While her friends were planning to go to university Lucianne Hinch was learning how to be an upholsterer. It might have seemed like an unusual choice of career for a 17-year-old girl but it’s a decision she has never regretted. Hilarie Stelfox meets a young woman working in a male-dominated craft.
WHEN Lucianne Hinch saw an advertisement for an apprenticeship in upholstering she admits that she didn’t even know what the word meant.
But that didn’t stop her from applying for the job and when she saw what was going on in the workshop where her interview was conducted she knew right then and there that it was what she wanted to do.
Lucianne, who lives in Netherton, said: “I did quite well at school up to GCSE but after my AS year I said I didn’t want to stay on at school. I’d had enough.
“I had always been pushed towards going to university so my mum wasn’t very happy and dragged me to the job centre where I happened to see this job as an apprentice upholsterer.”
The apprenticeship was with an Ossett upholsterer, Martin Randall, who had 40 years of experience in the business.
By the time she was 20 Lucianne had completed her level 2 NVQ in upholstery and had won three apprentice awards – including a highly commended in the annual awards made by the National Apprenticeships Service.
Lucianne, now 23, says she realised she’d made the right decision on her very first day at work.
“I spent the day cutting out fabric,’’ she said. “When they said it was time to go home I couldn’t believe I’d been there all day – it felt more like a couple of hours.”
But Lucianne, who now has her own workshop in Nortonthorpe Mills, Scissett, discovered early on that upholstering is not only an uncommon choice of trade, it’s also one that is male dominated.
Her friends were not so much surprised as puzzled by her job.
“They didn’t know what upholstery was,’’ she said. “When I told them what I was doing they said ‘what’s that?’
“I think it’s a generational thing. Most older people know what an upholsterer does, but younger people haven’t a clue.
“There seem to be a lot of older men in upholstery – people reaching retirement age – and I don’t know of any other women.”
Although Lucianne says she would have studied English and politics had she gone to university, she believes it would have been an expensive mistake.
“I think I would just have got into the partying and it would have been a waste of money,’’ she said. “I’d have come out with a lot of debt.’’
Instead, she blazed a trail for old-fashioned apprenticeships and says that now she has her own business she’d one day like to train an apprentice of her own.
During her training Lucianne learned every aspect of upholstery and found that she enjoyed working on antique furniture.
She says it’s her speciality and when she’s not upholstering commissioned pieces she refurbishes items bought from auctions.
The most lavish commission she has ever worked on was a set of bespoke suites costing thousands of pounds for a Nigerian politician, but she is currently re-upholstering a Victorian nursing chair that will sell for around £230.
Lucianne belongs to a new breed of younger craftsmen and women who sell their services using the internet and social networking sites.
“I put my work on Facebook for my friends to see and they love it,’’ she said. “I get a quite a bit of work that way.
“I also have a website and sell on eBay.”
Lucianne will be taking samples of her craftsmanship to display at the major agricultural shows this summer – including Honley and Emley.
Visitors might be surprised to see a slight, blonde-haired girl at the stand but she sees herself as a role model for women in the trade.
What would she say to girls at school looking for an apprenticeship?
“They should consider upholstering,’’ said Lucianne. “I think women are good interior designers and enjoy being creative. Upholstery needs a feminine touch.
“I was always arty at school and liked making things so it suits me.’’
But, occasionally upholstery can be a dirty job and may throw up surprises.
“You get the odd pound coin down the back of a sofa but I also find some pretty horrible things, like mouldy old peanuts,” said Lucianne. “It can be quite dusty and mucky when you’re dealing with a really old sofa.”
The job can also be physically demanding, but Lucianne says her boyfriend, joiner Mark Lemm, helps her transport items to and from the workshop.
In her spare time she enjoys walking her two Jack Russell terriers in the Yorkshire countryside. But at the moment with a new business she’s often working every day.
“Upholstery isn’t particularly well paid and you’re on quite low wages as an apprentice,’’ she added. “You have got to work for yourself if you want to make much money and the hours can be long. If you’ve got work you have to put the hours in.”
But it’s clear that Lucianne loves the craft she found almost by accident and now can’t imagine doing anything else.
As for her mum: “She’s very happy now that I didn’t go to university,’’ said Lucianne. “She never even considered showing me the apprentice pathway. She is 100% supportive and thinks it’s great, as does my dad.”