Monday, March 17, 2014

- Sampling life: A family in stitches

I want to take yesterday's story back a bit to my brief sojourn at the needlework shop in Williamsburg's Merchants Square. While I was there, I did finally begin to create my own needlework rather than relying on kits. This piece hung in my parents' home for over 30 years.

A 25th anniversary sampler designed for my parents and stitched in 1978

Detail of the house where I grew up: 15 Fairview Avenue, East Williston, NY

Once I began developing the needlework program at Colonial Williamsburg in 1980, my focus shifted to making authentic reproductions of 18th-century needlework. Kathleen B. Smith (who is still in business) was a major contributor to my success, putting me on to appropriate linens, silks, and worsted wools hand-dyed using authentic 18th-century methods and materials. The only needlework I have that dates from that period is this canvaswork pincushion, made with her worsted wool (which is still available on her website). 

The colors are as bright and true today as they were 30 years ago. 

Stitch detail

Sadly (in retrospect), CW soon promoted me to a management position where I was responsible for all the textile-related crafts: spinning, weaving, millinery, wigmaking, and tailoring. While the promotion meant more money, it left me with far less time for research and needlework. After having our first child, I realized I couldn't be a good full-time manager (which was what I had become) and have enough energy and enthusiasm left over to be the kind of parent I wanted to be. So I left to become a full-time mom and made needlework on commission to earn some extra cash.

That didn't work out so well either. After a year or so, I returned to the library world part-time, got my degree, and proceeded to develop a new career. Every so often I found time, particularly during vacations, to do needlework. But I was no longer satisfied with copying any one person's work exactly, whether in kit form or as a reproduction. As my parents' 40th anniversary approached, I began another sampler, this time with historic sampler design elements culled from many of the books in my personal library.

Silk on linen, begun in the late 1980s

The acorns and birds are worked in double-running stitch on the 3rd row
and cross stitch over one thread on the 6th row.
In order to work the details on Adam and Eve, each stitch
covered one thread of the 34-count linen (34 stitches/inch)
Close-up detail

This deer from an 1598 English sampler will be recognizable to
anyone who has ever browsed through books on historic needlework.
The Latin phrase roughly translates to "Time flies when you're having fun" ...
a wry self-commentary on the fact that the sampler took over 10 years to complete

That was then, this is now. My most recent sampler, made after I retired from librarianship last June, took mere months to complete and awaits its rightful place on the wall.


Seeking the next best thing to try, my Pinterest searches inspired an exploration of slow cloth and a return to the simplest needlework: running stitch. To be continued - - - - - - - - - - - -

2 comments:

Saskia van Herwaarden said...

incredible!
love how there are true-life stories in there

Liz Ackert said...

Oh if you only knew ...