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Millett reopens upholstery business at 80

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Barbara Millett has logged an astonishing 68 years in the upholstery trade.

And now she's got Bermuda covered as she prepares to reopen her store at the age of 80 after a three-year break due to illness.

Ms Millett began her apprenticeship in 1948 aged just 12 — and the experience sparked a lifelong love of top-quality craftsmanship.

Set to reopen House and Car Upholstery and Your Fashions on Pembroke's Curving Avenue, she said she would take a back seat in the heavy work, but still maintain her own high standards.

Ms Millett, who now needs an oxygen bottle to assist her breathing, has brought in an upholsterer from overseas and will employ a further two staff when the store reopens around the middle of next month.

She said an earlier expatriate recruit, a qualified upholsterer, had lasted only six days because his work was not up to scratch.

She added: “I'm so excited at being able to be here, look at the work and make sure the work is done properly.

“I won't be so much hands on physically, but I will be there to see that things are done the way I want them to be done.”

But she added: “I will still be doing handbags — things like zippers and straps that have broken.”

“And I feel I can still supervise and see that my work is as good as it always has been.”

Ms Millett said: “I feel there is room here for quality work. I know at the time I closed we were one of the only places that did the antique work.”

She added: “A piece of furniture shouldn't be thrown away. It should be redone because it has value. It's what I call well-built furniture and that's what I've always enjoyed working on.”

Ms Millett said many upholsterers discard traditional spring and horsehair seating and replace it with foam instead.

But she said: “That's comfortable only for a while — these chairs were made for springs and horsehair.”

Ms Millett added that a trend towards recycling old furniture instead of throwing it away could provide a lucrative stream of business for her reborn business.

Ms Millett said: “I am hoping that it will because when I closed, it was heartbreaking because I had to farm out a lot of work — I would have to refer them to another upholsterer.”

Ms Millett began work for an established upholsterer and worked for others for several years before striking out on her own in 1969.

She started off in a rented room below a house in Mount Hill.

She said: “The room was so small, I had to jump over a large piece of furniture on bigger jobs.”

Ms Millett expanded and worked from premises in St John's Road, Pembroke, and Dundonald Street in Hamilton before opening up shop in her present location in 1985.

Ms Millett said that when she started work, she watched and learnt from the trained craftsmen — despite resistance to a women learning the trade.

She was trained in doing box pleats, then a popular addition around the bottom of furniture, and learnt to retrim horse-drawn carriages, as well as create the fringed surrey tops once common on taxis.

And she learnt how to make mattresses, which were generally recovered and repurposed, rather than thrown out.

Ms Millett added that in those days everything was done by hand — where now power tools are used for sawing and adding studs.

She has also done upholstery work for a series of Governors, with her work on display at Government House.

Now she aims to specialise in car upholstery, including recovering steering wheels with her signature herringbone stitching, seats and roof lining.

And she said she had been asked by a taxi driver to create custom carpet covers in hard-wearing canvas.

Ms Millett said: “We do everything in furniture, including office furniture. We've done quite a few offices. We do everything that needs to be upholstered.”

Dedicated to her craft: Barbara Millett is to reopen House and Car Uphostery and Your Fashions after it was closed for three years (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Dedicated to her craft: Barbara Millett started working as an upholsterer 68 years ago (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Master craftswoman Barbara Millett

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Published October 05, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 05, 2016 at 8:37 am)

Millett reopens upholstery business at 80

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