How it started

Following Stockport Heritage Trust’s purchase of the carved tester bed for Staircase House, the remaining funds were spent setting up a project to involve local people in the creation of the bed hangings.

To ensure that the work was completely authentic to the 17th Century, a specialist teacher was recruited. Jane Dew had worked with the Globe Theatre on  reproduction costumes, and co-ordinated a large crewel work project at Ford Green Hall in Stoke.

After an appeal for local people to take part, the group began in October 2005. Jane had expected just a few interested volunteers to turn up, but was overwhelmed with over 50 keen stitchers, ranging in skill from complete beginners to experienced teachers.  

This meant that several different projects could be started, not just the crewel work bed hangings. A name was finally decided upon, and the Staircase Stitchers threaded up for action….

Red and blue pillows in front of the carved oak bed head
Pillows and bed cover by the Stitchers

Authentic to the 17th Century

The word ‘crewel’ refers to the actual wool used, rather than the type of stitches. It generally means two threads of wool twisted together to make one strand.

This kind of embroidery became very popular in the 17th Century, and although there were professional embroiderers employed by the rich, the work would also be done by members of the household, especially the ladies, with plenty of time on their hands. Having seen how dark some of the rooms were, and the terrible quality of  lighting available though, if a lady were to busy her evenings with the needle, goodness knows what it would have done to her eyesight!

The materials for the embroideries were authentic to the 17th Century, with wools dyed in the original processes being sourced from France. You can find out more about this on their website

The linen too, was the same as that used nearly 400 years ago.

Side view of two colourful bed hangings in situ
Finished curtains on the tester bed

Work on the hangings began by embroidering small designs copied from an authentic pattern. As a result, lots of small pieces of work were completed and appliqued (cut out and sewn on with an outline which made it look original to the fabric) on to the large linen curtain which had been stretched onto a frame.

Work started around 2006, with steady progress made until they were all finished in November 2011.

Shades of green, brown and red wool form a leaf for the bed hanging
Leaf to be appliqued on to the curtain
Two Staircase Stitchers sewing the individual pieces onto a very large frame.
Local ladies working on one of the bed hangings

Slideshow of hangings

  • Completed bed hangings

    In situ on the carved tester bed

  • Bed with bedding

    Bed hanging with pillowcases and bed cover in Staircase House

  • Bottom left of a curtain under construction

    Section of the bed hanging on the frame

  • Bottom middle of a curtain under construction

    Section of the bed hanging on the frame

  • Bottom left of a curtain under construction

    Section of the bed hanging on the frame

  • Reverse of bed hanging

    Tidying up threads on the back of the curtain

  • Close up of one of the bed hangings

    Colourful full length of the curtain

  • Close up of the embroidery

    Colourful section of a bed hanging

The fully decorated bed can now be viewed by visitors to Staircase House.

Other projects by the Staircase Stitchers

With so many volunteers with different skills, it was decided to create some other items for the house to add that colourful personal touch.

Text with trees and flowers, and the ladies names
Cross stitch sampler
Green and pink flower on a deep red velvet
design being appliqued onto the cushion

Cross stitch

Other pieces created include cross stitch coffer carpet, cushion, and samplers.

Portion of sampler showing black and white Staircase House
Cross stitch sampler
Partially completed cross stich work on a frame
Fine cross stich work
At a later stage with the coat of arms completed
Coffer carpet
Very long intricate sampler
Cross stitch sampler
A Stitcher holds a rectangular frame with several pieces of beadwork attached
Beadwork in progress


Fine bead work to form a mirror frame was also undertaken. This involved creating many shapes in tiny beads which were then appliqued to a larger scene.

Golden tiger on linen on an embroidery ring
Fine beadwork tiger
Red embroidery on white chemise sleeve
Chemise sleeve


There were also several pillows and a chemise created in monochrome work. The pillows are on display on the bed.

Red and blue pillows
Monochrome pillows