For those of you who joined the Challenge after last August and may not be aware of the Big Secret, here's how it all started. Krista in America sent me an email last February suggesting we make Nicola a permanent keepsake of the challenge in the form of a stitched quilt. She suggested that Elaine may be able to give us some advice on making up such a project. I emailed Elaine asking for some guidance and she jumped at the chance to be involved and instantly volunteered to make the quilt. I read her blog, saw her photos and realised what a fantastic quilt maker she is! We were honoured she agreed to this project.
I did a group email asking people to send their squares to Elaine by August 2013 to allow her time to design the layout and make the quilt. And the squares poured in!! Along with donations for materials. The only guidelines we gave were that squares should be stitched on white or cream fabric and be no more than 4 inches square. Amazingly every stitcher chose a different sampler for their motif. Some used Nicola's initials, others used their own or added a personal message. You can see all the individual squares on Krista's beautiful video here and more details of where the squares came from on her post here.
The next dilemma was How To Get The Quilt To Nicola! Most of you will know that Nicola lives in a beautiful part of the country in the far South-West. I live in a not quite so beautiful part in the furthest East point while Elaine lives pretty much in the middle not too far from London. So some subterfuge was called for. I phoned Nicola and suggested it would be lovely to get together and see some of the actual samplers Marsha had used to chart her Scarlet Letter collection. Many of them are housed in the V&A Museum in London. To my relief Nicola agreed!
L-R - Jen, Vittoria, Elizabeth, Angie, Nicola, Elaine, Jo
(Luciana taking photo)
The date was set and we were joined by Elaine, Angie, Elizabeth, Jen and Nicola's two sisters. The eight of us met in the cafe at the V&A and after refreshments and chat we revealed the real reason for the meet-up. You can see Nicola's reaction in these photos:
And those are all before she opened the parcel!
It's BIG isn't it!
Now, as I mentioned earlier the only stipulation was the size of the piece, 4 inches square. Marsha Parker herself contributed to the quilt, which was very exciting for us all. However, her "square" was slightly larger than 4 inches:
Yes, she stitched the entire Betsy Davis sampler AND personalised it along the bottom.
We considered making it a centrepiece or into a cushion but decided in the end to allow Nicola to make the choice of finish, whether soft or framed. She was completely overwhelmed as she has been discussing The Betsys with Marsha! I believe she may stitch the companion Betsy Manchester and frame them together.
Krista had also compiled a book using the photos Elaine sent her of each block and the making up of the quilt:
Elaine also handed over the bundle of letters, cards and notelets addressed to Nicola who wisely decided to read them later. I don't think her mascara was that waterproof!
After a visit to the shop and lunch back in the cafe we made the short trip to the Clothworkers' Centre where the V&A stores its sampler collection. The curators of the Textiles Department recently completed the mammoth task of moving their collection to this Grade II Listed former GPO building in West London. Viewings are by appointment only but you will get an expert guide and be able to see the samplers and oher textiles up close and personal, not behind glass. You are not permitted to touch but you are provided with a dinky magnifier which enables you to see the stitches in even closer detail. The gloved curator will turn the samplers over so you can examine the reverse too. I think it was at this point she realised how serious a group of enthusiasts we were - excitement over the reverse!!
We were permitted to take photographs for personal use only but I am allowed to show this one as I have blanked the samplers out:
You can see Angie examining the sampler in great detail!
You can request to see up to ten samplers, here were our choices:
Elizabeth Short T.131-1961
Grace Catlin T.22-1955
Sarah Brignell- T.46-1970
Elizabeth Brain - T.750-1974
MD 1660- T.217-1970
Jane Bostocke T.190-1960 - the oldest surviving dated sampler from 1598
"angel" sampler 516&A-1877
Elizabeth Parker T.6-1956 the 19th century verse stitched ad infinitum on a sheet.
Marsha helped compile this list. The last one, the Elizabeth Parker is not a Scarlet Letter piece, rather it is a very moving act of repentance sewed by a young girl who was badly abused by her employer, suffered from depression and found salvation in the Bible. The V&A page includes some details of her later life.
We were also allowed to see a piece which was out for preparation for an exhibition which featured the most beautiful map of farmland with exquisite birds, animals and plants all around the border.
As people left to return to their homes we said our goodbyes and talked about making this trip an annual event. There are samplers in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and in other parts of the country too. Nicola and her sisters had promised to take me for a "slap-up tea" somewhere posh and they had discovered a delightful vintage tearoom just around the corner from the Clothworkers' Centre.
Nicola and I outside the Clothworkers' Centre
Betty Blythe's Teashop was the perfect place, we were shown our own room where we could dress up in the vintage clothes provided (we were too busy chatting!!) and several courses were brought to us with an endless supply of English Tea. From dainty sandwiches (sans crust of course) to smoked salmon minis, jam and cream scones, chocolate amuse-bouches to the finale - iced fairy cakes!
Just one of the courses in our traditional tea.
And then it was home time! Luciana and I travelled east across London to catch our respective trains home while Nicola and Vittoria went west to their homes.
There are some more photos in my Picasa Album found here but I have chosen the best ones for this blog post!
I arrived home just before 10pm, a very long, tiring but most enjoyable day. We said how lovely it was to all meet for the first time but funnily enough, it did not feel like the first time, it felt like old friends meeting up for a great day out. Now let me check my diary for the next one...