creative:impact - Fluff up your cushions and take a seat
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT KYMM CLARK:
"My name is Kymm, and I am determined to help save the Upholstery Trade by exposing as many people to learning Upholstery as humanly possible. Follow along for tutorials, upholstery fundamentals, and how to market and sell your furniture pieces online. Take my in-person workshops or join my subscription group for hands-on help troubleshooting your projects."
Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm your host, Deb Polich. And as we do every Tuesday, we are going to meet another Washtenaw County creative. Today, we meet a skilled artisan of a centuries-old craft who, after recently moving to our community, is already making an impact. Kymm Clark, welcome to creative:impact.
Kymm Clark: Hi. Thank you for having me, Deb. I'm happy to be here.
Deb Polich: You know, Kymm, we were just introduced less than three months ago, and you were soon to move your family to Ann Arbor, and you were looking for a job in communications. And, well, first, before I go on, welcome to Washtenaw County.
Kymm Clark: Thank you. We're back. We were gone for about a decade, but we're back.
Deb Polich: Okay. So, you're back. Excellent. So, I'm pleased to say that Artrain and Creative Washtenaw are now benefiting from your communication skills. But I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about butts in seats--not in the context us arts people use meaning filling an auditorium but meaning comfortable and beautifully upholstered seats and furniture. You're a skilled upholsterer, and you've already brought your skills to the community and having an impact. When once towns often had many upholsterer shops, that does seem to be the case today. What interested you in becoming involved with this craft?
Kymm Clark: So, I was in marketing for a really long time, really good at automating processes. So, I had done that for a company. And once that was complete, I got laid off. Actually, my littlest one was super young at the time, so it was kind of cool. So, as a hobby, we started pulling furniture out of the trash and restoring it and selling on Facebook.
Deb Polich: Wait. You were a dumpster diver?
Kymm Clark: I still am dumpster diving. And, literally, it's been in my blood since I was a little kid. We used to build forts in the woods with furniture we would find in the trash.
Deb Polich: Oh, wow.
Kymm Clark: Yeah. It was fun
Deb Polich: So, you're destined for this. So, being hooked on to this, and speaking of hooks, you must use all kinds of tools and materials in your work. What do we find in your workshop?
Kymm Clark: So, my favorite tool to tell people about is what I fondly called the kachunk-kachunk. But it's actually a clinch-it tool.
Deb Polich: A clinch-it tool.
Kymm Clark: But it makes that "kachunk-kachunk" sound.
Deb Polich: Oh yeah. Sure.
Kymm Clark: But it attaches springs to jute webbing. And if you've ever hand-sewn springs to jute webbing, you'll know what a timesaver it is.
Deb Polich: Can't say I ever tried.
Quick upholstery tool overview! there are so many to list! Here are just a few of my favorites. Want to learn more?♬ original sound - lullco
Kymm Clark: The tool is like four or $500 nowadays, but if you get your hands on it, like, it pays for itself immediately.
Deb Polich: Okay, so horsehair. I remember our great-grandmother's couch that was filled with horsehair. Do we still use that?
Kymm Clark: So, some traditionalists still do use natural materials like that. And hay is also one. Coconut hair. Peat moss. Like, there's a ton of different types. Actually, I love to see more people getting back into more sustainable practices like that, because foam is not good for the environment.
Deb Polich: Right. Right.
Kymm Clark: It has a lot of chemicals. Latex foam is much better, but it is not sustainable in the practices of how you acquire it. So, it's just there's a lot of gaps still. It's not popular, so it needs to be thought about.
Deb Polich: Interesting. Well, I have to get over my aversion to horsehair. So, when is it worth reupholstering something--a couch, a chair--rather than chucking it for something new?
Kymm Clark: So, furniture, nowadays, like brand new, is fast furniture. It's, like, intended not to last very long. So, I would skip trying to reupholster anything that you've gotten in like the last ten, 15 years. But, a lot of antique furniture or vintage furniture, retro furniture, is still, like, some of the best frames that you'll ever see because it's made with hardwoods instead of plywood or particleboard or MDF nowadays. So, it lasts a lot longer. So, you can reupholster it over and over and over and over again. Like, I've reupholstered furniture over 100 years old, and the frame itself is in great shape. I just replaced all the materials.
Deb Polich: So, the frame is what's important.
Kymm Clark: Yup.
Deb Polich: So, going back to your dumpster diving. Do you have a favorite piece that you found and reupholstered?
Kymm Clark: Oh, I have so many favorite pieces that I found and reupholstered, but my little green chair, which you can follow me on TikTok, and you can watch the whole process of me reupholstering it. I never wanted to reupholster it because it looks so beautiful. And it's, like, natural state with, like, it was found outside. Like, it was probably out there forever. And just the patina of the fabric and everything, it just looked like the piece of furniture that could clearly describe to everyone looking at it the potential. Like, you could see the potential in it. And not everybody can see that when they look at a new piece of furniture. They can't see, like, what it could be brand new. So, I eventually did reupholster it with what i thought it would look like, like when it was brand new. And I love it. It's my favorite.
Deb Polich: Well, so now, I kind of understand the origin of the word "upholstery," which, of course, I looked up: one who repairs, upholds, and keeps things from falling and being used and then keeps them using for a long time—upholsterer.
Kymm Clark: Yeah.
Deb Polich: This is 89 one WEMU, and creative:impact is continuing. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Kymm Clark. We are talking about the art and craft of upholstery. So, Kymm, how would you frame the field of upholstery today? Is it stable? Is it a field worth pursuing?
Kymm Clark: I think it's probably different, depending on who you ask. If you're, like, successful in the business right now, you don't see a problem with it. But there are a lot of small businesses going under because the trade itself hasn't been properly passed down. You know, when manufacturing went overseas and mass production was a thing, everyone who did upholstery here started dropping like flies. And those who did have it weren't trying to breed competition. So, they weren't teaching anybody because it is still and will always be such a sought-after trade.
Deb Polich: It's in demand, right? You started when--
Kymm Clark: Oh, it's probably...like, in my experience, we started before COVID, but COVID actually catapulted the need for it. The supply chain issues, getting materials and everything from overseas has made it more expensive. So, bringing everything home, it's caused the resale industry to go up more than, like, $16.9 billion dollars. Like, it's people are making money doing stuff like this from home now because it's so sought after.
Deb Polich: Well, and that leads me into another thing. Since you came to town just weeks ago, you connected with Maker Works, which is that huge workspace studio out on Plaza Drive. We've had folks from Maker Works on creative:impact in the past. And you're holding upholstery classes there. How's that going?
Kymm Clark: It's going really well. It's going really well. Most of the classes are full. We have now later into November. They're thinning out. But it's actually good because everybody gets a lot more attention that way. But they're still pretty full classes. And we have people now are starting to finish pieces, which is great because, sometimes, it's hard to get someone to see through. I lose a lot of people at the stable pulling phase. So, people will just be like, "Well, maybe upholstery is not for me. Maybe this is not where it's at." It's hard.
Deb Polich: I mean, it's construction.
Kymm Clark: It is so demanding on your body. Like, I teach with low-impact tools in low-impact methods to preserve your muscles and your bones and everything. Because anyone who's done this for any amount of time can tell you it's really rough on your hands. You can get arthritis, carpal tunnel. And I had that from computer work before, just from working on computers for so many years.
Deb Polich: But you can work around that and actually not end up with those issues.
Kymm Clark: Yeah. So, I tend to teach that in my classes. So, I have people from all ages in my classes.
Deb Polich: And that's really cool. So, you know, what kind of encouragement might you give somebody who is listening to this show and says, "Hmm, I might want to be a DIY-er and I want to reupholster that chair from Grandma's."
Kymm Clark: So, even if you're just doing it for yourself, it's very fun, and it's very rewarding to learn skills that you didn't think that you had the potential to do. It's not as hard as it looks. I tell people if you can follow a recipe, you can learn how to do upholstery. It's not going to be perfect the first time that you do it, and you're going to have to practice those skills over and over and over again. I'm still learning, like, things to this day. But the more you keep it in practice, the better you get at it. And you could grow into someone who potentially could make money from doing that, if that's your bag, if that's something that you want to do. And I'll tell you I turned down, like, a dozen designers a week, too, because I don't take clients anymore. So, the market is out there. Like, I'm trying to grow another industry of upholsterers out there because businesses like mine are closing left and right, because we can't keep up on our own. We can't do it by ourselves, like a mom-and-pop shop can't exist and can't compete with Walmart and Joybird and Wayfair and even, like, high-end furniture manufacturers.
Deb Polich: Yeah. So, to want to restore something, you have to probably love the piece and want to keep it. And so, are the people that are becoming involved with this, are they mostly DIYers who want a new craft, or is it because they want to do one thing?
Kymm Clark: It's all across the board. There are people who are coming into it because maybe they're reselling furniture already, and they just want to pick up another skill, so they can resell more furniture or people are coming in it for the experience or people who are coming in it because it's cheaper for them to reupholster it themselves than it is to hire someone out to do it.
Deb Polich: So, what's the feedback? What are your students telling you?
Kymm Clark: 100% of my students have fun in my classes. It's an empowering class. And you're in a room with people who are, like, sort of, like, of the same level. Everyone is starting from a different point. So, you're learning from everybody's piece. It's just like a really empowering, constructive, like, connecting experience, I think. So, I don't even think you have to be into upholstery to enjoy it.
Deb Polich: Oh, cool. And of course, you're also keeping things out of the landfill.
Kymm Clark: Of course.
Deb Polich: That's awesome. Well, Kymm, if anybody can teach, I bet it's you. And you're making me think about that chair that's up in the back room.
Kymm Clark: Everybody's got one.
Deb Polich: Yep, everybody's got one. It's true. Well, Kymm, thanks so much for joining us and sharing your skills, ideas, and what you're doing.
Kymm Clark: Thank you so much. This is a lot of fun.
Deb Polich: That's Kymm Clark. She is upholding the art and craft of upholstery. Find out more about Kymm, her classes, and see some time-elapsed videos of her posturing furniture at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, and you've been listening to creative:impact. Our producer is Mat Hopson. Join us every Tuesday to meet another creative Washtenaw guest. Celebrating 45 years of jazz broadcasting, this is 89 one WEMU Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.
Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support. Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.