In one section of the new Home Décor Learning Center in Concord, Jennifer Walsh, of San Ramon, is fluffing up a pouf. A mere pillow's throw across the 4,000-square-foot former warehouse, Lois DeMaria, of Walnut Creek, is hunched over an industrial-grade sewing machine, shaping new cushion covers for her patio furniture because squirrels attacked the old ones and ripped out all the stuffing.
Meanwhile, Linda Marquis, of Lafayette, has miles of bright yellow-and-white fabric stretched out on a massive work table, redoing the seat covers for her camper. As she measures and cuts, there's a birthday party group of five women nearby, reupholstering an ottoman, outlining large monograms on canvas wall-hangings and making "reverse batik" pillows with burlap and a bleach pen.
Amid all this activity, the center's owner, Rachel Myers, is everywhere at once. A tape measure always curled around her neck, she's guiding someone on upholstery techniques, showing someone else how to use a pneumatic staple gun.
Myers opened the learning center in September; so far, students have flocked through the door.
"People tell me they've been looking all over for something like this," she says, stapling floral fabric to an ottoman. "DIY is so big right now."
Indeed, there's a growing national movement toward -- or perhaps returning to -- designing, creating and building things oneself, evidenced in everything from the popular Maker Faire to
A big part of the trend is having places to do the work. Few people have the tools or space to reupholster a large sofa at home. Hence, more multidisciplinary art spaces have been popping up, such as Myers' center, where all manner of tools and equipment are provided, and folks can take classes or buy memberships for open-studio time. In addition, they're developing community while they work.
"You can't undervalue the social aspect of it," says Catherine Cook, of Martinez, who is at work on some throw pillows for a friend. "You really learn from each other."
Making it happen
"We are indeed seeing an explosion of growth and expanded interests around DIY as a result of the maker movement," says Clay Lambert, manager of the TechShop open-access workshop that opened in 2006 in Menlo Park. TechShop quickly expanded to San Jose, San Francisco and several sites across the country, with classes in everything from welding and woodworking to sewing and leather crafts.
"DIY used to mean simply fixing or updating a small project on your own," he says. "Now, with greater access to tools, technology and training, it's about creating and innovating
Demand for such work spaces and classes has increased as public schools and adult-education programs have been trimmed back, says Ric Ambrose, director of the Richmond Art Center, which also offers a wide array of art and craft courses. "The fundamental quality of the arts, the creativity and experimentation, is mostly absent in the general curriculum of the elementary, secondary and, to a certain degree, higher education school systems," he says.
That's precisely why Myers opened her Home Décor center. She taught upholstery classes at Mt. Diablo adult education for years, but those were recently discontinued. "It was such a shame, a really popular program. People came from miles around," she says.
While Myers' center may be similarly structured to other multidisciplinary warehouse-style education facilities, hers may be the only one in the Bay Area dedicated solely to soft goods for home decor, with equipment such as button presses and long-arm quilting machines, bolts of fabric and rolls and rolls of things like interfacing and drapery buckram.
"You might say it's like The Crucible (the industrial arts complex in Oakland), but without the flames," she jokes, as she teaches Karen McHugh, of Walnut Creek -- the birthday girl -- about the proper way to stretch fabric over an ottoman McHugh has brought in for re-covering.
"When you apply fabric to any form, start in the center on each side and do the corners last," Myers says. "That's the A-1 rule in upholstery. It's all about controlling the fabric."
Students and studio workers here are mostly women, but men are drawn to the auto-upholstery classes, instructor Joanne Papini says. "We do let men in here," she adds, smiling.
Jennifer Walsh says she may have been the learning center's first student when it opened in the fall, quickly picking up new techniques for multiple projects. Since then, she has made poufs, pillows and a bulletin board, reupholstered a chair and even built a cushioned headboard for a California King bed.
"Once you learn to work with a pneumatic staple gun, you can just go crazy," she says.
bay area DIY centers
The Home Décor
2041 Commerce Ave., Concord
120 Independence Drive, 650-521-9027
San Jose: 300 S. Second St., 408-916-4144
926 Howard St.,
Richmond Art Center
2540 Barrett Ave.,
1260 Seventh St.,