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American Quaker Sampler stitched by Krista


Monday, 13 May 2013

Beyond the Little X - An Interview with Ellen Chester

It's time for another interview with one of our stitchers!  This month we'll be talking to Ellen Chester.  Everyone knows Ellen and the wonderful designs that she has produced and the classes that she teaches throughout the country.  Her work is exquisite and I think that anyone that has been been honored to take a class with her has come away with a newfound knowledge and appreciation of samplers, and a wonderful day spent working on a beautiful design.  Her pieces are wonderful.  She has her own designing company - With My Needle and a blog that I'm sure that most of everyone is familiar with - With My Needle.  And she is an incredible stitcher.  I, for one, would love to take a tour of her house and see all her pieces up close.  So today we're going to get to know Ellen a little bit better.  

How old were you when you first picked up a needle?

My first needlework was filling the background on needlepoint seat cushions when I was in Junior in High School.  I didn’t stitch any more until after my husband, Tom, and I, both native Floridians, moved to Charleston, South Carolina where he worked as a chemist and I as a teacher.  I needed something to occupy my time before school started in the fall, so I bought a very large crewel kit.  I must have had "big eyes"--the project I picked was 22 by 26 inches…probably not the average starter project.

The following year, we returned to Florida, and Tom started graduate school.  During this time, I discovered cross-stitch--the stamped kind.  I stitched several stamped samplers.

In 1976, we moved to Ohio where Tom worked as a research chemist at the Procter and Gamble Company.  We raised our two children in Cincinnati, Carolyn and Stephen.  When they were young, I did lots of volunteer work at church, at their schools, and for Kindervelt, a community organization that raises money for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  It was during this time that I discovered counted cross stitch on aida.  I really liked the freedom it provided to make design and color changes.  Then came the great "awakening" when I discovered linen.  Today I would never use anything else.

What was the first sampler you stitched?

My first sampler was a stamped one that was advertised in a woman's magazine.  I can't remember which one, perhaps Good Housekeeping.  The design was called "Bless This House" and was designed by Julie Nixon Eisenhower.  I still have this sampler hanging in my home.

What time of day do you stitch?

I am an early riser, so I usually stitch a couple of hours before "beginning" my day.  I used to always stitch some at night too, but sadly I now find myself too tired to stitch many nights.  I never thought that would happen.

Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have to hand?

Here's a photo of my "stitching nest".  I usually "stitch in hand", so I use my stand not to hold a frame, but to hold my chart and threads.  Of course, I also have a pair of embroidery scissors nearby.

Do you use the stick and stab technique or a sewing stitch?

I usually stitch in hand and use a combination of the sewing method and stick and stab depending upon the stitch.  For example, closed herringbone, four-sided, backstitch, and cross stitch lend themselves well to the sewing method.  I use stitch and stab for tent stitch, cross stitch over one, queen stitch, etc.  I'm trying to get myself to feel comfortable using the sewing method for queen stitches, but that hasn't happened yet.

What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?

I like almost all reproduction samplers, with no particular time period being my favorite.  If I stitch a non-reproduction sampler, I lean toward those that have the look of old samplers, for example, "I Sigh Not For Beauty" by C Street Samplers.  I stitched that a few years ago.

What designs appeal to you the most? (e.g. Scottish needlework, certain stitches, colour schemes, animal motifs, houses, figures, Quaker style,  etc) 

I guess my taste in samplers is eclectic, but I really prefer traditional-looking designs over modern ones.

Have you had any formal education in textiles?

I have had no formal education in textiles.  I sometimes wonder if I were to do my education over again if I would study textiles and perhaps work in a museum.

Why do you find antique samplers appealing?

There is a timelessness about reproducing antique samplers unlike the teddy bears and geese pictures that I stitched in my early 30's.  The teddy bears and geese have long since been given away or relegated to a closet or the basement.  My samplers are all hanging on our walls.  I don't think there is a sampler I don't love.

Do you collect antique samplers? Apart from samplers do you collect anything else?

Yes, I collect antique samplers as well as antique needlework tools.  I also have a pretty extensive needlework library.

What other types of hand work do you enjoy?

In the past I have done some crewel, crocheting, knitting, and quilting, etc., but these days my focus is on counted thread work except for the prayer shawls I knit for my church.

Any guilty secrets to confess?  (e.g leave tails on the back, drink tea or coffee whilst stitching, let your cat sleep on your work, etc)

Well, I do usually have something to drink next to me when I stitch.  This makes my husband very nervous, but (knock on wood) I've yet to spill anything.

What has been your worst needlework disaster (loss, stains, holes)?

Two needlework disasters come to mind.  Years ago when we were visiting my sister, her son was running through the house eating something.  Somehow, mustard landed on a project in my stitching basket.  I still don't know how that happened, but luckily we were able to get it out.  Then there was the time that I was assembling a project stitched with overdyed threads, and my iron decided to "spit" water.  Of course, the overdyed threads ran.

If your house was on fire and you could only save one sampler which would you choose and why?

My goodness asking me to chose one sampler is like asking which of your children you love the most.  If I could grab only one sampler, I think it would be the American Sampler because of all those queen stitches.   Or should I grab Ann Bowers (The Examplarery)?  Or how about Agnes Scott which I reproduced?  Or how about Margaret Gibson (The Scarlet Letter)? Or how about.....?  I would ask my husband to grab Dutch Beauty, not because it was a difficult sampler, but because it is SO large!

American Sampler

Agnes Scott

Dutch Beauty

Am I the only one who forgets that her glasses are on top of her head?

You won't see me with glasses on top of my head.  I've worn glasses since I was in elementary school except for a short period of time when I wore contacts.  When I had my cataract surgery a few years ago, I told the doctor that I wanted to see the best I could for my needlework and I didn't care if I wore glasses or not.  I just didn't want to be putting glasses off and on all the time.  I now have tri-focals, and the top section of the lenses has no correction.

What else would you like to add?

I have several sampler walls in almost every room of the house.  I  think there are 35 samplers in the family room. Here are two of the sampler walls in our family room.

(editor's note - I could not get the picture to right itself)

Here is a view going up our staircase.

Here is part of one of the sampler walls in our bedroom.  These are the five Ackworth reproductions I have stitched.

And Samplers in our office:

Wow!  Can you believe all these beautiful samplers filling Ellen's house.  Such a wonderful inspiration to all of us.

Thank you so much Ellen for taking the time and agreeing to our interview.  I'm sure that everyone is going to be absolutely awed by the beautiful work that you have stitched!!  


Nicola said...

I have had a very enjoyable time reading Ellen's interview this afternoon. Thank you so much Ellen for sharing your love of stitching and your samplers with us.

A big thank you to Deb too who puts so much work into the the interviews each month.

Margaret said...

Wonderful interview! I so enjoyed reading it and finding out more about Ellen. My father-in-law was also a chemist, Ellen! Deb, thank you for the enjoyable read!

Marie in Texas said...

Enjoyed the interview with Ellen. Guess I better get to my stitching if I am ever going to have that many samplers on my walls.

HollyXSing said...

Delightful! Ellen is a charming lady and I just love taking classes from her!

Very talented!

-Holly in VA

Sabrina Fechtel said...

Very nice interview! Looking at her samplers is such an inspiration :)

Starry-eyed stitcher said...

I have taken some classes with Ellen and found her gentle relaxed teaching style inspirational. Those walls full of samplers are inspiring too. Irene xxx

Inguna said...

Thank you for this lovely interview!

Fiona said...

Great interview, thank you. I am envious of Ellen's fantastic sampler walls.

Vera said...

Thank you for a great interview. I want to take a class...

JoAnn said...

I thought I had stitched a lot of samplers, but from the lovely photos of Ellen's accomplishments, I bow to her. Absolutely lovely, every one of them. How she finds time to design, reproduce samplers and mentor so many of us is beyond comprehension She is a very kind and gentle lady.

Debbie Bauer said...

I love these interviews. It was so great to see all of her samplers.
It would be nice to take a class from Ellen.

Faye said...

What a wonderful interview!!!! I learned so much....and, look at all the samplers!!! Wen there's an Open House, sign me up!!!!

Cheryl said...

What a great interview. It was fun to all of her work and find out how she got started stitching.

Annette-California said...

I was glued to every word. Wonderful interview. Thank you Deb and Ellen:) I get to see Ellen in person in a few weeks. I'm taking 2 of her classes - I'm so excited. Now I'll be dreaming of all those incredible samplers Ellen has stitched. Beautiful!! love Annette

queenstownsamplerdesigns said...

Delightful and lovely interview.

Tom is a real sweetheart too.

Never enough photos of sampler walls.


Silkstitcher - Kay Lynn said...

The interview with Ellen was just wonderful! All those samplers, is just amazing! I wonder how many stitches they represent? Anyone care to guess? I have stitched a couple of Ellen's designs and find them delightful to stitch. Thanks again for a great interview!

brod'attitude said...

Wonderful interview. I love your samplers walls

C Street Samplerworks said...

It wa such fun reading about Ellen and seeing all of her beautiful samplers! I took one of her classes last fall and am looking forward to another in October--what a fantastic teacher!

Jonette said...

What a treat to get to see all of these beautiful samplers. Thank you for this interesting interview.

ilana kaye said...

ELLEN.....Thank you for the interview and the wonderful gallery of samplers.

Angie Burrett said...

You are an inspiration to us all Ellen: thank you so much for sharing your wonderful sampler walls as well as your love of this amazing hobby.

Barbara Day said...

Holy cow! Multiple sampler walls, not just in a room but in every room of the house. It would be like living in your own personal sampler museum. Sigh. They are so, so lovely. And what a great interview!