Barbara Hutson, a very active participant in The Scarlet Letter Year, designs original needlework samplers under the name of Queenstown Sampler Designs, and reproduces antique samplers. Her designs can be found on her website, Queenstown Sampler Designs. Her works also often appear in Sampler and Antique Needlework Quarterly and is currently featured in the latest edition on the front page.
Today we are going to spend this afternoon stitching with Barbara and getting to know her better.
Barbara, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
I have been stitching since my maternal Grandmother, Veronica Kosic began to teach me embroidery when I was 5 years old. The oldest piece of embroidery that I worked was from about 1959. She penciled my name onto handkerchief linen and I attempted to embroider it. She finished it with a crochet edge. I have placed it on my current SL SAL sampler EK 1653 to show my 54 years of progress.
Grandmother would take this very impressionable little girl to see folk dancers and musicians from Europe when they would visit Cleveland, Ohio. I was thrilled by the costumes. She would tell me many stories about the different embroideries of Croatia, the symbolism and how you could tell what village a certain costume was from. The rich history of the embroidery has always been of great significance to me.
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
The first sampler I stitched as a young Girl Scout was a stamped cross stitch piece. I thought it was messy looking and decided to turn the work over and rework the design in free-style embroidery with some counted cross stitch. My troop leader was not impressed because I did not follow the directions properly. I really detested working it. My young self swore that she would never make another cross stitch again. (I know you are all laughing). In my adult years I have worked many large free-style embroideries that contained multiple stitches, not exactly samplers. It wasn’t until 1983 that a co-worker brought in her counted thread kit that she bought at Montgomery Ward’s craft store and I fell in love with this redo of a Pennsylvania Dutch, compartmental sampler, on Aida cloth. I bought a kit and more Aida cloth (because I could not find any linen at the time) then made a total of three samplers for family members that year as Christmas presents. When we became stationed at US Coast Guard headquarters in Washington DC in 1984, a neighbor introduced me to Just Cross Stitch magazine. There was a sampler and several projects based on antique samplers. This was the beginning of my passion for antique samplers.
What time of day do you stitch? Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have to hand? Does everything have to be in a certain place in order for you to relax and concentrate on your work?
I am lucky to have my own office. I prefer to stitch in the morning when my brain cells are fresh and body parts are not in pain.
I have a nice view of the woods and in winter I can see the s-curve of my small piece of the Wye River. Dozens of Gold Finches visit my feeders and hang out in my Korean Red Maple tree. You can almost make out a fluffed-up one in the morning light picture.
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?
Mostly, I stitch and stab. Due to old injuries, I can no longer work in hand. It is the main reason I don’t do three-dimensional projects anymore. I must work at a table with a held frame. I am not able to stitch 8 hours or more a day like I once could.
What is your favorite period of sampler-making and why?
The 17th Century band samplers are the most fascinating to me. All those fabulous patterns! I was once overwhelmed by these highly skilled embroideries. Then I studied them and wanted to learn more about their history and what influenced them.
Which designs appeal to you the most? (e.g. Scottish needlework, certain stitches, color schemes, animal motifs, houses, figures, Quaker style, etc)?
I gravitate to the big girls with lots of motifs; if there are figures – even better. I tend to like jewel tones like cranberry red, royal blue, and hunter green. When the design is my own, it is usually with vivid colors.
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?
Originally I fell in love with the art of the composition. As I study the applied techniques of 17th century samplers, I am in awe of the makers’ skills.
What aspect(s) of working with early textiles appeals to you the most?
When I first lay eyes on an antique sampler I devour the whole composition and then proceed to examine each and every detail. I like to figure out exactly how it was stitched. Then I want to know more about it.
Have you had any formal education in textiles?
I took all the sewing courses offered when I attended High School. That included tailoring and dressmaking. We had very good programs in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. I was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, but was not able to attend. I am pretty much self taught when it comes to embroidery. I have taken embroidery classes from Darlene O’Steen, Sharon Cohen, Joanne Harvey, Betsy Morgan and many other highly skilled Sampler Guild members.
Why do you find antique samplers appealing?
Samplers speak to me. They each have their own story to tell. Samplers represent a women’s life. So little of women’s history has been written. Samplers are not just a pretty face. They are more than patterns and color. Samplers are a primary source for family information and sometimes commemorate life events. It is tangible proof that one lived and created beauty.
Do you collect antique samplers? Apart from samplers, do you collect anything else?
Yes, I started collecting antique samplers in 1997. I have a need to rescue them and share their beauty. I also collect pottery, cookie molds, and mermaids.
What other types of handwork do you enjoy?
I love all forms of needlework, crochet and occasionally will get out my paint and brushes for a bit of fun. I use to paint for folk artist Natalie Silitch of Annapolis, Maryland. I had my own studio in my basement at the time. I painted thousands of mermaids, snowmen, Santa’s, and other whimsical folk art.
Any secret confessions?
I drink tea all the time. I was half-way finished with crocheting a lace shawl for my daughter to wear on her wedding day when I dribbled tea on it. Nothing would clean it properly - I could still see the stain. So I had to pull the bad all the way out and start over.
What has been your worst needlework disaster?
When I was about a quarter of the way done working on my Corsica River, a ¼ inch hole appeared in my linen. I measured and figured it would be tight, but I might be lucky and everything would turn out all right. I really sweated this one out and thought I would have to remove a band. The hole came within a ½ inch from the crab motif on the bottom of the sampler. I darned the hole and it is neatly hidden under the frame.
If your house was on fire and you could only save one sampler which would you choose?
I would probably choose…. I really can’t choose one I have already stitched.
I would most likely gather up as many antiques as possible and save them. My antiques lay flat in archival boxes, for the most part.
It would take more than one trip – so maybe I should store them downstairs, close to an outer door from now on. I will have to work on that.
Which pieces are your favorites and why?
I have already posted about my Chimney Piece and The River, which are very dear to me.
The first Scarlet Letter sampler I worked was the Sarah Dutnel 1818. She will always have a special place in my heart.
Joanna Warren 1655 is my favorite SL band sampler that I have completed.
Fabulous colors and I especially like all the pineapples.
While living in Redmond, Washington, from 1988-1990, I did a lot of stitching of samplers and ornaments.
One of the things I saw in a magazine was a petit point letter B. All I wanted was the letter B. My husband went to Threadneedle Street of Issaquah and found the whole alphabet in a kit. He bought it for me for Christmas. It took forever to finish. All the thread changes drove me bonkers at the time.
I thought you would enjoy seeing the samplers on two of the walls of my needlework library.
The final image is my most recent Scarlet Letter finish, Dutch 1819-1820 by ID.
Am I the only one who forgets that her glasses are on top of her head?
No, because if I kept my glass there, the wine would spill on my face. :o)
Thank you Barbara for a very enjoyable afternoon in your company. We look forward to seeing more of your designs in the future. I hope one day that we will be able to have a “real” time afternoon of stitching.