There is justifiable reason for the long absence of the yew stool from these pages: I can upholster and have done so on many occasions (the most recent being a gout stool I completed in July last year), but upholstery is not my bailiwick. With a job of this gravity, I would sooner entrust an experienced professional to carry out the work.
Unlike upholstered chairs with large encompassing seats on which sitters distribute their weight across the interior of the seat’s surface, stools of this ilk are basically perches where the sitter places the greater part of their weight right on the very edge of the upholstery. It is for this reason that covered stools necessitate high quality hand-stitched edges of the sort created by the best traditional upholsterers.
There are plenty of upholsterers who, working amidst piles of foam rubber, synthetic wadding, by-the-yard faux brass nails and coiled air hoses; profess to be competent in traditional upholstery methods, but the oft-sagging evidence belies their claims.
While I was active in Melbourne’s antique scene there was one esteemed upholsterer who kept a small shop on the periphery of the antique district and whose meagre tool kit of knives, hammers, stretchers and curiously shaped needles could comfortably be tidied away into a small drawer. His stock in trade was jute webbing, horsehair, spools of linen thread, calico and linen. Eschewing modern materials and practices, his services were frustratingly (for me at any rate) in heavy demand.
It transpires he retired around the same time I closed up my shop, but I tracked him down to his coastal retreat and after some cajoling; he agreed to upholster the yew stool for me. Craftsmen don’t like to be hurried and retired craftsmen command complete autocracy, so I knew better than to enquire when I could expect to see the stool again.
I had agonized over a suitable fabric for the cover: Cotton, silk and wool velvet was fashionable in the seventeenth-century for covering chairs and stools (indeed, the original stool I based this copy on was covered with bottle-green velvet), but modern velvets are predominantly synthetic and look and feel nothing like old velvet. Quality silk velvet is available, though costly. Natheless, inspired by the ter Borch painting below (most ter Borch paintings of domestic interiors depict velvet-covered chairs, stools and tables, but Curiosity best portrays the sheen of velvet), I did manage to procure some damson coloured silk velvet, but when I draped it over the stool, the colour was totally at odds with that of the yew.
England was a prodigious producer of wool during the seventeenth-century, much of it being exported, but the domestic market had a voracious appetite for wool for producing tapestries and carpets. Needlework and tapestries along with turkey work – a type of knotted woollen pile fabric made in imitation of expensive Turkish carpets – were also fashionable for upholstery during this period.
I happened to have a mixed petit point/gros point panel, salvaged from an old chair back, which was just perfect for the top of the stool. The needlework depicts a central ho-oh bird amongst stylised foliage. I also acquired a fragment of murrey velvet for the casing.