MAKING IT, OURSELVES: The Alice Footstool


Centered Petit Point Needlework DIY Upholstery StoolBehold! The first Fiber Archive DIY project is officially finished! Inspired by Alice B. Toklas and Pablo Picasso’s upholstery collaboration in the late 1920s, our new embroidered footstool is a testament to both Toklas’s steadfastness and Picasso’s whimsicality.

As discussed in the Toklas X Picasso HISTORY PROJECT post, our gal Toklas attended to her domestic tasks, many of which involved fiber craft, with the same care and vigor that Picasso or Gertrude Stein, her partner, devoted to their art. (Toklas was even known to stitch Stein’s famous line “Rose is a rose is a rose” onto Stein’s handkerchiefs). This particular collaboration between the artists began with Toklas’s desire to transfer an avant-garde masterpiece—Picasso’s guitar painting—into a petit-point footstool. Clearly viewing her and Stein’s everyday living space as an extension of their artistic life, Toklas transformed a lowly footstool into high art. The stool was soon followed by the even more ambitious Louis XV upholstered chairs, one covered in the playful floral/hand design and the other in bold lines and color blocking.

Toklas Stein Picasso Petit Point Upholstered Chairs

For our 21-century update—we’re calling it The Alice Footstool—we wanted something similarly graphic, with a nod to the Louis-XV style but with cleaner lines and a lighter construction. We re-enacted the collaborative process by enlisting our friends Leah Cover (doodler extraordinaire, among other things) and Samuel Sveen (coffee entrepreneur and woodworking enthusiast (and my husband!)) to lend their skills to the frame and design components of the stool. After Leah designed a print that I could stitch over, I went to work embroidering. As I lamented in the WIP post, this stitching was slooooooooow work. When the needlework was finally complete, Samuel built the framework to turn our whimsical tapestry into a functional stool.

Toklas Needlepoint Petit Point Footstool UpholsteryFirst, I talked with Leah about the project idea, the original chairs, and the vibe we were going for: colorful, abstract, and reminiscent of the original design but not an exact replica by any means. When she came back with this ^, my jaw dropped. Not only were the drawing and colors downright gorgeous—so gorgeous, in fact, that it was hard for me to make my first stitch—but Leah’s design choices captured the aesthetic and the essence of what’s so interesting about the Toklas X Picasso piece in the first place.

The wobbly, meandering geometric grid not only evokes Picasso’s cubism but also highlights the mesh grid-medium of Toklas’s needlework. And the slightly-anthropomorphic golden frond shape lovingly gestures back to the floral/hand motif of the original chairs while also being completely unique.

Toklas Needlepoint WIP Petit Point Embroidery Hoop
With the drawing ready to go, I had my work cut out for me. For two months, in fits and spurts, I stitched. Disclaimer: I am not a seasoned needlepointer. This was my first such project. I researched just enough to know that for a simple, full-coverage project I should probably use a diagonal Tent Stitch. Then I just went for it. (So don’t look toooo closely—you just might find some inconsistent spacing here and there.)

Stool_Materials_KnollingFINALLY ’twas finished. Enough. I measured the completed rectangle and had my man Sam cut out a corresponding slab of pine to serve as the backing. Then I gathered my upholstering materials—scissors, batting, staples, and a staple gun. (I am also an upholstery novice. This was a project of many firsts.) I layered the tapestry on top of the batting, on top of the wood, wrapped the edges around to make the piece square and taut, and then stapled them to the sides of the slab.

Stool_HammeringFrameWhew! The hard part was done. Now it was time to hand it off to Sam to create the frame and legs. He mitred the pine trim, producing angled edges that would meet at each corner. Then he nailed the trim into place. It’s amazing how much a simple frame can transform a piece into something legit.

Check it out! ***feeling stoked***

Woodshop Working on the Alice Stool - Woodworking, Carpentry, PineThen for the legs. We looked back at the Toklas X Picasso chair legs and also at some other examples of Louis-XV furniture—we liked the idea of using really basic materials and construction but just nodding to the Old World style with that curvy leg shape.

Alice Toklas Stool Leg - Woodworking, Carpentry, PineSam cut out each leg, tracing the drawn shape with a jigsaw. Then he sanded the edges for a smooth finish. These lil leggies immediately became my new favorite part of the project—so cute.

Alice Toklas Stool Legs in the WoodshopOnce he had cut and sanded all four, he affixed the legs to the base of the stool using a Kreg Jig and a drill.

Stool_SideView_WoodFloorEt voilà! We have a footstool!

Stool_Hildy_Room_ArmchairIt’s even puppy-approved.*

I still can’t believe we made this whole darn thing from scratch. I can’t imagine how many long hours it must have taken Toklas to complete the needlework for both of those chairs. But I can imagine how ridiculously proud she must have been when she finished and then got to watch a parade of Parisian elites sit their butts in them for years to come! Thanks for the inspiration, Alice.

*Don’t worry—I will not leave my puppy alone with this stool, lest it become a woody snack.



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