This month we get to sit with Barbara G. and hear about her stitching journey. As you will see, Barbara has accomplished some amazing pieces including some Scarlet Letter favorites. Her embroidery talent is truly inspiring!
Barbara, how old were you when you first picked up a needle, and who taught you to stitch?
I was very young when I started to stitch. I remember getting kits with a hoop, thread and a drawn-on design of flowers for Christmas. I was always stitching, cutting, gluing, colouring, etc. No reading for me – I considered that time wasted.
When I was 9 or so Queen Mary’s rug came to town sponsored by the IODE, and my Mother, being a staunch IODE member, took me to see it. To this day I can tell you exactly where it was shown and in which room. For those of you who don’t know, Queen Mary did a large needlepoint rug that eventually came to Canada and is in the National Gallery here. As soon as I saw it I was hooked.
My aunt ordered from England a large printed canvas of a lady standing by a window with a table laden with fruit and a dog below. I was off! I learned that following a printed canvas can be challenging. It had a round clock on it which could not be executed in the round so I had to make it square. I have since only stitched on charted pieces. I don’t remember sitting beside someone being taught, I think I just dove in and asked for help when needed. My Mother sewed but I don’t remember knowing anyone else that did handwork.
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
Believe it or not but the first sampler I stitched was only a few years ago. I have belonged to an embroidery guild for over 35 years and have done just about every technique out there so when I finally got a computer and went exploring I discovered samplers. The first one I did was Elizabeth Wod (1650). I figured I knew enough about stitching to start with one designated for very advanced stitchers. As you can see it has a lot of white work as well as detached buttonhole. I really enjoyed doing it and moved on to other 17th century pieces. I have never done a cross stitched sampler.
What is your favorite time of day to stitch?
I always stitch in the morning, very early. Occasionally I will work later but I have to have natural daylight. I never stitch using a light.
Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?
I always sit at my computer desk which you can see from the photo is wedged between a wall and a window. I rest the frame on my knees and the table.
I have a small table next to it that holds the materials I need for the project I am working on. I put the threads in the box in some sort of order and take out the ones I need for the motif or area I am working on and put those on a square of velvet. If I need a laying tool I have it there as well. No clutter. The small table is very light and sometimes I take it to another room to work on.
Do you use the stick and stab technique?
Most definitely. Somewhere someone told me that a sewing stitch was just that – sewing – so I feel very guilty if I use it. It is difficult to do with a frame anyway. I use a frame for my samplers and I like to work clean. I press my linen before I start, wash my hands often and cover my work when I put it away. That way when it comes off the frame it is pretty much ready to be framed. I used to use a hoop for other forms of embroidery but it wrecked by thumbs. Holding a hoop and stitching can be hard on your wrists and hands over time. If I use a hoop or q-snap I clamp them to a table so my hands are free.
What is your favorite linen and thread?
I like Permin lambswool linen and silk thread. Once I started working with silk there was no going back to floss.
Have you tried specialty stitches and do you have a favorite?
I started out as an embroiderer so finding new stitches is always fun. As far as samplers are concerned I enjoy Queen stitch and Montenegrin. Stitching Montenegrin keeps you on your toes and it works up quickly.
|17th Century Spot Sampler|
When did you discover the Scarlet Letter?
A few years ago when I was on a hunt for more 17th century pieces.
What was the first Scarlet Letter sampler you stitched?
The first was Margret Mason followed by Margret Gatis which is actually 1711 but close enough to the 17th or maybe it was the other way around.
|Margaret Mason in progress|
What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?
I guess you know by now that it is the 17th century. I like the designs and colors as well as they aren’t always perfect. I don’t mind that the edges aren’t always even and that colors often change in odd places. If the stitches on the original are not perfect I don’t like to “fix” them. It is always nice to be able to locate a photo of the original and see if it can be stitched the same way.
I don’t have favorite designs although I enjoy the folkartyness (new word) of Lydia Hart and Ruthy Rogers. I loved doing these two even though they aren’t 17th century. I did them both in the winter time and I think they helped the gloomy days go by, especially this year. You couldn’t help but be cheered by both.
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?
I didn’t give it much thought when I first started. All I wanted to do was new stuff but as I did more I couldn’t help but consider how they worked. Did they work alone or together in a group? Did they have teachers etc?
I think a lot of people think they must have had a hard time seeing but I am sure they only worked in daylight. Some of them I am sure had the means to get good materials but others had to work with what was at hand which probably explains colours running out in the middle of a section. I stitched Loara Standish which I am proud to say is totally reversible. Apparently she stitched outdoors and her piece is very small. I did a larger version.
How do you display your stitched samplers? Do you frame them? Hang them singularly or in groupings?
Sad to say only 3 samplers hand on walls. My house doesn’t have many inside walls so they are stacked in my studio. Some day!!! I do get them framed ready to go though.
Do you collect antique samplers?
Not until a few weeks ago. A member of our guild brought an old sampler from 1867 and gave it to me. I am now trying to discover more about it.
What other types of hand work do you enjoy?
As I said I have belonged to a teaching guild for many years and have tried many forms of embroidery. I was also a weaver for many years and also went through a quilting phase. I have a diploma in fibre arts (weaving). In 1999 I lost the sight in one eye so had to give it up because of lack of depth perception which one needs to thread a loom. You only need one eye to stitch! I am enclosing a photo of a piece with a bit of Hardanger on it which was interesting. It has two layers. Framing was a bit of a challenge.
Any guilty stitching secrets to confess?
No, I don’t think so. We are not allowed to have any food or drink near our work at guild so that has been instilled in me. Messy on the back I try to avoid but I don’t always try to have all pieces reversible.
I won’t hear the LOL’s tsking about my work in 100 years.
What has been your worst needlework disaster?
No real disasters. I would consider a disaster something that would be totally ruined. As me about weaving disasters!! I have a Ph.D. in how to fix those!
If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched? And why?
I think it is Loara Standish probably because it is totally reversible. It was not kitted in its original colors. The faded colours were used and I really like them. It is a very soothing piece to look at.
What Scarlet Letter sampler are you currently working on now? What do you most enjoy about it?
I am working on the OOP Stumpwork Picture sampler I won in Nicola’s Advent challenge. It is very small, just 71/2” with a lot of detached buttonhole motifs that are stitched separately on muslin and then applied to the background fabric. I have finished the central part which is done over one.
|Stumpwork Picture in progress|
What other interests do you enjoy?
I did eventually start to read books and I love opera. Since I was small I have listened to the MET every Saturday and have gone to some of the performances at the theaters. We used to go to the opera in Toronto but the cost to do that went through the roof.
Another wonderful finish that Barbara had during the Scarlet Letter Year challenge was Mary Hurst, a stunning piece!
Thank you so much, Barbara, for telling us your story and sharing your amazing stitching! You are such an inspiration! We look forward to seeing more of your stitching as you share your journey with us at Our Scarlet Letter Years.