By Monica Rhodes, NUA Volunteer and Owner of Monday Wash Furniture
UK-based Master upholsterer, Robbie Richardson reaches out to trades people and lay people alike through his popular podcast In Stitches and will soon expand that reach with the launch of Stuff Stitch Magazine, the first comprehensive upholstery trade magazine to exist in almost two decades. For Richardson, “telling the story of what lies beneath the covers” is not just a clever tagline, it’s a mission. “It’s about the detail under the covers (of a piece of furniture). It’s also about the story we never tell because there is no outlet to tell the story of upholstery.”
What do we all have in common? It’s stories. We all like to hear stories. And our trade is desperately underrepresented in terms of detail, in terms of what lies beneath the covers. If I get one person, that’s not an upholsterer, interested in the process of upholstery, then that podcast has worked.
Richardson, co-owner of Richardson & Paige Distinctive Upholstery Services in Devizes, Wiltshire, UK, has been upholstering for 42 years. Furniture repair is in his blood. By the age of 9, he was regularly enveloped in the heady scents of timber, wood stain and pipe smoke as he built tea chests – and even a sofa – alongside his grandfather, who was a traditional cabinetmaker. At that time, Robbie didn’t know he would follow in his grandfather’s, and his father’s, footsteps. In fact, when he graduated from school, he “hadn’t the foggiest” idea what his next steps would be. When his grandad suggested upholstery, upholstery work started to occupy his dreams. “At that point,” Robbie says, “you know you’re going down the right path.”
Robbie’s Richardson’s path has veered in new directions over the past 18 months. He explains that the podcast was sparked, in part, by boredom and isolation. “Boredom breeds creativity, you know.” In February of 2020, Robbie traveled to France with Nik Paige, his partner - both in business and in life - for the past 30 years, to do some work on a cottage they own in the countryside. In March, Robbie returned to England to tend to the shop. Two days later, the UK was under Covid lockdown. The couple decided that Nik would remain in France and continue to see to repairs, as their home there was more remote and possibly safer in light of the pandemic. Little did they know that their time apart would extend to a year and a half.
Covid-19 dealt a severe blow to the business and Robbie was forced to furlough the staff. To combat the consequent silence and isolation, he began listening to podcasts. It felt like having company. After listening to only three podcasts or so, Robbie decided to reach out to others through one of his own. He named it “In Stitches” signaling that, in addition to information about his trade, listeners could expect plenty of good humor, a valuable and sought-after salve during such troubled times.
Robbie was nervous at first. “It was a bit of a seat of your pants kind of decision, but it felt like the right thing to do. I was really intimidated…but I knew it was really important, so I put that fear to the side.” In Stitches has been a huge hit, delivering on its promise: Essential listening for upholsters and teachers alike, you’ll hear an eclectic ‘weaving together’ of life and skills as we talk to some of the best upholsterers in our business and provide a forum for those new to our trade.Robbie is a skilled interviewer - quick witted, charming and disarming. He loves stories and is adept at peeling back the layers as he engages his guests with interest, empathy and humor.
Says Richardson, “What do we all have in common? It’s stories. We all like to hear stories. And our trade is desperately underrepresented in terms of detail, in terms of what lies beneath the covers. If I get one person, that’s not an upholsterer, interested in the process of upholstery, then that podcast has worked.” Robbie has been pleased to find that the podcast has “also built a bit of community.”
Robbie’s success with In Stitches led him to wonder what other novel paths he might travel. One day, he was discussing ideas with some colleagues and one of them mused, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a magazine?” Robbie lit up, “and all the alarms went off – whoot! whoot! – and then I just really wanted to get on with it and do it.” There were a lot of responsibilities to tend to at Richardson & Paige and Robbie realized he needed to focus on those. “But (the idea about the magazine) just wouldn’t leave me alone – it was a REALLY big itch and because I tried to suppress it, it just became even bigger.” If that hadn’t been the case, Robbie probably would have waited 18 months before partnering with Vernon Gadsby and Claire Rourke to set the wheels in motion. “I couldn’t do it without them,” he says. Richardson gives a nod to his dogs as well; he walks them for two hours each day and that’s when his creativity flows. While walking, he often pondered what the magazine might look like and what might be of interest to the readership.
Formal planning and development of Stuff Stitch Magazine began in February, culminating in a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary capital to launch. Though not everything could be accomplished in the first issue, overall plans include a featured upholsterer (who will appear on the cover); a tool review; tips for the workshop; a skill share page addressing different levels from hobbyist to professional; a book review; and various interest pieces, including articles by upholsterers from the United States. Regarding his hopes for Stuff Stitch Magazine Robbie says, “I want it to mean that, as a group, upholsterers are in position to explain what we do better, to sell what we do better, and charge more for what we do. There are far too many of us working at poor rates of pay for a highly skilled job. It’s really important to me that there is an understanding of our work as a skill.”
The magazine will be available both digitally and in print. At first, Richardson, Gadsby and Rourke didn’t think there would be much demand for a printed version; they envisioned distributing 100 copies total to shops in the United Kingdom. “But when we launched the Kickstarter campaign, it went mental,” Robbie says. Twenty percent of his podcast listeners are from the US, so he expected some interest there; but it was coming from everywhere: US, Canada, Australia and many other countries. “It was thrilling.”
Considering the level of enthusiasm, it’s interesting that the upholstery profession has gone so many years without a trade magazine. Thinking on this, Robbie says, “a lot of us are quite insular and most of us just want to enjoy our craft and not get diverted into something that leads us out of our comfort zone. I just love doing stuff that challenges me, but it’s just the last 18 months that that’s happened. It’s amazing how once you lift the lid off of one thing, then other things come to fruition.” Robbie is currently working on the format for a video magazine to air next year on YouTube. “It will be video/tutorial/interview/walk around the workshop and will give you a different perspective on how we do things.” The podcast, magazine, and YouTube channel will all come under the banner of Stuff Stitch Media. Richardson hints at even bigger things on the horizon - additional ways “to get more people interested in this trade, understand this trade, understand what lies beneath the covers.”
Robbie Richardson has journeyed a long way since those early years in his grandfather’s workshop, but he still thinks about his granddad often. “Even today, if someone is smoking a pipe, it takes me right back to sitting and watching him work.”
Before we part, I ask Robbie, “What do you think your grandfather would say if he could see you now?”
Robbie doesn’t hesitate, “I know what he would say. He would say, ‘Well done lad’.”
To subscribe to Stuff Stitch Magazine:
Visit www.stuffstitch.com Click “Subscribe” and choose either the digital or print edition to purchase 6 bi-monthly issues.
Would you love to know more about Robbie Richardson and Stuffed Stitch Media? Be sure to sign up for our November 9th webinar to hear Jill Ragnan Scully of Impressive Windows and Interiors speak with Robbie live.