How cross stitch & love restored a family heirloom

One of Dot Penn's proudest cross stitch projects took real love and skill. Here's how she made a family treasure good again...

Cross stitch seat cover

We all love a challenge when it comes to our fave hobby, but some projects can take more courage to tackle than others. Dot Penn’s most recent project was her late mother-in-law’s music stool, which actually took her over 40 years to finally attempt! “It was on my first visit to meet my future parents-in-law, back in 1973, that the stool first caught my eye,” says Dot. It was very old and Dot wished she could bring it back to its former glory.

Cross stitch seat cover original

Dot married in 1976 but, sadly, her mother-in-law died six months before the wedding. Dot’s sister-in-law inherited the stool, which measures 37x29cm (14.5×11.5in) and, over the years, Dot could see it getting more and more worn.

Dot was interested in making tapestries and it was one particular project that gave Dot the knowledge to attempt the old music stool. “Two summers ago, we were visiting a farm shop where I spotted an old fire screen with a picture of a medieval huntsman shooting a wild boar. It was badly worn but I loved it so much that I wanted to repair it,” remembers Dot. After buying the screen, Dot made enquiries about having a pattern worked out for it, but the cost was too much. “I resorted to working it out on 20-count linen, just to see if I could find the pattern. Using thick button thread I sewed a grid onto the original picture, 10-holes square. I then drew a similar grid onto my canvas and I was off, using the grid on the original as a guide.” It took several months for Dot to complete, after which her confidence had grown.

Tapestry firescreen

Taking the plunge

The next helping hand for Dot came in the form of a friend’s clear-out. “I was lucky enough to be given some canvases and a large quantity of beautiful tapestry wools.” It must have been a sign, so Dot took a deep breath and decided that the lovely old music stool could no longer wait, much to her sister-in-law’s delight!

Dot used the original pattern as a guide and worked it out as she had done with the fire screen. “We had a good look at all the colours I had from my friend and thought there were enough to reproduce the original pattern,” she says.

Cross stitched seat cover in progress

As predicted, it proved to be a difficult project and, at times, Dot didn’t know where to go next. “The colours were so faded, and because they were old colours that are no longer available I had to try and interpret what I thought I could see. Where the pattern was very faded, I unpicked bits to try and see where to go. One area was particularly worn so I left it until last, but luckily I showed it to a friend who immediately said there were blue flowers there.”

Cross stitch seat cover
The stool has been brought back to life with a bright floral design.

Four months later, the final piece was complete, carefully wrapped and posted back to York, where Dot’s sister-in-law lives.

Cross stitched heirloom seat

She’s since had the stool re-upholstered and Dot’s beautiful piece installed. “During my next visit, I’m looking forward to sitting comfortably on the music stool – for the first time!

Vintage cross stitched stool
Dot’s sister-in-law has been reunited with the transformed music stool.

This feature first appeared in The World of Cross Stitching issue 264.