For this month’s interview we sit and stitch with Penelope! While Penelope is a newbie to the Scarlet Letter she has had a long love of stitching and needlework. Her embroidery skills are quite amazing! Please take a look-see as she tells us about her journey…
Penelope, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
During the war my mother worked in a bakery and after the war she trained as a tailoress. She never worked full time as this, however she constantly sewed, stitched, knitted and made our clothes. I was about 7 when she taught me the basics, but I never really took to it and hated needlework at school. Being left handed didn't help. I finally got the stitchy bug when pregnant with my first child in the late seventies. When mum died in 2004, I found her examination book with all her samples made for the tailoring course, I had never seen it before, she had never showed it to me. The course started in January 1948 and finished in September 1950, the year before I was born.
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
The first sampler I stitched was actually a printed tea towel when I was about 8.
What is your favorite time of day to stitch?
I like to get my household chores done in the morning and usually settle down to stitch late afternoon. If I am lucky I then get to stitch through the evening as well.
Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?
A long time ago a doctor told me to have the Television on when I stitch because this encourages you to look up from time to time causing the eyes to refocus which apparently is good for your eyes. My eyesight is not good, I have worn glasses since I was 14, so I try to do this. I always use a magnifier so I have two places in which I stitch regularly, one in my garden workshop (really just a wooden shed!) and one in the house, both equipped with a TV, daylight lamp and magnifier. Since I took this photo I have moved this lamp to our apartment at the sea and I now have an ottlite instead!
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?
I mostly use a sewing stitch but I always use a frame, wooden hoops being my favourite. However, I keep the linen slightly looser in the hoop than most stitchers, that makes a sewing motion possible.
What is your favorite linen and thread?
If I have to choose a favourite thread there is no contest, I love the gloriana silks but living on a pension means I don't get to use them too often. My standard to go thread is DMC. Linen depends on the project. Sometimes I will choose a stiff linen, great for smalls it retains its shape and makes up well. Sometimes a more open weave which is easy on the eyes and just occasionally a more dense weave. If I use a dense weave I cannot manage anything finer than 28 count. On the open weave linens I can go to 32 comfortably and 35 or 40 for a special and not too big project. I would find it difficult to quote a make of linen I use most of them and there are so many overdyes out there. I love weeks dye linen, especially the 30 count parchment and the R and Rs. I try and avoid evenweave unless it is 100% flax or cotton, I just don't like the feel of the man made and modals, touch is everything to me.
Have you tried specialty stitches and do you have a favorite?
If I find a new type of stitch or stitching technique I just have to try it so there is not much I have not tried from stumpwork to hardanger and most stitches. I first discovered stumpwork at a class with Marsha Papay Gomela of Ladybug creations at Sampler Gathering in Plymouth MA in 2004. I really enjoy this as a break from counting.
This is the class I took, a three sided cardinal bell with pineapple and fircones on the other sides.
When did you discover the Scarlet Letter?
I only found The Scarlet Letter a few years ago and I now own about 6 patterns. I have the Ann Lawle Sampler and the Unicorn, kitted ready to go. These two appealed because of the different technique at the top of the samplers. I have Rebecca Cullin, I love birds and my daughter's name is Rebecca. I bought Boscobel Oak, we used to live near there and SDW just because I liked it! I also have Dorcas Haynes. I have a few on my wish list as well, including Elizabeth Shephard's quaker sampler.
What was the first Scarlet Letter sampler you stitched?
I am ashamed to say that I have never completed even one! I am working on Dorothy Walpole at the moment which will be my first one completed. I then intend to do The Unicorn.
|Dorothy Walpole in progress|
What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?
I have not really thought about this but looking on the ones I like I have to say the 17th century. Whilst at a goldwork course in Hampton Court Palace, at the Royal school of Needlework many years ago, I left class and wandered around (I am always getting into trouble for curiosity). I found an office, the door was open and there, on the wall, was the most beautiful sampler I have ever seen, 17th Century. Of course I went in and whilst engrossed in examining it, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said what are doing in here, this is the Principal's office? I apologised, commented on the beautiful sampler and beat a hasty retreat back to class. Later on someone arrived in the classroom with the sampler and the back had been glassed as well! It was virtually reversible, an amazing piece and we had the opportunity to look at it in detail, both back and front!
Which designs appeal to you the most?
I am very taken with quaker themes. We have 3 rescue dogs and three stray cats so I love animals motifs too. I am a qualified dog trainer although I have not done that for years now.
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?
One of my favourite haunts whilst living in the UK was Quarry Bank Mill. This is a national trust property near Manchester where you can see the houses, the factory and how the mill orphan girls lived. I have never visited Ackworth, its definitely on my bucket list....
How do you display your stitched samplers? Do you frame them? Hang them singularly or in groupings?
A lot of my pieces are on the walls.....
... and even more sit in a large plastic box! There are over 100 pieces in that box! I just do not have room to display everything.
In the early 2000s I started making etuis, boxes and cases because I had no more wall space but now I have too many of these as well. What next?
Do you collect antique samplers? Or have any other collections special to you?
I don't collect antique samplers, I love to see them but my prime pleasure is in the making....the movement of needle and thread in linen....
What other types of hand work do you enjoy?
I dabble in so many crafts, card making, painting, knitting crochet, quilting, lace making, jewelry making and love anything new. I recently finished this quilt for my daughter's first baby arrival expected early next month.
I have dolls houses which I make a lot for, from stitching to actual furniture.
And I did a bit of mosiac work too.
Any guilty secrets to confess?
I am not very good finishing off at the back of my work. Some pieces end up neater than others but I have to make a real effort to keep the back neat! I do have tea and coffee whilst stitching, very carefully. And. (Touch wood) have never had a spill!
What has been your worst needlework disaster?
Well, the sun shines a lot out here and I have a hole burned in my Mary Queen of Scots Sampler by the sun shining through my magnifier whilst stitching in the garden! Luckily the hole is no visible unless you look under the flap! I have burned a hole in my trousers whilst stitching the same way! It is surprising how quickly this happens, I can still smell the burning! Many years ago I washed a piece, before I knew better, and the red silk ran. I managed to get the dye out but the red silk is much paler in colour now.
If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched? And why?
I think most stitchers would give you the same answer the one they are stitching now or the one they have just finished. But if forced to choose I would pick Mary Queen of Scots. I did the companion piece too, Elizabeth 1, but I still prefer Mary. It is the combination of her life, the history and her needlework that makes me love it so.
|Mary Queen of Scots Sampler|
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?
Making things is everything to me. Being dyslexic reading is difficult so my favourite book would be a stitching book.
I also enjoy photography and I do love to travel, with wildlife and stitching at the centre of the trip, if possible. I was lucky to fulfill my dream of a safari in Kenya in 2013, a fantastic trip! I went with an American group of quilters, as well as fantastic game drives in three fabulous camps. We visited bead making factories, spinning and weaving factory, the Sheldrick elephant orphanage, the rhino sanctuary and giraffe and chimpanzee sanctuaries. A fabulous trip organised by Jim West of Sew Many Places.
|Penelope ready for the drive in the masai mara.|
Bead making and local beadwork in Kenya...
|Weaving in Kenya|
I live in Spain now but worked and lived in the UK for most of my life as a Chartered accountant. I was brought up in a Naval family so we moved around a lot. I went to 16 different schools, not including university, so I am basically a nomad. Last May I attended Celebration of Needlework in Nashua, New Hampshire and spent a lovely week in Massachusetts with a friend and saw some wonderful samplers with the Duxbury Historical society. This year, I went to the UK in March and a river cruise in France planned for November.
I have not taught for a few years now but when we started spending more time in Spain, I get up a stitching group and designed projects and taught for about 6 years. A friend leads that group now. I also taught for a few years to Spanish ladies and that did wonders for my Spanish!
Thank you so much, Penelope, for sharing your wonderful story! Your stitching is exquisite! You have such an attention to detail. Your stories are charming, I feel as though I have had a trip around the world. We will all look forward to seeing more of your Dorothy Walpole and your stitching endeavors to come.