman looking to make the switch to either learn a craft or pursue a career in a more hands-on way is to enjoy and have fun with the experimentation. Don’t let the idea of comparison or monetizing things or having to execute it perfectly rob you of the fun, joy and the freedom of just creating. What a gift to be able to use your hands to nurture an inner desire.