This gran picked up roadkill to create the perfect armchair

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News, Washington DC

  • Published
Nanny Pat with the chair that has propelled her to fame - it is an armchair with wildlife including peacocks and other birds and animals depicted on it.Image source, John Armitage
Image caption,
Nanny Pat's chair has wowed Redditors

At first glance it looks like any other family picture, but this photo of a beaming woman from Toronto, Canada, in front of an armchair has meant she's now become the internet's grandmother.

John Armitage posted an image on Reddit of his grandmother, Nanny Pat, holding on tightly to the hand-made chair, not realising that the image would soon end up on websites in Russia and China with many pretending that his grandmother was their grandmother.

He said the chair had been 25 years in the making, adding: "She used to pick up road kill from the side of the road to compare thread colours. She also bought a peacock for colour comparison. I am not allowed to sit on it."

Of course that spurred commentators to ask more about her commitment to the project and what her plans were for it. More than 116,000 upvotes and 2,300 comments later, it would be fair to say Nanny Pat is a viral hit.

Flying-toad told John "your grandma is a legend" while almight_ruler said: "Please tell grandma some random internet dude said that is amazing! Give her a hug and kiss on the cheek for me too please."

John said Nanny Pat was bemused by the attention, so together with her grandson and daughter Diana Armitage, she agreed to help the BBC understand why she embarked on the project and what she planned to do with her new-found fame.

Her family stepped in to help with our interview as Nanny Pat is hard of hearing. However, she refused to give her surname and the exact location of the chair as she still wanted a degree of privacy. Her grandson also got her age wrong in the initial post so she took care to correct that.

But a quarter of a century ago, the 87-year-old decided she wanted to make a needlepoint chair and use up leftover yarns she had in her home. She started in 1993 and finished the needlework last year, finally the upholstering in spring this year.

A dead skunk

She says that her inspiration came from creatures living on her farmland property in the Greater Toronto Area and that she came up with the design by working with an artist who painted canvases for needlework shops.

Mrs Armitage said: "Nanny Pat provided a template of the chair and photos. Originally there was going to be a porcupine on it but she decided it would be too prickly to sit on."

The chair shows wild animals and birds that live in the southern Ontario woods around the family's farm.

There are also local wildflowers - trillium, dogtooth violets and cornflowers from ditches. There are also trees - the cedar waxwing is sitting on a pine branch and there are maple leaves on show.

While Nanny Pat has a big family with eight grand-children aged between 14 and 33, she worked on the project all by herself in between gardening season and on afternoons. As long as there was a good north light in the window, she was content.

Image source, Diana Armitage
Image caption,
Nanny Pat finished the chair a year earlier than she was expecting to

Her family only stepped in to help her pick up the road kill she needed to make sure the choices of thread colour were accurate.

Mr Armitage says: "My mother remembers when we picked up a skunk and a rabbit. Nanny Pat wanted to closely check the colours in the fur to help pick the right coloured yarns."

Nanny Pat, a mother-of-four, also volunteered as a quilt lecturer at the Royal Ontario Museum, and would pick hairs from the animals to compare.

Mr Armitage added that road kill was far better to use than Google images. He said: "The issue is the majority of computer displays - and inkjet printers - is they do not display the true colour of the captured image. That was definitely the case 20 years ago. And so a computer monitor will not necessarily look the same as a real thing - so if you want the right colours, you have to find the real thing."

The family also loved birds and bought a couple of peacocks who provided useful inspiration for the design and colour matching. Sadly they are now dead.

But just how did she make the chair?

John explained the mechanics: "Nanny Pat first made templates of the chair parts she wanted to cover with needlepoint, allowing extra margins for the upholsterers. She collected photographs and nature guide books of all the animals she was interested in as reference for the design. She chose 14 stitches to the inch because it causes a more rounded shape."

Russian fandom

And what does Nanny Pat think about her grandson making her a viral hit?

John said: "To the best of my knowledge when my mother told her she didn't understand the concept of going viral. She is a very nice grandma but struggles with modern tech.

"If she is the internet's grandma she is a darn good one to pick."

However, it turned out Nanny Pat was flattered that at least one Russian account took the image and translated John's original caption.

"She is flattered because she knows how much Russians admire and value handmade textiles," says John.

And while her family did wonder if she'd ever finish the project, they are incredibly proud she managed to.

Nanny Pat explained that she wanted to have the work completed by 2020 and was delighted she had finished early.

She stitched "fini 2017" on the hidden bottom edge of the back, 2018 on the other pieces and her initials.

Her dream would be to see it one day in a museum.

But while the chair is deemed special and kept in a darker room and has a protective slip cover, is anyone allowed to actually sit on it?

Mrs Armitage and her mother confer and say: "We all can sit in it; it is a very comfortable chair. Except for John. He can be messy."