Sandra, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
I think that I was very young when I first learnt to sew. I know I used to spend a lot of time with my Great Grandmother who sometimes came to look after me when Mum was having my sister. I remember that she taught me to knit and also to sew as I grew older. Sadly, I never knew either of my Grandmothers who were apparently both wonderful sewers. Apparently my paternal Grandmother was so talented that she could throw a piece of material over a person and cut a dress out! She made her wedding dress and it is really beautiful. My cousin has it. My maternal Grandmother, besides being a wonderful seamstress, was also a very talented embroiderer. I have some of her pieces. I first learnt to cross stitch when I was around 15 when I was in High School.
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
I have always been a sewer and used to do a lot of embroidery etc. I think that the first sampler that I did was a Permin sampler that I bought in a shop that used to be in Sydney called Stadia. They specialized in Danish needlework.
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 usually stitch in the evenings after dinner. I also stitch on the weekends if we don't have much to do on that day. I usually stitch in a chair that is near the window where the light is better. I do have a floor lamp that I use as well. Besides my chair I have an antique wooden sewing box that my DH bought for me and it stores a lot of my sewing accessories. Behind my chair I have a foot stool where there is a large pretty box that holds my WIP's and other sewing accessories that won't fit into the other one.
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?
I use the stick and stab technique.
What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?
My favourite period of samplers are the School Girl ones from the 1700’s into the 1800's.
Which designs appeal to you the most? (e.g. Scottish needlework, certain stitches, colour schemes, animal motifs, houses, figures, Quaker style, etc)
I love samplers that have sheep on them, as well as interesting houses and figures. I also like samplers that are a bit of a challenge. They seem to push my buttons. I also like Rhode Island samplers, especially Mary Balach ones.
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?
I have always been interested in history etc. and working on samplers often makes me think about the girl who I'm sharing my sampler with. What was she like? How she came to stitch the piece etc. It always makes me appreciate the difficulties that they would have faced when working on theirs.
What aspect(s) of working with early textiles appeals to you the most?
I have always enjoyed working with textiles. I had an older cousin who used to specialize in making wedding dresses. I always like getting into her off-cut bag underneath the billiard table that she used as her cutting table. Sometimes, I would find some pieces of old lace hiding in there. I used to take them home and make dolls clothes out of them. The oldest textile that I have is a piece that was done by my Great Grandfather. It is a piece of Berlin wool work and it is a rug.
Have you had any formal education in textiles?
While I was in high school I studied needlework which included period costumes, textiles, dressmaking and also needle arts.
Why do you find antique samplers appealing?
I think the charm for me with samplers is knowing how old most of these young girls were who created these masterpieces. Plus also the how they worked them with just candle light etc.
Do you collect antique samplers? Apart from samplers do you collect anything else?
No sadly, my budget doesn't run to collecting antique samplers. I would love a few but that isn't possible. I collect needlework books and also cameo's and I have a small collection of Warwick miniatures.
What other types of hand work do you enjoy?
I enjoy doing Hardanger, needlepoint, embroidery and I used to do a lot of knitting.
Any guilty secrets to confess? (e.g leave tails on the back, drink tea or coffee whilst stitching, let your cat sleep on your work, etc)
I'm a tea-holic…what can I say? lol.
What has been your worst needlework disaster?
The only disaster that I have ever had with my needlework was when my youngest son who was about 5 went to an overnight birthday party. He ate too much and came home a bit green around the gills. I put him to bed as I don't think he slept that much and laid beside him until he went to sleep. I took a Christmas stocking that I was making for him with me and was trying to finish it. Sadly he woke up and threw up all over it. Thankfully it was worked in DMC and I was able to give it a good wash and you will never know the near disaster that it had.
If your house was on fire and you could only save one sampler which would you choose and why?
That is a really hard question and a question that I often ask myself as I live in a bush fire prone area. There are a few samplers that I would try and take with me such as Dutch Beauty which is worked on 32ct over one; the Tablet Sampler, which I love; Betsy Manchester and Betsy Davis but if I could only manage one I think that it might be the one that I'm hoping to finish soon. It's Rebecca Cullen.
Thank you for sharing your story and beautiful samplers with us, Sandra! For more of Sandra’s stitching and stories visit her blog at Sampler Lover's Blog. There you will see her GORGEOUS finish of Rebecca Cullen!