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….
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 websitehttp://www.renaissancedyeing.com.
The linen too, was the same as that used nearly 400 years ago.
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.
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.
Other pieces created include cross stitch coffer carpet, cushion, and samplers.
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.
There were also several pillows and a chemise created in monochrome work. The pillows are on display on the bed.