For our first interview of the New Year we visit with Inguna in Belgium! We sit today and learn about how Inguna began stitching as she shares her story and her samplers with us. You will see that she has a true love for samplers, including Scarlet Letter samplers. You will truly be amazed and inspired by all of her works.
Inguna, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
I was around 40 when I started cross stitching, that is less than 10 years ago. I am a self-taught embroiderer.
I grew up at home where women were not really busy with fancywork. My Mom didn’t do any needlework at all. Her passion was, and still is, gardening. My maternal grandmother who lived with us used to sew clothes, but besides that she also didn’t do any other kind of needlework. I never got interested in sewing and still today I don’t like to use a sewing machine. I learned the very basics of knitting and crocheting at school. When I was 17 I took some knitting classes at our local culture center and got seriously hooked on knitting. The only problem was to find good materials to work with. Latvia in those days (1980’s) was still a part of USSR. We experienced a regular shortage of different things and needlework supplies were not an exception.
In 1985, after finishing secondary school I left my hometown and studied biology at the University of Latvia. During the third year of my studies I joined one of the most famous knitting groups that existed in Riga those days. The group was called ‘Atkalnis’ and it was led by a very inspirational lady Baiba Balode. We were focusing mainly on designing and creating contemporary apparel – sweaters, cardigans, dresses, coats, anything. I stayed with this group for about 10 years.
In 2002, during an international biologists congress in Oslo I met André – a very talkative Belgian biologist. In 2005 we got married and I moved to Belgium. Finding a job in my profession was almost impossible and with our son being born a year later it was convenient for everyone that I’d stay home. Somehow I lost interest in knitting and needed a new hobby to pass my free time. I thought that it would be interesting to try cross stitching.
And it just happened that the first needlework magazine I bought featured two lovely and small antique French red work samplers … my interest for samplers was triggered instantly...
I liked them a lot. And although I didn’t stitch them I started to look out for similar things in other magazines, needlework shops and the internet. Joining several sampler related groups on Facebook, seeing wonderful finishes of reproduction samplers made by other sampler lovers and getting to know designers that reproduce antiques, brought my passion to a new level.
In 2012 Gigi (GigiR Designs) was looking for someone who could help her with charting. I offered my help and that was the beginning of our collaboration. Susie Pierce 1889 was the first antique sampler I charted.
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
My first sampler was an alphabet sampler from DMC.
What is your favorite time of day to stitch?
Any time is a good time for stitching :) Usually I do some stitching in daytime while my son is at school and then again late in the evening.
Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?
Yes, I always work in the same place – at my office table. My magnifier lamp is fixed there so I hardly stitch anywhere else. I like to keep a chart on the table in front of me and I usually color the stitched parts with a marker. The laptop computer also has to be at hand – to check the news, to listen music or watch some movie while I am stitching the more boring or tedious parts.
This is a view on my window from the outside. The huge Hydrangea shrub takes away lots of light, but I like it too much to let it go. It also is the favorite place for a bunch of sparrows that nest under our roof.
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?
I use stick and stab technique.
Do you prefer to stitch in hand, or with a hoop or frame?
Most of the time I use a small wooden hoop, but free-hand stitching I do, holding my linen in hand.
What is your favorite linen and thread?
Most frequently I use hand dyed cotton threads: The Gentle Art, Classic Colorworks and Week Dye Works, alone or mixed with DMC. I also like NPI and AVAS silks.
When it comes to linen, I prefer to work on 40ct linen. The 35-36ct linen is also good, but sometimes I find it difficult to get a good coverage with cotton threads. For some colors one strand doesn’t cover well enough, but two strands of thread result in too bulky appearance. Week Dye Works – Linen, Beige, Confederate Gray, Lakeside Linens – Light Exemplar and Exemplar, Zweigart Newcastle – Flax, Light Mocha and Sand –are my favorite linens.
Do you like specialty stitches and have a favorite?
Yes, I do like specialty stitches. They add interest to the needlework. Counted satin is probably my favorite.
When did you discover the Scarlet Letter?
I can’t tell precisely, must be some seven years ago. But I remember that the first Scarlet Letter chart I purchased was the Ann Grimshaw Sampler. I ordered it from Kunst & Vliegwerk, based in The Netherlands.
What was the first Scarlet Letter sampler you stitched?
The first Scarlet Letter sampler I stitched was the Ann Hall sampler.
It was followed by Susan McPherson’s and Gennett Clapp’s samplers. All three samplers were finished during the first Scarlet Letter Year Challenge.
What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?
The band samplers do not appeal to me too much, so I will say 18-19th Centuries.
Which designs appeal to you the most?
I am attracted to many different styles of samplers and do not have a particular preference. I surely like samplers with rich flower borders and flower baskets, houses, cows, sheep, deer, all sorts of funny critters, Adam & Eve and cherubs. But I also enjoy the more geometrical motifs featured on Vierlanders, Quakers and Friesian samplers. Alphabet samplers are great, too.
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?
No, I don’t think so. But I would really have loved to see them at work. Often I wonder how these girls composed their samplers. Some of them are so well organized and balanced that it is hard to imagine that they were done without careful planning. How did they start their work? Did they make some preliminary drawing how the sampler should look like or just added motifs as they worked the sampler?
I admire their imagination and really love all the funny little details they added to their motifs; also the way they tackled problems like running out of space.
How do you display your stitched samplers? Do you frame them? Hang them singularly or in groupings?
Hmmmm… now I have to hang my head in shame. None of my stitched samplers is framed and on display. They all are rolled together and stored in the cupboard. So far, eagerness for patterns and stitching supplies has pushed aside the need for framing. My sampler roll now contains close to 30 samplers. I feel it is time to start thinking about framing some of them.
Well, since I do not have a nice sampler wall to brag about, I will just show a few pictures of samplers from my sampler roll.
Anna Shütze 1847 by Wiehler Gobelin
Elizabeth Welford by Handwork Samplers
PDW 1730 by Merkwaardig (The Dutch Sampler Lover Association)
Mary A Bunce by GigiR Designs
Isabella Fox by GigiR Designs
K&V 9304 Friesian Sampler with The Wise and The Foolish Virgins
Margaret Ann Klinedienst Sampler by Queenstown Sampler Designs
Do you collect antique samplers? Or have any other collections special to you?
I have a few antique samplers, not really a collection. The most famous of my antiques probably is The Red Deer Sampler which was given to me by Gigi. I love its folk art look and heavy original frame. This sampler has been charted and published by GigiR Designs.
Two more of my antiques have been charted and released under the wings of GigiR Designs – ‘Madonna and Child Sampler’ and ‘Mary Forsyth/ Mary Brown Sampler’.
There used to be times I didn’t spend a single day without knitting. Nowadays I knit only when we go for longer road trips. I can’t stitch or crochet in the car, so I knit socks - usually striped ones, because it is fun and makes counting easier.
Ten years ago when we moved into our house, which is almost a 100 years old, I decided that it would be nice to have crocheted curtains on all windows. It took about five years, with some longer breaks in between, to crochet them. All together I made 11 pieces, 6 of them like the one you can see in the picture, 3 wider and 2 narrower.
Any guilty secrets to confess?
I drink coffee at my stitching table.
What has been your worst needlework disaster?
I had a bright idea to wash a sampler after I had finished it. The red color bled and left pinkish stains on the linen. That was the Janet Ferguson sampler from R&R reproductions. I didn’t manage to recover it.
If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched? And why?
I think that each of my samplers could be my favorite for one or another reason. But If I have to choose one, then it would be the Mary Eaton’s sampler by Scarlet Letter.
Firstly, it is a very lovely sampler with an attractive design and colors. Secondly, for me it’s a real milestone. This was my first attempt to tackle free hand stitching. I was gladly surprised that it turned out to be easier than I thought. It gives some confidence to continue and try even more elaborate designs like Ruth Bolerwoth by The Essamplaire or Rebecca Cullin by Scarlet Letter.
What Scarlet Letter sampler are you currently working on now? What do you most enjoy about it?
Currently I am working on the Chieveley Sampler which is not a Scarlet Letter’s design. But this year I surely want to do at least one or two Scarlet Letter samplers. I haven’t made up my mind yet which one it will be, there is a lot of choice :)
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?
I love to read. In my young years my favorite books were ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë and stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Now I would say Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and The Hours by Michael Cunningham. From time to time I like to re-read ‘Changing’ by Liv Ullmann. And I never lost interest in good crime novels, particularly Scandinavian crime. My favorite time and place for reading is at night in my bed.
I frequently listen to music, especially when I am alone at home. I don’t have one favorite style, but a good deal of what I am listening could be described as melancholic, dark, reflective. Some of my most favorite artists are Nick Cave, Calexico, Tindersticks, Sigur Ros, Nouvelle Vague, Julee Cruise, Anouar Brahem, Stéphane Pompougnac…
In first years after my move to Belgium I tried my hand in orchid growing. We both, my husband and I were really fascinated by diversity of this plant family. In a short time we gathered a rather big collection of orchids. Many of them thrived and flowered well. Unfortunately, in the long run it turned out to be a very demanding and time consuming hobby. All sorts of parasites were yet another problem that we encountered. And of course, my growing passion for samplers also played an important role. So, after several years of intensive orchid caring, we decided to radically downsize the collection. Here are two of my favorites.
Those who visit my Facebook profile maybe have noticed that I frequently share insect images. Macro photography and particularly insect photography is my husband’s hobby. He is very good at this and I truly enjoy his work.
Thank you so very much, Inguna! Your samplers are such an inspiration for us all. I am sure everyone’s to-do list has grown after seeing your beauties. There will be must-have and must-do’s for us all. It has been wonderful to see not only your stitching but other handwork and learn about some of your favorite things! While we all have a love of stitching it is so nice to hear about each other’s hobbies and interests. Thank you for sharing your stitching and your world with us!