Bernadette Korver’s life is full of grommets, buttons, buckles and luxurious fabrics. She has four sewing machines: two industrial machines — one dated 1947 that she completely rebuilt — and two domestic ones. She’s a seasoned seamstress and expert upholsterer who has been happily earning her living with these skills for nearly 35 years.
Korver learned to sew as a young adult. She started with baby clothes and soon was sewing fabric sample squares for several high-end San Francisco fabric showrooms.
“I sewed thousands of them; I certainly learned how to sew a straight line,” she jokes.
She also honed her skills in drapery making and participated in a two-year upholstery apprenticeship with Randolph & Hein, a high-end furniture store.
“The woman who taught me was very exacting and I certainly learned the proper way to do things.”
She also sold fabric for six years at Stroheim and Romann. Because she had great fabric sources and knew what to do with them, she started taking on side jobs.
“If clients were looking for something specific sometimes other designers would say, ‘Go talk to Bernie’.”
In 2008, Karver decided it was time to move back home to New Orleans. It didn’t take her long to build up her clientele. She continues to find her own clients and also has a steady stream of jobs from local interior designers and other craftsmen.
She recently completed a job with Greg Arceneaux Cabinetmakers. The business was commissioned to build teester beds for the new boutique hotel in the Marigny, Hotel Peter & Paul. Korver did all the curtain panels for the project.
“She was so easy to work with and she’s now our go-to upholsterer,” says Liz Arceneaux, owner of Greg Arceneaux Cabinetmaker.
Korver strives to do high-end work and says she’s a bit hard on herself.
“Sometimes I’ll spend a whole day getting a cushion just right, making sure the pattern matches exactly,” says Korver. “Others might not notice but I guess I see things they don’t see.”
Her jobs usually start with a picture of the project, basic measurements and not much else.
“Each job is different and none of them come with an instruction manual,” she says. “It’s up to me to look at it and figure out what I need and what I need to do.”
Also, often the fabric the client sends won’t have a label. One of her tricks is to burn a small swatch and by the smell and the way it burns, she can figure out if it’s cotton or a polyester blend.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “I love repairing, restoring and creating. I’ve been fortunate because what I do with my hands has always helped me make my living.”