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Header Photo
American Quaker Sampler stitched by Krista


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Beyond the Little X - An Interview with Marjan!

For our interview this month we get to know Marjan and hear about her journey in stitching!  She shares with us her ideas and beautiful stitching and samplers.  I am sure you will find inspiration as you read along… 

Marjan, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?

This is a picture of me stitching at 3 and half years old – with wool on those cardboard pictures that you had.  I know that the wool would be unpicked and stitched repeatedly.  My grandmother, Oma Stien, mainly taught me to stitch.  My mother did as well, but mainly my grandmother.  My grandmother was never without something to do in her hand.  Mainly knitting.  By my early teens I was stitching regularly, and then I had a gap where I discovered boys.  By my early twenties I was stitching daily again. 

First picture of Marjan stitching (one the right) at 3-1/2 yo!

What was the first sampler that you stitched?

It is a family tree sampler that I stitched in my early teens.  I don’t know who it was by anymore.  It is probably a Dutch or Danish design.  I think my uncle bought the chart for me.

What is your favorite time of day to stitch?

I feel guilty if I stitch any time other than in the evening when all the chores are done.  I work full time in a demanding job that regularly has long days and up until recently I was a single mother (I still am, but he is now 19 and at university so I have more time to myself).  If we have a guild day, I will stitch during the day and that feels like an enormous luxury.  If I am working at home and have a long call, I normally have a piece of stitching on my desk that I will pick up.  It stops me trying to do e-mails at the same time as listening to and/or contributing to the call, and therefore allows me to concentrate better on the call.  This is the view from my stitching station in my office.  I use a sit on frame with a dive weight to counter balance it so the frame is at the end of my nose where I want it!  

Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?

I mostly stitch in the evening on my sofa.  I am blind as a bat, but have a sweet spot about two inches from the end of my nose where I can see perfectly – over the top of my glasses.  I need good light and I love little needles.  Bohin size 28’s which are just a bit thinner and shorter than other size 28s.

Other than that, the only other tool I need is my scissors and an old music stand that holds my chart. 

I also always have a piece of stitching or beading on the go in my office. 

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

A bit of both.  I stitch in hand so sew most of the time, but there are times when if you sew, you are going to have to bring a stitch back through the thread of a previous stitch, so at that point I will stab to avoid doing that.

Do you prefer to stitch in hand, or with a hoop or frame?

In hand – not that you’d know it by the number of frames and stands I have!  I’ve been trying to challenge myself recently, both by stitching bigger samplers (Blue Ribbon, And They Sinned, Corsica River sampler) and by taking myself out of my comfort zone and away from counted thread techniques (deep calming breath....)  I’ve taken the casket of curiosities class and that has moved me into a completely new zone. I signed up for Thistle Thread’s gentleman’s nightcap on line course.  I bought a slate frame from the RSN (Royal School of Needlework).  I traced the pattern onto my linen.  I ironed the edges over so I could lace them to the edges of the slate frame........ and then stitched the whole thing in hand!  I think because no one ever taught me to use a frame in the early days, so I got used to not using one.  I keep thinking I ought to for some of the stitching I am getting into, but I’m not sure I’ve got the patience to relearn stitching using a frame.  I’ve been thinking over the past few days of buying a millennium frame but am holding myself back thinking about how much it will cost and will I ever use it......

What is your favorite linen and thread?

I have a complete blind spot about linen.  Don’t know why.  Ideally I stitch on 40 count, but I try higher counts sometimes.  I want to stitch the Women of the Mayflower on a high count thread with Tudor silks.  I often have to ask my stitching friends what linen I am stitching on when people ask me. 

As to thread – it seems to be whatever I am stitching with.  I love stitching with silk, but then I have to be careful when stitching in hand to make sure I start from the right of the piece so I don’t crumple anything that has already been stitched and make the silk go bobbly. 

And then I’ll pick up some DMC with a piece and once you get in the rhythm, you can’t remember why you stopped using DMC.  I must be quite flighty when it comes to thread.

This is a special sampler. I think it was 55 count (I have a blind spot on linens) but it is all my stitching friends at the time.

Do you like specialty stitches and have a favorite?

Mmmm.  I call queen stitch bitch stitch (I learnt that from Susan Albury) so that isn’t a favourite!

Because I have been stitching so long I like to challenge myself and sometimes it is the specialty stitches that create the challenge.  I came across a wonderful new designer (well new to me) recently – Nicole from Northern Expressions Needlework.  She uses a lot of specialty stitches.  I hate stitching them because they are so slow, but I love how they look when they are done.  I also keep taking myself out of my comfort zone with gold work and with stumpwork.  I think I have to do this so that cross stitch feels like coming home and is comfortable, but not boring because you have just been challenged.  Does that make sense? 

Here is a stumpwork mirror frame I made - that I haven't been brave enough to frame up yet. A Sharon Cohen design.

If I had to pick a favourite it is probably double running stitch.  There was an awful lot of it in the Egyptian Sampler so I got very used to the stitch and as a scientist, I love the mathematical exercise of working out one route going out and then finding my way back again to complete the stitch.

Recent modern sampler from Northern expressions needlework. The learning sampler in silk mill silks.

When did you discover the Scarlet Letter?

Very shortly after the internet changed the world of stitching.  Isn’t it amazing how two things that don’t sound like they should go together – stitching and computers – allow us to buy materials from all corners of the world, communicate with stitchers around the world, take on line classes without leaving our homes and see what pretties other stitchers have created to keep our own enthusiasm going.

What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?

No question – 17th century.  Why? that’s difficult.  I’ve never really thought about it.  I think it is the transition from simple lettering to wherever the design takes the stitcher, the schools that can be found in researching samplers i.e. Juda Hayle.  I love band samplers and the best band samplers seem to come from this period.  I also love that we talk about women like Mary Hurst, who if it wasn’t for her sampler would not be remembered now.  Because she stitched a sampler and because this is available to us as a chart/kit, she lives on in all of us who admire her stitching and seek to emulate that.  For a period of time when most women were the property of their father or husband I think that is a very good thing.

Which designs appeal to you the most?

Band samplers.

And If I get a choice of colours – jewel colours – ruby and sapphire and emerald green.  Deep, bold colours.
These are some early samplers.  I joined a sampler guild in the UK and every year 12 members would design a panel in a particular theme and this would then be stitched by whoever wanted to. They all turned out so different. I wish I had a photo of more than one from a particular year together.

How do you display your stitched samplers? Do you frame them? Hang them singularly or in groupings?

I did not frame my samplers in the past, but it was the Blue Ribbon sampler that got me started.  It was lying around and people kept saying I should display it so I finally took the plunge and got it framed.  Since then I frame most of my samplers and I find somewhere in the house to hang them.  My early stitching is still wrapped around rolls, or in boxes somewhere.  I like having my stitching around me.  It takes me back to what was happening in my life when I was stitching them.

I stitch lots of 3D things as well and keep these in cupboards.  Here's a few recent stitches.  Mainly Amy Mitten, but some others too.

My blue ribbon sampler in my bedroom. I changed the centre bands. I hate green (very bad school uniform when I was younger), so my satin stitch is in a mauve, and the central panel has all the places that I stitched on this sampler. It reminds me of the end of one relationship, lots of fun with my stitching friends and the start of my relationship with my fiancé.

Some of my favourites in my dining room. Corsica River Sampler by Barbara Hutson of Queenstown samplers, and they sinned and a darning sampler, M.P. Joppe from European reproduction samplers. I've added a memorial to my dog at the end of and they sinned as she died as I was getting towards the end of the stitching.

Some more samplers marching up the stairs…

Do you collect antique samplers? Or have any other collections special to you?

I used to collect antique samplers – before my son’s education got so expensive!  I also used to collect antique needlework tools.  I still have them but haven’t added to the collection for a while.

For someone who's first love is band samplers it is odd that my two favourite antique samplers aren't really band samplers (this one kind of is but....) I love this one because of HMS Victory at the bottom. I've sailed on tall ships since I was 18 and love nothing more than climbing the rigging and being high.

This is my other favourite antique. It is Dutch and so am I! I also love the fact that this has original glass in it, so it is all bobbled and wavy.

What other types of handwork do you enjoy?

I used to go to Alexandra Place every year and try a new craft to see if there was anything else I really liked.  The only other one that has really caught my fancy is beadwork.  It must be all that mathematics again!

Any guilty secrets to confess?

In many environments stitching in hand is a guilty secret.  Also, when I stitched Thistle Threads gentleman’s nightcap, it got a bit grubby, so I got a piece of linen, took a couple of stitches with each colour of silk and left it to soak in soapy water for 24 hours – nothing ran (gilt twist silks) so I washed the whole piece and it brightened up nicely again.  Don’t tell anyone.......

What has been your worst needlework disaster?

And They Sinned – I finished the stitching including all that green at the end, and I’d added a dedication to my dog at the end of the sampler as she died while I was stitching it. I ironed the sampler in preparation to taking it to the framer and the steam was on and the colours on all the letters in the middle ran.  After I stopped swearing I realised that it made it look a bit antique, so I’ve lived with it and learnt to check whether the steam is on more carefully!

If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched? And why?

The Egyptian Sampler by Alison Snepp.  It is huge – 52” long on 40 count linen.  It is a band sampler – lots of techniques, and it is based on mamluk fragments from the Ashmolean museum in Oxford (the fragments are also in Marianne Ellis – Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt).  The motif at the top of the sampler comes from a linen towel fragment that was found, the last band – drawn thread embroidery from a scarf.  I love how old these fragments are and that they have survived and feel honoured to be able to reproduce them.

Egyptian Sampler

What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?

Until last year I coached a junior squad at rugby and I love rugby so am looking forward to the world cup starting.  I can be found on the sofa with embroidery in hand – unless it gets too exciting and then the embroidering stops.  I SCUBA dive and have always sailed tall ships (although I may be getting a bit old for that now.  It is getting harder to get into the rigging.)  I can never find enough time to read and normally fall asleep with a book on my face.  I also love to travel, and frequently go abroad with my fiancé.  Flying is a great time for catching up on stitching.

Thank you so much, Marjan!  It has been wonderful hearing your stitching story about your own journey in needlework.  I can hear your love and enthusiasm for the craft in both your words and beautiful stitchings!!  I agree wholeheartedly with you that the internet has opened the world of our craft to create wonderful communities to share our love and continue its tradition!


Bertie said...

I so enjoyed reading Marjan's story, but that is because I know her. Marjan is an outstanding needlewoman and she just tackles about anything in needlework projects. 😍😍

samplerlover said...

What a wonderful and interesting interview. Throughly enjoyed it and looking at your beautiful work and antique samplers.

Nicola said...

A thoroughly enjoyable read. It has been a delight to get to know you a little more Marjan.

I am intrigued by the Eygptian band sampler.

Another great interview thank you Marjan and Krista.

MyWorldinStitches said...

I so enjoyed "meeting" Marjan! I love that she is stretching herself by tying different techniques. I'm also intrigued by the Egyptia
n sampler.

Bethany said...


What a lovely interview. I love the first photo, precious memories. Both of my Grandmother's did crochet, but unfortunately, they never took the time to teach me. You are blessed. So many lovely pieces and so many different hobbies. You are amazing and thank you for sharing a piece of your life with all of us.