This month we have a special treat for you, two interviews in one! We hear from both Vickie and Maegan of NeedleWorkPress on how they started their stitching journeys, how they came to work together and about their loves for needlework.
First, we learn how Vickie and Maegan came to be partners in NeedleWorkPress…
Vickie has been dabbling in needlework design for a decade or so, but when her son Patrick married Maegan, she inherited a family member whose talent, creativity and organization added a new energy and direction to NeedleWorkPress. One day Maegan mentioned that she had stitched a gift for Niles (Vickie’s husband). Vickie was excited to see it; but Maegan mentioned her reluctance since it wasn’t exactly the kind of stitching Vickie did. Well, low and behold, while the piece was an amazing pictorial representation of a fisherman on a dock, surrounded by his faithful dog, both looking off into the water and forest. It had to have hundreds of color changes to create the realistic scene. The rest, as they say, is history! Since then, Maegan has had the opportunity not only to put her skills to work reproducing antique samplers, but also to spend some time learning the needlework trade at The Attic in Mesa, AZ Both of us are incredibly honored and humbled every time a fellow sampler enthusiast stitches one of our projects. Bringing antiques to life in the twenty-first century is our pleasure!
How old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
Vickie: Although I did miscellaneous embroidery throughout childhood, I didn’t look at needlework seriously until my mother took me to the most amazing needlepoint shop when I was 13. The shop was tucked under an ivy-covered roof on the second story of an old inn. (It has since been renovated, and the Royal Palms now houses one of our favorite restaurants.) My eyes couldn’t believe what I saw when the door opened: Wonderful, yarns in every color imaginable from bright to muted, and hand-painted canvases. I was in awe and could not get enough. As for technique, my mother wasn’t very patient (but she was precise), so I was pretty much self-taught. Alas, I was allergic to wool. So, sometime in my 20’s, my passion became cross stitch. My needle has been busy ever since!
|Vickie could not resist changing the house on Colonial Welcome to look like her own.|
Maegan: I don’t remember how old I was, maybe 6 or 7 when I picked up my first needle. I am very close with my Grandma Shirley and often stayed the night at her house. She cross stitched Christmas stockings for all of her grandchildren and almost always had projects out at one end of her dining room table (it had the best light with two walls of windows). I asked her about it and she went to a bedroom, pulled out a little ornament kit and explained the concept to me. It was my first and only project until my early 20s, when I met my future husband and he started bragging about his mother to me. I told him that I knew how to cross stitch! We decided that something stitched would be a great gift to give his parents for Christmas from the two of us because it would be meaningful. Well, two and a half years later it was stitched and a year after that, framed.
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
Vickie: Maureen Appleton’s timeless “Colonial Welcome.”
|Colonial Welcome - pictured to the right of the clock|
Maegan: How Does My Garden Grow by NeedleWorkPress. Vickie had stitched it
on perforated paper and wanted it re-stitched on linen, so I did.
What is your favorite time of day to stitch?
Vickie: I love the morning light, but rarely do the early morning hours provide time to stitch. Although I’ve found lights I like, still haven’t found THE perfect one. Finally had to succumb to readers in recent years, too!
Maegan: I prefer to stitch in natural sunlight. For me, that means the afternoon as it comes in through my dining/living room window.
Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?
Vickie: Well, I wish I had one place where I stitched and designed…but my husband reminds me that I have multiple work stations all over the house. This means I don’t always have the exact tools I need. However, tape measures, rulers, scissors and needles are pretty much in every room.
Maegan: After writing above about my childhood experiences with my Grandma stitching, it makes me smile to admit that I too enjoy stitching at my dining room table. I am able to prop my feet up on an adjacent chair and spread my chart out on a solid surface, which I prefer. I ALWAYS have my favorite pair of scissors with me: my black Dovos!
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?
Vickie: I love to “sew” whenever possible. But I also like stitching on perforated paper, so that means “stick and stab.”
Maegan: I can do the “sewing” method of stitching, but it has never felt natural to me so I stick and stab.
Do you prefer to stitch in hand, or with a hoop or frame?
Vickie: Since I like to “sew,” I typically stitch in hand. I do enjoy some old hoops that can be anchored to tables.
Maegan: I almost always start a new project with a hoop. Once I have finished filling that area, I will move to stitching in hand. The only exception to this is my One Nation by ByGone Stitches project that I started on 45c. I’m moving the hoop around on that project.
What is your favorite linen and thread?
Vickie: Oh my, that’s a tough one to answer! For reproduction samplers, I usually prefer overdyed silks. There are SO MANY amazing choices out there. For more primitive pieces, it’s overdyed cotton. And then there are the great overdyed perle cottons for perforated paper. With linen, the project determines the count and color. However, personally I typically gravitate to darker colors that are warm and soft.
Maegan: My favorite linen is anything overdyed and soft. I like most counts as long as it isn’t above 40c. For threads, I prefer overdyes, but would be smitten to stitch in either silk or cotton. For me, I am practical and it depends on the project.
Have you tried specialty stitches and do you have a favorite?
Vickie: Oh yes, and my favorite is Algerian eye and variations of the eyelet stitch! Years ago I took an amazing class at Spirit of Cross Stitch…and I still treasure my “doodle cloth” of specialty stitches.
Maegan: I have never tried a specialty stitch. I would like to though. In fact, I need to. The problem is that haven’t had a project yet that has required me to. Someday…
When did you discover the Scarlet Letter?
Vickie: Marsha has been my hero from the very early days when she started researching antique needlework and bringing us splendid reproductions. Going to the mailbox was ALWAYS a treat when one of her catalog supplements arrived. Marsha’s meticulous attention to detail and her passion are true joys and so very inspiring! Her books A Stitch in Rhyme and Animals from Early Samplers are favorites of mine!
Maegan: I discovered the Scarlet Letter the first day I stepped into work at The Attic Needlework in Mesa, AZ. I worked there for almost two years and on that first day, there was a display in the front, right when you walked in the door, and it was somewhat magical, which sounds corny, but it’s true.
What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?
Vickie: Probably late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. While I appreciate the intricacy and precision of more formal and elaborate samplers, I’m pretty partial to the more humble samplers because of their simplicity and quaint charm.
Maegan: My favorite period of sampler-making is the 17th century. I love the bold colors and the character like depictions. I have a book called “Samplers” by Donald King for the Victoria and Albert Museum and I love the cover sampler. I believe that The Essamplaire has reproduced it or one very similar to it. I enjoy how the flowers are so bright and beautiful and the fact that there are bugs like the caterpillar.
Which designs appeal to you the most?
Vickie: Alphabets are my very favorite! Have been since kindergarten when I carried a bookbag decorated with the ABC’s. Then I loved penmanship and eventually became a writer…so, if it’s got an alphabet, I’m drawn to it. Also, since my husband is a dairy vet, I’m especially drawn to samplers with cows, and other animals, too! Oh, and houses! They capture my heart as well. A good verse is a plus, too. Although I prefer muted colors, there isn’t any single color scheme that appeals to me. Motifs on Quaker sampler (and the alphabets, of course) are pleasures to behold!
Maegan: I am drawn to whimsy. My favorite sampler in our collection is Jane Tindall. I love everything about it. My second favorite is Mary Moteshed – the girl, the dress, her shoes, and that verse! (The antique now hangs over daughter Zoe’s crib.)
|Mary Moteshed Antique sampler|
|Mary Moteshed Reproduction Sampler|
Next I am drawn to color, which is tricky because I like both bold colors and more primitive colors. I have a Mexican sampler in my living room that I can’t wait to reproduce (it’s been on the short list for a couple years and keeps getting bumped because of it’s size). It has an upside down house, cows, a donkey, diagonal borders, roses all over, ducks in the reeds and even a fly. It’s amazing for so many reasons. Third, I am drawn to borders. The border doesn’t have to be beautiful, just fun and suited to the rest of the sampler. That doesn’t mean I like stitching borders, it is just one of the first things I look at. I also like animals. I am not very into houses or people, but as I said before, I LOVE the girl in Mary Moteshed’s sampler.
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?
Vickie: Most definitely! Sometimes through research, other times just a feeling! I definitely feel connected to the girls, women and the occasional boy who stitched in bygone days. Nothing is new under the sun, so being able to recreate samplers with the advantages of technology we have is a true fellowship with those who have gone before us. Crazy as it sounds, one time I started working on an unfinished piece of needlework, and I had to have a friend do it, because it just didn’t feel right.
|A Parrot Pincushion reproduction|
Maegan: Yes! It is amazing to work so intimately with a piece when reproducing it. I cannot help but notice the materials, the varying skill levels and even the verses that each girl stitched. When reproducing the sampler and looking at every detail, it makes me smile and grunt when a girl is careless with her stitching and there is no rhyme or reason as to why she stitched over so many varying threads – sometimes it will be 2x2, 2x3 3x2, 2x1…and it goes on. When I work with the more skilled samplers, I am amazed at the age of the girls and the ability to complete something so beautiful. The time that each one of them takes, whether skilled or less skilled, never ceases to amaze me either. I find it all remarkable.
How do you display your stitched samplers? Do you frame them? Hang them singularly or in groupings?
Vickie: Our home is a gallery of sorts and we’ve pretty much run out of wall space. So, while most are framed hung, some are under beds and in stacks; others are on loan to our lovely LNS, The Attic in Mesa, AZ.
Maegan: I actually don’t have any samplers that I have stitched hanging in my home. I didn’t start stitching them until I started working with Vickie doing NeedleWorkPress and all of the samplers that I have stitched and finished have been models; though I do have a bunch of unfinished samplers that I would like to get framed and displayed in my home. The antiques that I have are hanging throughout my house. I don’t have any hanging in a group. They are all hung in rooms and mixed with various pieces of other art; whether it be contemporary prints, oil paintings by my husband’s great grandmother, posters, pictures, or framed covers to antique books. I do have a couple of samplers done on canvas with wool and silk that are unframed, but still hanging.
Do you collect antique samplers? Or have any other collections special to you?
Vickie: Oh yes! I’m beginning to think it’s a sickness. Most are simple samplers that are affordable. But the collecting doesn’t stop there! Needlework tools, veterinary tools and all sorts of early paper ephemera are among the treasures that decorate every corner of our country farm house.
|Antique sampler wall|
Maegan: I am SO fortunate that Vickie has an amazing eye and collects samplers that I enjoy AND even shares them with me. Because of her, I have several antiques hanging throughout my house. I collect counted thread charts. It started when I was working at The Attic. I saw charts that I appreciated the designs of or thought were beautiful and I saw charts go out of print. Now, even if it isn’t one that I think I will stitch, I will purchase the chart as a piece of art in its own right. (Vickie adds that with experience and a college background in theater, Maegan has a fun collection of all sorts of masks.)
What other types of hand work do you enjoy?
Vickie: When there’s time, I enjoy paper crafts, blanket stitch on wool felt and basic jewelry making. I gave up needlepoint because it hurt my hands.
Maegan: I used to paint. I haven’t done it—since college—outside of a painting and wine night with some friends from church. I used to sew too. That is something that I haven’t done much of since getting into cross stitch though. Having a daughter under two doesn’t allow for a lot of “free” time.
Any guilty secrets to confess?
Vickie: If I didn’t eat and drink when I stitch, I wouldn’t stitch. Multi-tasking is a way of life for us, so I always have a cup of hot tea or a tumbler of iced tea at my side. I have lost projects. You know the frantic “clean up before guests arrive” scenario? Well, I’ve pushed projects into closets only to discover them YEARS later. Sometimes they’re lost in my car…which I sort of live in because of all the driving I do. When the boys were growing up, I ALWAYS had a project in my car to complete on the road. I even changed verses to mark a point in time that I stitched it.
Maegan: I am not the best at keeping my stitching “pristine.” I have never spilled anything on the pieces I’m working on, but I have been known to stitch above a dog lying on my lap. I also leave my current projects out, which has caused an issue in the past with one of my dogs. Fortunately, nothing too bad has occurred from my carelessness.
What has been your worst needlework disaster?
Vickie: That’s a tough one. Fortunately, not any true disasters…I’ve left out a motif or forgotten a letter, but that’s about it. I do commiserate with those disasters, though, as they’re always a fear!
Maegan: I think everything I stitch has some sort of “mistake” in it. I just look at it as personalization. My biggest disaster recently though happened when doing the hem stitch on the reproduction “W: A Mexican Band Sampler”. It was my first time and I am the type of person who doesn’t test the water before jumping in, so I measured, re-measured, and measured again and decided to just go for it and cut the fabric. Well, when I went to fold it, I realized that it was too short. I had to stitch the piece I cut off back on and try again. It made me laugh. This happened on our model. I’m happy to say that you can’t tell at all from the front and you can only tell on the back if you are looking for it. Answering one of the questions reminded me of my first big disaster too. I was stitching Posies from the Cottage, a reproduction of an antique purse, and left the project out on my dining room table. Well, my dog Twain liked to jump up onto that table when he was a puppy and he grabbed my overdyed thread and took it outside and played with it in the yard and ate some. Vickie had to call all over asking friends to bring their in-stock Gentle Arts Brethren Blue skeins to market so that we could try to match dye lots. It was sort of a mess, but we lucked out.
If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched? And why?
Vickie: I don’t even know the name. It’s a simple alphabet and heart sampler that I stitched for our 20th wedding anniversary in 1996. I bought it at a shop in Tennessee that’s now closed and I know the chart is out of print, but I’ll include the photo anyhow, since it means a lot to me.
|Wedding Anniversary Sampler|
I also THOROUGHLY enjoyed reproducing and stitching a perforated paper sampler we call “How Does My Garden Grow”.
Maegan: My favorite sampler that I have stitched and completed is one from our Minerva & Friends collection. It is Minerva Ayliffe 1886. There are a bunch of cheerful colors, it was a quick stitch, and I like the short and sweet verse: “Be kind and affectionate one to another.”
|Minerva Ayliffe antique sampler|
|Minerva Ayliffe Reproduction Sampler|
What Scarlet Letter sampler are you currently working on now? What do you most enjoy about it?
Vickie: The Country Life is a long-time WIP, largely because I started it on 28-count linen and wish I had used a higher count. But, I’m determined to finish it so I can make a bolster pillow for my bed. The subject matter is what drew me to the piece. Ruthy Rogers is all kitted up and ready to go when I have time. Love that dress of hers!
|A Country Life in progress|
Maegan: I am currently working on Spot Motif Embroidery. I literally fell in love with it that first day at The Attic. I bought it and figured that I would stitch it sometime, then my husband picked it out of my “collection” of charts to be the birth sampler for our first born. Needless to say, I haven’t finished it, but I will.
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?
Vickie: Being a grandmother is great fun! Family and friends are at the top of my enjoyment list. I fall asleep every night reading a book, magazine or newspaper. I still LOVE my printed reading material. Niles and I travel quite a bit—mostly across the US. So many hobbies and interests! The past several years we began our “Book of Days” with the verse, “ I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, all the friends I want to see.” -- John Burroughs
Maegan: With where I am in life right now, my main interest lies with spending time with my family. We enjoy camping in the White Mountains, spending an afternoon exploring local parks, or going to concerts – in local parks as a family or with my husband and in-laws we check out “outlaw” country and folk singers like Willy Nelson, Ian Tyson and John Prine. After family, I spend my time stitching and reproducing antiques. If I can get into a good book, I won’t put it down, but since reading the Game of Throne series several years ago, I haven’t been able to get into a good book. Usually anything by James Patterson or Steven King keeps me up at night though turning pages.
|Vickie and Maegan|
A BIG Thank you to both Vickie and Maegan for sharing their story with us all! It is wonderful to see your works, and your antiques and reproductions. Your journeys have melded together to form a perfect partnership! We look forward to seeing your Scarlet Letter samplers projects and all of your future endeavors! To keep up with the works of NeedleWorkPress please visit their site here!