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American Quaker Sampler stitched by Krista


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Scarlet Letter Advent Calendar - Day 24

Beyond the Little X – An Interview with Marsha Parker of The Scarlet Letter! 

We saved this month’s interview for the 24th Advent Day, a Christmas surprise for all of you.   We get to hear Marsha’s story and learn how The Scarlet Letter began!   After a year of us all sharing our love of Scarlet Letter samplers with well over 100 finishes we will now learn how Marsha was inspired to reproduce and create all of the beautiful samplers that we enjoy today.   

Entrance to The Scarlet Letter
Chapter One
If my eldest sister hadn't asked me to stitch a stamped sampler from Johnson Creative Arts in 1977, The Scarlet Letter probably would never exist.  I found the work tedious but, in the end, rewarding.  My sister's request, while I was pursuing my Graduate degree, was interesting despite my mother's much earlier attempts to interest me in embroidering pillowcases.  Before I was shipped off to an all-girl's college preparatory school, I spent a year suffering through an awful, under-funded public school system where my book report on Dante's Divine Comedy was dismissed as plagiarism and I was almost expelled.  (My elder sister was reading this at university and shared it with me.  I really did read it at age 13, and understood it well enough to write the fateful book report.) 

There wasn't a wide choice of curricula for young girls then; it was "Home Economics" or nothing.  Given the choice I would have chosen "Shop"- electronics, carpentry- but only boys were offered that option.  So, I suffered through Home Economics, enjoyed cooking only because it was just before lunch half hour and we were all starving, didn't excel, and then failed miserably at sewing.  The first project was a simple apron that I mangled.  The second project was a skirt and blouse that we had to model at a fashion show for the entire school, and I basically looked like what you'd retrieve from a basket of laundry that hadn't been ironed in a decade.  I have one of those upstairs, by the way.

Simply put, I was not born with the gift of sewing.

Chapter Two

My sister's request to sew the stamped sampler eventually turned into an obsession.  I must have stitched at least four "Chase" samplers before understanding that "stamping" was just not right.  They looked odd, nothing like the antique samplers that I found in antique shops in the UK, when I moved there as a young bride.  My first purchase was a pair of antique samplers executed by sisters, found in an antique shop in Summertown, North Oxford, near where I worked as an assistant picture editor at Elsevier Publishing, while studying as a university affiliate at Oxford (thanks to my ex husband, whose father was a don at Christchurch College).

Chapter Three – Q&A

How old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch? 

I was eight years old when my mother practically forced me to embroider the image of a chipmunk "stamped" onto the sleeve of a pillow case.  At the time it seemed cruel and I hated it.  I deliberately did a bad job and the offensive pillowcase is now at the bottom of a landfill, I hope.  However I am still using the same hoop that kept me in captivity for- what- maybe three days before the Revolution.  I have used the same cork-lined metal hoop, with springs to adjust the tension, for every piece I have stitched since then.  Maybe the Guinness Book of World Records would be interested in it, but unfortunately there is no documentation of its history, except my word.

What was the first sampler that you stitched?

The Chase.  After four of those I started fiddling with my own designs.  In Glee Krueger's book about American samplers I found a picture of one made by George Parker, and reproduced it.  It's still hanging in one of the Parker houses in England- High Steps, in Charlbury, Oxfordshire.

What time of day do you stitch? 

My stitching time is usually very late in the evening.  During the day I'm busy with fielding phone calls, filling orders, farm chores, design, and cooking and caring for my Significant Other, Phil, who is disabled. 

Inside the Scarlet Letter workshop where orders are filled

A view outside the workshop

Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?  Does everything have to be in a certain place in order for you to relax and concentrate on your work?

I have several favorite spots which include a cushy chair with low arms beside a window.  I could never have accomplished this volume of work without using a sewing stitch, as opposed to "stick and stab"- which does come in handy sometimes.  Having examined the back and front sides of hundreds of antique samplers I am not at all afraid of breaking the rules, the rules meaning what some teachers, as well as the EGA, consider sacrosanct.  95% of the antique samplers I've seen and reproduced were stitched randomly.  The crosses don't always cross in the same direction.  There are stitches that run three inches or more under the back.  There are some exceptions but they are rare.

My goal at The Scarlet Letter is to make this art appealing to as many artisans as possible.  Strict rules about stitching technique may discourage new people from starting.  I was the anarchist in the beginning, and remain so today.

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

Sewing stitch.

What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?  Which designs appeal to you the most? (e.g. Scottish needlework, certain stitches, colour schemes, animal motifs, houses, figures, Quaker style, etc)

Anything colorful, funky, unusual appeals to me. This combination often appears in Scottish samplers before 1775, American before 1750, and English C17th and early C18th.  I look for color and magical design.  I adore anything with bargello work, queen stitch, all the really annoying stitches, but in the end it's worth the effort.

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?

The obvious: they worked during daylight hours.  Young eyes can stitch by candle light, but my opinion is that they stitched while the sun was shining.  After dark they would have been preoccupied with chores.  Upper class girls would be minding their manners at dinner.  This question is beyond my knowledge.

What aspect(s) of working with early textiles appeals to you the most? 

They are truly untouchable.  If I dare to touch an antique sampler without gloves, and I confess that I have, I can almost feel the girl or woman who held it in her hands for months.

Have you had any formal education in textiles?

My formal education includes BA English Lit and Art History major, Beloit College: University Affiliate at Oxford, then MA at UW Madison English Lit and Education.  Nothing textile-worthy.  Entirely self-taught.

Do you collect antique samplers?

I don't collect antique samplers.  I buy them, reproduce them, then sell them for what I paid.  Here is the only antique sampler I have kept. 

Apart from samplers do you collect anything else? 

I used to collect animals but since my divorce in 2002 I had to cut down on the flock.

One of many animals residing on the farm

I have an inactive collection of Portuguese Palissy pieces, and some Sunderland Luster chamber pots and motto plates. 

Collection of Palissy ware

I hoard heritage garden seeds and plant an enormous vegetable garden every year.

What other types of hand work do you enjoy?

I like to cook.  I have studied in Italy and can make some pretty good stuff, at least according to my friends who like to eat it. 

Italian weavings and embroideries collected in Umbria

We're not discussing hand work here, just other interests, and I am an avid scuba diver.

With Phil in Honduras

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)

I have a lot to confess.  I leave tails, because tails were left on the original samplers.  My cats sleep on my work so every model has cat hairs incorporated into it.  I scream when I discover a mistake and it has to be frogged (more often than not I will simply stitch over in the correct color).  Tea makes me sick, so does coffee, but to date I have not spilled my cranberry juice onto my needlework.

What has been your worst needlework disaster?

Hang onto your chair, I have some needlework disasters that will curl your toes!

My dear friend Kathleen helps me sew samplers that I don't have time to finish before deadlines.  She finished "Martha Willkins" and returned it via UPS.  It arrived here a week later, in two pieces, with rubber marks scarred into both sides.  Apparently the UPS truck tore the package apart, and rolled over the sampler, not once, but twice.  Thanks UPS, they paid up, but we went back to square one having to stitch a new model.

The second worst disaster was a long time ago, when Kath's youngest son Scott decided to finish the Family Register sampler. (It's not on the website now, but it's still available.)  He saw her stitching the names, and when she left the room he took a ball point pen and inked in his name.

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

If my house catches on fire, I will try to save my cats.

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

This is a tough confession, but I have forgotten that my glasses are on my head.  I am quite blind, so anyone who says she/he can't sew because of poor eyesight, nonsense. I stitch naked eyed. 

Chapter Four – The Scarlet Letter Gallery

“Symmetry is calming, 
but asymmetry is exciting.” 

We all would not be here on this Scarlet Letter Year journey had Marsha not brought to life the hundreds of reproduction samplers that we are all stitching, enjoying, and sharing together.  I hope you have all enjoyed hearing how it all began. 

Thank you Marsha for sharing your story with all of us! 

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday!  xx


Kellie said...

Great interview! Very interesting! I would love to walk through that beautiful gallery in person! I would also like to receive the code for January so I might continue to add to my own gallery. :)

Brenda said...

Yes that was a great interview!!! I would LOVE to walk through slowly looking at each and every sampler hanging in the gallery.

I would like to receive a code for January so that I might be able to add another sampler to stitch for my walls.

Thank you for a great offer to shop in January!!!

Sarah said...

Wow! Love the back story. Please send me the discount code for January.

Sharon H said...

Wonderful story - love that your cats help, mine do, too!

As I don't know what a "no reply blogger is" I am assuming I am one, so my email is sehuff@aol.com. Thank you for the generous discount code.

Lovely samplers and Merry Christmas!

Sharon H.

Jennifer Cameron said...

Since I am Scottish and have wanted to stitch isabel redie for a while, please can I have the code? Thank you xx

~mj~ said...

How lovely to give us 20% off!! I shall buy some Scottish samplers for sure!!

Loved the disaster stories...I have some of my own about shipping Canada post that are similar, but not samplers, thank heavens...

Did the little boy get scolded I wonder??

Merry Christmas!!

Elizabeth said...

i have really enjoyed reading about you Marsha and I too would like the code as I am Scottish and would love to do a Scottish sampler (goes off to look at the SL website).

Elizabeth said...

i have really enjoyed reading about you Marsha and I too would like the code as I am Scottish and would love to do a Scottish sampler (goes off to look at the SL website).

Terry N said...

Your Gallery pictures are amazing and so very inspiring. Also, I love your attitude about not stitching perfectly. I think stitching should be about how the final product looks overall, not the process. Great interview!

Vera said...

What a great interview...complete with pictures that leave one drooling. I would love the code as I had already been planning to order a few items after the holidays...now the list is growing!! Merry Christmas everyone and may the new year bring you all that your heart desires (and plenty of stitching time).

Kevin said...

Really enjoyed this interview. The photos of the gallery at the end are amazing! I'd love the code for the Scottish sampler discounts please. Thank you. Kevin.xstitch@gmail.com

Bethany said...

Marsha is truly a angle sent down from heaven. We must all thank your sister for being the one to bring you into the love of samplers. I am sure your time abroad also added to this love. Thank you for sharing Scarlet Letter with all of us. We look forward to many years to come.

Laurie in Iowa said...

Thank you for the wonderful interview. I brings back fond memories of the day I visited Smoke Ham Farm.
Love Scottish samplers and would love to have the code for a discount.

Thank you!

Inguna said...

Thank you for this interesting interview. Wish I had an opportunity to visit The Scarlet Letter some day.
I love Scottish samplers and have collected quite some charts already. But probably I still need some :)
Merry Christmas!

Cindy L said...

Thank you for such an interesting interview and wonderful photos. Is the public allowed to visit your gallery? As a fairly new scuba diver, I loved the photo (was that at Anthony's?) Thank you for all the wonderful samplers and prizes offered. Merry Christmas!

Theresa Born said...

What fun to read such a lovely interview on Christmas Eve! Thank you!
This SAL has been so much more than
I ever could have dreamed; all the stitching tips, interviews, the
inspiration and photos of such gorgeous
samplers, encouragement and of course,
the generosity!
thanks again. Marsha, it is amazing the
samplers you have collected and reproduced!

Theresa Born said...

What fun to read such a lovely interview on Christmas Eve! Thank you!
This SAL has been so much more than
I ever could have dreamed; all the stitching tips, interviews, the
inspiration and photos of such gorgeous
samplers, encouragement and of course,
the generosity!
thanks again. Marsha, it is amazing the
samplers you have collected and reproduced!

Erica near Chicago said...

Thank you for the interview and photos. What a great Christmas gift!

Julie said...

Thank you for a the lovely interview, and the chance to get to know a little bit about Marsha and how The Scarlet Letter began
I was blessed to have visited The Scarlet Letter back in the nineties when Martha held what I called a open house. It was wonderful, the farm and the shop were so beautiful.

Anonymous said...

What a great post. I loved learning about Marsha and what got her started.

Jenny said...

Thank you Marsha for sharing your story with all of us! I so appreciate all the hard work that you do so that we can all enjoy these beautiful samplers. I too would appreciate the code for the Scottish samplers! Someday I will come to visit this magical place called The Scarlet Letter!

Merilde said...

I love your story - isn't it interesting where life leads? I would love the Scottish discount code - my grandfather was from Scotland, so I have a great fondness for the samplers (and I love the colors!!) My email is: LoriDE454@gmail.com
Thank you so much and best wishes for a Merry New Year!

Cheri said...

A great post, I really enjoyed the scarlet letter history, and I am going to try and tuck away some of my fussy, type A personality, and drag some threads across the back of my work. :)

Marlene said...

Hello. I loved reading the interview with Marsha. I also enjoyed learning about the stitching pratctices of antique sampler stitchers, that makes me feel a bit more liberated. Confession: I too have stitched over a wrong color thread rather than taking it out. ;) Please send me the discount code and just in case, stitcher2gomars@yahoo.com
Thank you.
Merry Christmas everyone!

Jane in Wisconsin said...

Thank you for the wonderful interview and fabulous pictures! Although I am a member of EGA, I don't get too hung up on making my stitching perfect. Way to go, Marsha! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone. And, another huge thank you to Nicola for organizing this group.

KB said...

thank you Marsha for a wonderful interview...When I read the part about your stitching hoop it brought back wonderful memories.. would you believe my mother gave me a hoop just like that when I was a child...AND...I still have it!! must confess I no longer use it.. but it remains with my stitching tools to this day... metal hoop with the cork lining and spring tension...who would have thought someone else still has the same hoop after all these years :)

Wishing everyone a Very Merry Christmas!!!!!

Lanie said...

Thank you, Marsha, for sharing a little bit of yourself with us, your talents, your loves, your home, your studio. It looks like 'one day' you will have many visitors ... count me as one of them!
Thank you for the very generous gift to us. I look forward to many more Scarlet Letter Years!
Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and many blessings in the New Year!

Cindy said...

This was a great interview. Love the needlework disaster stories and all the photos of the studio. Cindy

Rachel F said...

Wonderful interview! So many interesting tidbits of history, viewpoint, and interests. The photos are all so beautiful. Add me to the line outside The Scarlet Letter! Would love the savings code, although I have been so remiss in working on my current SL piece. I am hoping the new year will bring me a lighter heart.

Jonette said...

Wonderful interview. Would love to visit The Scarlet Letter and see all of these samplers on display.

Margaret said...

What a fantastic interview! I'm so glad to know so much more about Marsha and her wonderful operation. So fascinating! Scarlet Letter was my introduction to the world of reproduction stitching, to silk floss, and to linen. I will always be grateful!

Samplers, Silks and Linens said...

Wonderful interview and oh yes please I would love to receive a discount on a Scottish sampler. Looks like the year 2014 is going to be another fantastic year - love you all and Merry Christmas!

Ruth said...

What a great interview. Hope to someday visit the Scarlet Letter. Love Scottish samplers and would love to have the code for a discount.

Faye said...

Excellent post!!!! I read every single word....fascinating~~~ Ty Ty Marsha!! I absolutely love Scottish samplers....

Scarlet Letter said...

Cindy L, it was indeed at Anthony's Key, our last day so we couldn't dive. We chose to do the dolphin encounter. The dolphins can come to and from the ocean- they are not confined.

Louise said...

I really en joyeux reading this interview. Thanks for the discount, Marsha .

Merry Christmas !

Anne said...

I loved reading this interview and found out more about dear Marsha!! I love the collection of Scarlet Letter samplers and I spied Hannah Brassington in all her glory!! I would love to receive the special code as I have some ordering to do!! Thank you Marsha...Merry Christmas to you all!!

Edith Antl said...

Count me in as one of those folks glad that you chose to develop your addiction to repeatedly piercing linen with needle and thread. Your work is extraordinary and truly appreciated.

sign me, Edie, of Scottish extraction.

The Inspired Stitcher said...

What a fun post. I sense a wicked sense of humor. Love that! Merry Christmas.

Erica near Chicago said...

One more comment to add to my thanks above: the gallery photos are very helpful in that they let you see the relative size of the pieces. Manifesto seems enormously large -- but more tempting than ever.

C Street Samplerworks said...

Thank you for a great interview! It's such fun to know more about the woman behind Scarlet Letter. Marsha has been an inspiration to me and sampler stitchers everywhere. And Scarlet Letter has long been my main source for sampler books, kits, and charts.

Peace & Love, Fran

Kim Hummel said...

Great interview. So happy that you started down the sampler path.

Jen Rawlins said...

Great article! Love hearing how it all got started :)

Kim said...

Wonderful interview! I've been a long time admirer and stitcher of Marsha's work. Fabulous!

Jennifer H said...

I would love to have a discount code - what a great article about Marsha and the Scarlet Letter! Love her home - it is so gorgeous! Wish I could see it sometime. :)

Hugs and Love,
Jennifer H

Elaine Wimberly said...

Great interview! I've been ordering from Marsha since 1987 (approx.) and I would love to do another Scottish sampler! Thanks so much!

Debbie Bauer said...

Wow Marsha, what a wonderful interview! I would also love a tour of the scarlet letter gallery/shop and the farm someday!
I would also appreciate a code for January.

Bertie said...

A wonderful story, many years ago I read an interview with Marsha about samplers and she was quite controversial on how to stitch a sampler. I loved it and and took a leaf out of her book, stitching should be fun:))
Happy New Year

queenstownsamplerdesigns said...

Thank you Marsha for the delightful interview.
I have a soft spot for Scottish samplers too. Love the vivid colors.
One can never have too many Scottish sampler charts.

Michele said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michele said...

I have loved reading this article and getting to know Marsha better. Isn't it funny how, so many times a happy accident leads to a fulfilling career? I would just like to know from Marsha, how she charts her repros. Do you use a software or do you use graph paper and pencils? Also do you have a team of stitchers to produce that first one?

Roberta said...

Thank you Jo for a wonderful interview with Marsha. Makes the SL a more personal place to shop. Happy New Year.

Beth in IL said...

I finally broke down and visited this blog. Love the interview. Now I am lusting after a sampler. Could I have the code too please. I need to add to my stash!

robindefender said...

Hello! Interesting interview. I would love to get the discount code. Maybe this time I'll buy a kit so that I won't have to deal with missing threads that are never delivered. : )

Tommye said...

So interesting! Love all my SL samplers. Starting a new one today!

pat said...

Loved the interview!

Dianne said...

Finally catching up with my reading here - what a wide-ranging and fascinating interview - thank you! And the discount code would be most welcome - I'd thought I wouldn't use it, as I'm working on Janet Burnet, but looking again at the Scottish samplers available, a couple more seem to have my name on them ....

Bhooma said...

I have been skimming the interview until now and finally read it again marveling at the beauty of the samplers. I am such a late comer to sampler stitching that I don't think I will ever be able to stitch all I want to but I take pleasure in seeing other's stitching.

Aileen said...

Absolutely fascinating interview. It always amazes me how diversely creative artistic people can be. Thank-you so much for sharing.

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Cheryl Matzker said...

That was so awesome. Loved seeing physical image of SL inside and out. I all but drooled when I saw the stitched models hanging together. Really enjoyed the interview.

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connie said...

Wow-your gallery is soooooo awesome! Thank you for letting us get to know more about The Scarlet Letter :) Connie Bechtold