Faced with an exorbitant price to have her settee set reupholstered and not being guaranteed its completion for the Christmas season, 52-year-old Wendy Chichester-Norville took matters into her own hands; armed with a staple gun, tacks, needle and thread, scissors and a hammer she did the job herself.
But she was not finished there. She purchased a new television set and found that her old wall-divider was too small to accommodate same and shopping around for a new one was futile as some were too expensive and the others were not suitable. And so she took hours off from her day job and with wood, hand saw, pencil, and tape measure she fashioned a piece of furniture that satisfied her thirst for elegance and quality.
Her work complete, the primary school Headmistress shared her story on Facebook and she said the response has been overwhelming.
“People were contacting me and wanting to make orders,” a still incredulous Teacher Wendy, as she is fondly called, told the Sunday Stabroek in a sit down.
Proudly sitting on her beautiful settee in her Craig, East Bank Demerara home, she told this newspaper that she was forced to stop responding to the messages on her page as they were too numerous, but she was moved by the outpouring of support and good wishes she received.
Even though she has been a teacher all the days of her working life, from the age of 16, Chichester-Norville said there were many times, especially in her childhood, when she had to improvise. She recalled that after her parents separated and her mother was left with 10 children—she was the fifth child—she was forced to help take care of her younger siblings as her mother became unwell.
“I used to make clothes for my younger brothers and sisters, little skirts and tops and trunks. And I did not have a tape measure, so I used pointer to measure and I stitched with my hands. I even use to make my work clothes when I started to teach with my hands because I had no machine,” she told this newspaper.
And because her husband has been away a lot over the years of their marriage, the mother of two was forced to be a Jack of all Trades around her home.
Turning to last December, she recalled that Christmas was on the horizon when she noticed that her chairs needed reupholstering and the springs repaired and her son even told her to throw them out and purchase new ones. But instead she approached an upholstery shop and was told that it would cost $75,000 (material included) for the work and if the chair needed additional work then the cost would go up. She contemplated it, but after she was told that because of the volume of work the chairs may not be completed in time for Christmas she questioned the wisdom of getting it done.
At the age of 23, the mother of two had reupholstered her mother’s chairs because she could not afford to have an upholsterer do them and with this memory she decided to do the work herself.
“My son said to me ‘Mommy, you know what you doing?’” she said with a small laugh.
Undaunted, she bought 23 yards of material and after working a few hours a day she completed the job for just $22,000.
“I felt great, the kids could not have believed it,” she said when asked how she felt when she saw the finished product.
“My son even suggested that we start a business. I felt proud of myself, that I could have done it for myself,” she continued.
And maybe it was that pride that propelled her to make the wall-divider even though she admitted that this task was much more difficult, and she had some doubts.
After she had already purchased the wood she recalled that she sat on the stairs looking at the wood and contemplated re-selling same as she felt overwhelmed when she thought about the volume of work she had to do and she was not sure she had the know-how.
It was a WhatApp ed by a friend that had the words of the late Bob Marley’s famous song “Three Little Birds”: “Don’t worry, ’bout a thing//cause every little thing gonna be alright” that gave her the go-ahead she needed.
“I said then to myself that I am going to make my own wall-divider and I started at around 5 that afternoon using the hand saw to saw the wood and it was not easy but I did not give up,” she recalled.
She worked until 9 that night and in the afternoons after school and in one week the wall-divider was completed. She purchased the doors and mouldings to fit and used a piece of the material she had used to cover the chairs to add some finishing touches. And when she did not get the right brown paint she mixed what she bought with some black and got what she needed.
“When I was finished I must admit that even I was in awe. I was like did I really do this?” she shared adding that in all she spent about $55,000 for the piece of furniture.
“And it is all solid wood, not that soft wood that some of the furniture are usually made with that swells when water is thrown on it,” she noted.
Chichester-Norville said the two completed projects, in as much as they may inspire others, inclusive of women and men, have been an inspiration for her.
She said men, after seeing her work, said it will motivate them because they have never made anything with their hands. “It just goes to show that so many things can be achieved once we have the right mind set. You can overcome any odds if we want something bad enough and work towards it,” she said.
“What the mind of man can conceive and believe, that he can also achieve,” she said philosophically.
She has been the headmistress of the Diamond/Grove Primary School since 2014 and even though she works late many days it has not all been academics, as she puts it, “I have other skills.”
While he lived with them, Chichester-Norville said, her father had tools around the house with which he worked, and she surmised that she may have observed him and was inspired by what he did.
Talking about her childhood days, she recalled they spent many of their years at Long Creek on the Linden/Soesdyke Highway and it was after her mother and father separated that life got difficult for the family. When she graduated from teacher’s training college she made her own graduation dress, using her aunt sewing machine late into the night.
Over the years she has also sewn for friends and family, but she has never made it into a business.
After she got married and with her husband away most of time times working, Teacher Wendy said she was forced to be man and woman in the house and that includes doing maintenance work around the house inclusive of plumbing.
“I painted the inside of the house and I even built that gate over there,” she said, pointing to the small gate that led into her veranda. With a spirt of perseverance she shared how she was also able to purchase the house she always admired and now is the proud owner.
Asked if she might consider going into business when she retires two years down the line, Teacher Wendy laughed.
“That would be something and it’s not that I can’t do but I am just happy helping myself. Maybe if I was younger I might have considered it,” she said.
However, she said she is not sure where the road would lead her after retirement and the fact that she is not “shutting any doors” could mean that one day she just may own her own upholstery shop.
She pointed out that positives can come out of disappointments as had she not been disappointed by the response she received from the upholsterer she might never had been motivated to take matters into her hands.
Teacher Wendy’s children have also taken the professional path as her daughter is a teacher and her son, a police officer. She said her children have been her everything over the years and they have motivated her to do many things.
“Everything I do, I do for my kids,” she said of her adult children, Alana and Alonzo Norville.
And with 35 years in the teaching profession Teacher Wendy has also been a mother to many, and looking back, she wouldn’t want it any other way.