Hi Everyone - Nicola has asked that I do an interview for the blog!! This one should be easy! Most of you know me from my blog (Threadgatherer), so I don't think that I need to go into any introductions - we'll just dive right into the questions.
How old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
My earliest recollection of picking up a needle to stitch was probably about the age of seven or eight. My mother wasn’t into the needle arts at all, but my grandmother thought that crewel embroidery would be a good thing for me to learn so she bought me a small kit and taught me embroidery stitches one summer when I stayed with her for a week. My grandmother loved things like that and her house was full of pieces that she had done herself or purchased during her travels to France and England. With her guidance, it was like I found a whole new world. Crewel embroidery took me by storm and I went on to make pillows for her living room and some things for myself. Then when I got bored with that, I got into red work and stamped cross stitch. I know that my mother always feared driving by the then local craft store, Lee Wards, knowing that I would start begging her to stop! After that I taught myself how to knit, crochet, needlepoint, sew and quilt. And I hate taking a class – I don’t know how to sit still long enough! Give me a book and the necessary fibers/wools and I’ll take off. I have taken a few - like maybe three? But really don't like them.
I didn’t get into cross stitching until about 1978 when a good friend of mine that I worked with made me a tiny picture of a hot air balloon and framed it. I had never seen fabric with little holes in it and wondered how in the heck you would get a design onto that. Just a blank piece of (at the time) Aida cloth with no design. It seemed so daunting. I had just done stamped cross stitch pieces and didn’t necessarily love it much. Well, my friend sat me down on our lunch hour one day and showed me a piece that she was working on and how the stitches were made. Again, I was smitten and I’ve stitched since that time. It didn’t help that she pointed out a newly opened cross stitch store just down the street from me that I hadn’t noticed (and several more in the area). A good portion of my paycheck was left at those shops on a regular basis.
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
The first sampler I stitched is from an older book and I don’t remember the name or who designed it. Probably Leisure Arts. This is a picture of it.
Simplistic, but still a sampler. It still hangs in my guest room I suppose as a reminder of where I started. Most of my stitching after that was everything but samplers, but eventually I got back to them and stitched this sampler - not a reproduction again, but this piece also hangs in my house to this day.
After that, I started discovering the world of reproduction charts – probably from the store near me and the ads in the back of cross stitch magazines that I bought. I drooled over the Scarlett Letter samplers and actually ordered a couple of kits, but at the time they seemed so out of my skill level as most of the ones that I purchased had stitches other than cross stitch and they sat there for a long time. Oh, and they were on linen - a totally new thing for me - and at the time, rather scary!! Later I did pick up needlepoint and actually managed to sit through the classes without too much squirming and realized that the specialty stitches on the samplers were the same as what I was doing with the needlepoint pieces, and the Scarlett Letter pieces no longer seemed so daunting. I’ve done my fair share of Shepherd Bush pieces and other non-sampler related things as well, along with Mirabilia and the normal suspects that I'm sure a few of us are familiar with, but most have been packed away and only samplers hang on my walls with the exception of a Chatelaine piece, Alhambra, that I put so much work and beading into that I have it hanging in my dining room.
My first reproduction was the Sarah Maddox sampler.
With her non-symmetrical border (a nightmare for the framer and a headache for me because I kept thinking that I wasn't stitching correctly), I felt that I was venturing into frog infested waters (and I did do a lot of unstitching), but she came out fine and that opened the door to more and more samplers. In fact, it’s very rare that I do something that is not a sampler now. Sarah does have the letter "J" in it, but other samplers that I have done do not. An interesting story (and one I laugh over at times) is that when my husband and I started dating he wondered if I didn't know my alphabet well as most of the samplers that I had stitched were missing the "J".
What time of day do you stitch? Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have to hand? Does everything have to be in a certain place in order for you to relax and concentrate on your work?
The only time that I really sit down is in the evenings. If I’m lucky I’ll get two hours in, but I rarely sit down before 9:00 at night. And the whole house knows that at 9:00 it’s Mom's Stitching Time!! Although to tell the truth, a lot of times I don’t park myself in the chair until later. I’ve tried stitching during the day, but after about 10 minutes I have to get up and move. I need to get over that!!
Everything does have to be in a certain place and on my table I have my chart holder, my ORT basket and a small tote bag type thing that holds spare needles, needle minders, and other things that I might need. I also have a pincushion purchased from Joann’s with space in the center for the scissors to land. There is nothing worse than fishing around on my lap for the scissors or knocking them off the arm of my chair and I don’t like them hanging from my neck nor sitting on a magnet on my piece. I also can't stand fobs on my scissors for some reason. I only have them on scissors I don't actually use. I find that they get in the way. My Ott light and large lighted magnifier are behind my chair, but most times I just rely on a small magnifier that clips to my scroll rod.
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?
I've switched back and forth. When I started stitching it was in a hoop and I would use the stick and stab method. I then switched over to the sewing method as the hoop holding made my arm tired. Then I switched back to the stick and stab method when I started using scroll rods. I found I had better control on a scroll rod when the samplers and pieces that I stitched involved more than just cross stitch – stitches like Satin, eyelet, etc. I found those stitches much easier to execute if the fabric was tight. And I continue to use the stick and stab method now.
What is your favorite period of sampler-making and why?
I honestly don’t have a favorite period of sampler making. I’m a very visual person and will stitch something more for the visual impact of the piece rather then stitch it because the sampler was originally stitched in a certain time period. I stitch samplers that make me smile when I walk by them. I think that I like most time periods, but am not a fan of Quakers nor Band Samplers, although I love seeing ones that have been stitched by others. Samplers with a lot of “bling” (like Mary Gail and her wonderful colors) or samplers with reds and pinks and blues will attract my attention more so than something that has a lot of browns and greens. Two of my favorite samplers are Flora Virginia Holmes because her colors.
And also Ann Rayner with all her reds:
Which designs appeal to you the most? (e.g. Scottish needlework, certain stitches, colour schemes, animal motifs, houses, figures, Quaker style, etc)?
I love samplers with big houses in them, especially if they're red, but Adam and Eve samplers seem to be what I go to first lately. I don’t know why, but for the past few years those are the type of samplers that I’ve stitched. Here is a picture of my back staircase walls with most of my Adam and Eve Samplers.
Missing from this wall are three that I recently had framed and four more that need to be framed. Once I get all those up, I think I’m going to have to take over another wall. My wall goes up 20 feet, but I'm not the most secure person on a ladder so I won't be putting up anything higher then where they are now (unless I can bride the hubby to do it)! One of those recently framed samplers that is missing from the wall is Ann Smith - truly right up there as one of my favorites:
Has working with reproduction samplers given you any new insight into the lives of the girls and women in the 17-18-19th centuries that you did not realize before?
Not really as I’ve always had a fascination with people like the Amish who live a much simpler life and I know that the women that stitched these samplers long ago had a much simpler life then we do now. I've also been able to trace my family back to about the year 1060 and many of them settled in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario around the mid-1700's and that has made me think a lot about what their lives were like during that time. I wish I could find a sampler that had been stitched by a relative, but I doubt there are many that have come from Michigan!
Working on these samplers has made me realize that they didn’t have things like computers, cars and cell phones to distract them. I think that it has given me a better appreciation of the skills that they had and the time that it must have taken them to produce their samplers and how intricate their work is. While I'm sure that a lot of sampler makers were probably wealthy or more affluent, I know that many were not and their stitching had to be done around their daily activities of surviving. So while their lives were simpler in a lot of respects, they also weren't because of all the things that they had to do to survive. I suppose that what I'm really appreciating is that they spent what spare time they had making beautiful samplers, quilts, lace and things like that instead of checking out what their friends were doing on Facebook or beating the latest round of Candy Crush (two things that I waste time on and I'm sure a lot of us do). I’m still amazed that at the age of 10, Ann Medd did her beautiful sampler – truly a massive undertaking. I wonder when she worked on it - day or night, how she came up with the idea of her sampler, the verses, etc. I wonder when she actually started it - the time it took for her to complete it. For such a young age, it's truly an accomplishment. I can't imagine doing something like that at the age of ten.
Another thing that I realized is that we are so fortunate today with the readily available supplies that we can buy. Women back during those times probably used materials that were at hand (like in the case of quilting and I’m sure with stitching too – their color choices probably depended on their wealth, what they had on hand or what was available). They didn’t jump in their cars and run up to their local LNS for supplies or place an order via the computer or phone. I’ve also completely taken back by the fact that these samplers are on such fine linen (upwards of 40 ct. sometimes) and at times were probably stitched by oil light. I’d be lost without my Ott light! I know that these girls were younger with great eyesight and I'm much older reproducing their beautiful creations, but I'm truly amazed at their artistic ability and fortitude.
Do you collect antique samplers? Apart from samplers do you collect anything else?
I do have a couple "antique" samplers that I’ve found in my travels through estate sales, antique shops and of all places a garage sale, but they are ones that are more just lettering then a pretty picture. I haven't had them looked at so am not sure if they are truly antiques. Just because 1876 is stitched on a sampler doesn't mean that it was done then. I sometimes think of bidding on pieces that I see and reproducing them, but if I did that I’m quite sure that my husband would divorce me, although there have been a few times when I’ve almost hit that bid button and hid the goods (what he doesn't know won't hurt him). That will probably happen when I have time to actually sit and reproduce them (and don't have to pay college tuition). I collect scissors, both new and antique, flower frogs that I use to display my scissors (and occasionally flowers), antique toy sewing machines, and also have a few antique larger machines. I also collect a few other things (am embarrassed to actually list them - I try to hide the truth from myself sometimes - LOL). Then, of course there are all the cross stitch sampler patterns and quilting fabric!! Oh, and Barbie Dolls. My mother used to work for Mattel Toys – need I say more?? I probably qualify quite well for the show Hoarders!
What other types of hand work do you enjoy?
I enjoy just about everything – cross stitch, needlepoint, knitting, crocheting, quilting (my second love). I'd love to learn tatting one of these days. I used to oil paint and did take classes that I managed to sit through, but for some reason that has kind of fallen by the wayside although every once in a while I have a tinge to pull the paints out. I've tried rug hooking also, but haven't hit my groove on that yet although I hope to try again. I would also love to start making and furnishing a doll house and have collected quite a bit for that, but I consider that my “after the kids get out of the house” endeavor.
Any secret confessions? (e.g leave tails on the back, drink tea or coffee whilst stitching, let your cat sleep on your work, etc.)?
I’m sure that you would find a few tails behind my work. I’m not perfect by any measure and there is usually a mistake in my samplers that I will leave purposely. Kind of in keeping with the Amish thought that only God is perfect. Lord knows I'm not perfect, so my work rarely is either. Between us girls, if you look back up at the picture of Ann Smith (you'd probably have to enlarge the picture) I forgot to stitch an off-white crown over the right hand cartouche. I saw it when I took it in for framing, but left it - that was a little of the stubborn side of me that I put into Ann's wonderful sampler.
What has been your worst needlework disaster (Loss, stains, holes)?
I haven’t had a disaster that I haven’t been able to recover from (knock on wood), except for getting chocolate on a piece. I don't eat or drink anywhere near where I stitch, but it must have been on my hand or something. Luckily it was near the edge and no one was the wiser - framing covered it up. And one time I did take a piece to lunch with me to show a friend and somehow the package fell down the side of the booth. I get home to discover that I didn’t have it with me. Luckily a trip back to the restaurant and the moving of the booth chair revealed my piece and no harm done.
Am I the only one that forgets that her glasses are on top of her head?
No, Nicola – I’m right up there with you. At least once a day I’ll mumble under my breath as to where my glasses are, only to be told by my daughter that they’re on top of my head (and she shakes her head thinking, I’m sure, that mom is getting senile)!
So that is it for me. Thank you Nicola for asking me to share a little bit about myself with everyone on this wonderful blog!!
So that is it for me. Thank you Nicola for asking me to share a little bit about myself with everyone on this wonderful blog!!