Header Photo

Header Photo
American Quaker Sampler stitched by Krista

Translate

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Beyond the Little X – An Interview with Jean Lea of the Attic!

I am sure many of you have heard of Jean Lea or of her shop The Attic, and for those of you who have had the opportunity to visit the Attic in Mesa, Arizona…I am quite jealous!  How wonderful that Jean is now sharing her own story and love of needlework with us for our interview this month.  

And, in celebration of the Scarlet Letter Year, Jean is sponsoring a special giveaway – a Scarlet Letter chart with linen!   Details on how to enter are below!


How old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?

I can't remember how old I was, but I believe it was in my early teens when I first picked up a needle and it was my grandmother who taught me.  The project was embroidering dish towels.  In Wisconsin where I grew up, it was the thing to do to convert old flour sacks into dish towels, and it was fashionable to have them embroidered.  I embroidered a set that included one for each day of the week.  At that point in my life, I thought I would try to emulate my mother and fill a cedar chest, aka a "hope chest," (hoping to be married) with handmade items, everything from quilts to dresser scarves, etc.  I didn't come close.  My mother was an incredible seamstress, sometimes designing things from photos like my junior prom dress.  She made all of the dresses for our wedding, mine, all of the bridesmaids', and her own.  But she really didn't embroider in her later life.  In fact, after I'd taken up cross-stitch and samplermaking, she remarked that she couldn't understand how I found that tedious needlework relaxing, after a day working as a court reporter, my career BC (before cross-stitch), which she saw as very tedious work.  


What was the first sampler that you stitched?

To correctly answer this question I was sent to my sampler walls in our front parlor where I found many in the late 1980's and 1990's, but then I remembered that really my first "sampler" isn't hanging there at all but, rather, in my sister's home.  It was a kit that also included its little frame, and it says, "A Sister is a Forever Friend."  It's pretty aged now, and I've stitched several others for her over the decades that I like much more, but she prizes it, she says. 



But truly the sampler that I think started it all for me was the "Pomegranate Sampler" from Darlene O'Steen/The Needle's Prayse when it appeared on the cover of Just CrossStitch magazine in 1986.  My local shop, The Attic (yes, it's the same one, where I started as a customer in 1981 and purchased an interest in in 1990 and still operate today as the sole proprietor along with my husband), ordered the Au Ver A'Soie silks for it, and that began my ongoing love affair with samplers and silk threads.   I did not finish the Pomegranate Sampler until 1991, when my father and I sat with my mother in her last days as she was losing her battle with breast cancer.  

Pomegranate Sampler

What time of day do you stitch? 

I stitch in the evenings, often falling asleep with needle in hand.


Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have at hand?  Does everything have to be in a certain place in order for you to relax and concentrate on your work?

I always sit in the same spot, currently a La-Z-Boy recliner, with my Craftlite overhead and the necessary tools close at hand:  4.0 readers/glasses, scissors, needles, needle threader, Boo-Boo stick, stitch starter, pen, ruler/tape measure, and a variety of pincushions, and many gifts from needlework friends and staff.




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

Currently I stick and stab, primarily because I am stitching with a hoop on 50c linen.  The hoop opens up the holes a bit more, and hooped or not hooped, I find that it's difficult to sew on that fine count of linen.  I used to 'sew' and still do when I stitch over one, for example, on 28c linen, and for that over-one stitching I use the continental stitch in both directions, i.e., the first pass is from the right to the left, a continental, and then the crossing path is a 'backwards' continental from left to right.  It uses a bit more thread, pads the needlework some, but the most important advantage:  The stitches are never lost under the weave of the linen.


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

That has evolved for me.  In the '80s, when I first fell in love with samplers, I was a true Darlene O'Steen groupie (I even bought the same Vera Bradley pattern for my needlework bags, because I wanted to be just like her), and some of her sampler designs reflected her love for 17th Century band samplers.  Workshops she taught included embroidery techniques from samplers she studied in English museums, including reversible techniques, such as burying the thread on the front!  Who knew?! 

Today I favor samplers with beautiful borders, verses, and motifs.  The verse, for me, can either make or break a sampler's appeal.  And for decades I have loved the 18th century Mary Balch samplers from Rhode Island.   


Which designs appeal to you the most? (e.g. Scottish needlework, certain stitches, colour schemes, animal motifs, houses, figures, Quaker style,  etc)

Well-balanced samplers that aren't exact mirror images.   Once I've stitched one side of it, to repeat the mirror image on the opposite side is like stitching a design twice, something I can't remember ever doing.  I know that I get bored easily, and that's why, for example, I enjoy using over-dyed silks, especially in the greens in borders as well as the flowers.  Stitching a large area with the exact same color I find tedious, and a subtle color change in the green vine and leaves, for example, provides an ongoing interest for me as the color subtly changes as I stitch.  I also think it more closely resembles the antique, whose colors have faded in spots, looking like the samplermaker had over-dyed silks in her embroidery basket.


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?

Truly, the history of samplermaking is what first attracted me to samplers, and also to my husband, a history buff.  When I first came into The Attic in 1981, a shop that then already specialized in samplers, as there were several sampler models on the wall, and I thought, “What is this thing they have with the ABC's?”  That year for Christmas my husband gave me my first antique sampler, and the rest, as they say, is history.  I wish there was such a thing as time travel because it would be fascinating to travel back in time and sit beside the 11-year-old as she stitched her sampler.  What time of day did she embroider?  How was she able to see on the very fine ground fabric she used?  What tools did she have?  We know that not all of them enjoyed embroidering like we do.  


What aspect(s) of working with early textiles appeals to you the most?

Finding family samplers.  My husband's ancestors were Quakers, coming to America with a land grant from William Penn, and we have found some of their needlework in sampler publications.  Ann Tatnall's sampler is pictured in Bolton & Coe's American Samplers.  Mary Lea's Westtown sampler is in the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania as part of the Hope Randolph Hacker sampler collection.   


Have you had any formal education in textiles?

None.  In fact, my mother didn't even allow me to take Home Ec classes in high school, thinking that everything taught in those classes I should learn at home, from her, and much better to spend class time on what they called college-prep classes.


Why do you find antique samplers appealing?

I love thinking about the original samplermaker and imagining what her/his life was like.  I especially enjoy it when there's a bit of history that accompanies a reproduction, especially when it includes photos of the samplermaker and her home or family.


Do you collect antique samplers? Apart from samplers do you collect anything else? 

I do collect antique samplers.  The photo of our parlor included above shows some of the antiques displayed.  The only other thing I collect are more and more sampler reproductions to stitch!


What other types of handwork do you enjoy?

None.  In my next life I hope to take up quilting, but there's no time in this one for that.


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've learned to snack while I embroider.  A number of snacks can be "drunk" from a cup, like Cheez-Its and M&M's, and never dirty your hands.  And I've also learned that I can enjoy a glass of wine in the evening while I'm working on my current sampler.  Our cats sometimes sit on the headrest of my chair and watch what I'm doing, but the lap they prefer is my husband's.


What has been your worst needlework disaster?

"Losing" my in-progress Berlin Woolwork Sampler.  I couldn't find it for almost a year, and just thinking about it was upsetting.  I had to stop looking for it and hope that one day it would reappear.  Well, it did.  It was tucked away at the shop!  It's sometimes difficult when you have two different locations to keep and store your needlework treasures.


If your house was on fire and you could only save one sampler, which would you choose and why?

I guess I should answer that it would be the circa 1600's whitework sampler hanging in our parlor, but it just might be my still unfinished Berlin Woolwork Sampler, Parts 1-9, by Darlene O'Steen/The Needle's Prayse that I've had on my must-finish-this-year list for the past couple of years.  I'm on Part 9, the last part.  Almost there!  It's a long sampler, over 2 feet long.  Here are photos all along its length.








Am I the only one who forgets that her glasses are on top of her head?
No, you're not.  Am I the only one who is talking on her cell phone while looking everywhere for it?



Thank you Jean for sharing your story and stitching with all of us!  Your shop has become a Mecca for lovers of stitching and samplers alike.  To find out more about what the Attic has to offer you can visit the Attic’s website at www.atticneedlework.com.   A must-view are the Attic’s weekly newsletters to see all the goodies being offered in the stitching world and inspirational stitching in the works! 

Here is a photo taken by one of our own SLY blog stitchers, Chris of Tot Hill Farm Stitches, when she was lucky enough to visit the Attic this past Autumn.  It is certainly on my bucket list! 



Jean has graciously sponsored a fun giveaway for us – Winner’s choice of either Scarlet Letter chart Ann Thompson or Eliza Tagg along with the Lakeside linen to go with, also in your choice of 36, 40, or 50 ct!

To enter the giveaway please comment below and guess how many samplers are on display at the Attic as of the day of this posting.   The winner will be the person who guesses closest to the correct number and will be announced on March 1st.  In the event of a draw a tie break question will be asked.

I hope you all have enjoyed this series of interviews each month.  It has been great fun to learn about how other stitchers have gotten started in this passion which we all enjoy.  For past month’s interviews, you can find the links here


Happy Scarlet Letter Stitching!  xxx

77 comments:

Nicola said...

What a wonderful way to start the day. Thank you Jean for participating and for your lovely prize.

Now the number of stitched samplers is such a hard one as from the photos I have seen there looks to be so many.

Hopefully one day I will be able to view them in person but for now I am guessing 202.

Bethany said...

I agree Nicola, a beautiful way to start the day. Our day a little later.

I have not been fortunate enough to visit Jean's shop, but get her newsletter every month.

My guess is 158, sounds like a good number.

Thank you for sharing you story with all of us.

queenstownsamplerdesigns said...

What a delightful interview with Jean. Almost makes up for not being able to visit with her at Nashville this week. Sorry I can't be there.


I haven't been to Jean's new store yet, but in her previous location it looked like almost a thousand samplers to me. ☺
At least it did when I had a dream about it after my visit.

HollyXSing said...

I love Jean Lea! What a genuine treasure! AND my pusher for antique samplers;)

Jean, it was wonderful to catch a glimpse of your stitching life!

I am looking forward to visiting with you in January of 2015!

Happy Stitches,

-Holly

Lanie said...

Thank you Jean for sharing a little more about yourself with us! My husband flies to Phoenix several times a year on business ... one of these days I'm packing my suitcase too and will be happily spending the day at 'The Attic' while he attends to his business!
I can't even imagine how many samplers are displayed (sure will be fun to count them in person!) ... how about 168.

Judy Yunt said...

What a pleasure it was to read when you started stitching and your treasured samplers.

I would guess 265.

Vera said...

Great interview! I am hoping to get out to Phoenix in the next year or so (fingers crossed while not stitching!!). Taking a wild guess as I have no idea, I will say 248.

Laurie in Iowa said...

Thank you for the wonderful interview Jean! One day I hope to make a visit to your shop. I'm going to guess that you have 178 sampler models on display in your shop.

Jeannie said...

One very important part of my sampler journey that I forgot to include has been my visits over the decades to Marsha's Scarlet Letter locations in Wisconsin. I have fond memories of going there with my mother to a small log cabin near New Berlin, and now, in the later years, to her pastoral spot near Sullivan, in the unsurpassed beauty of the Kettle Moraine area of southern Wisconsin. My brother's residence is just 12 miles from Marsha's, and it is a special treat for all of us to visit Marsha and her samplers!

Judy B said...

What a great interview. I would love to visit your shop one day. I think there are 302 samplers on display.

Bonnie said...

Since I've never been to your shop, I'm just going to guess 225. That sounds like a lot but I'm guessing your shop is over the top! I definitely hope to travel out your way some day and see it all. THANKS for your generosity...Bonnie

Cheri said...

Great interview, I would live to visit the shop. I will guess 87 samplers on display.

Rita said...

I was lucky enough to get to visit The Attic in 2010 during a vacation to AZ...before it moved to its present location. My favorite ever LNS!! (I try to visit LNS' during our travels and even visited Fiddlesticks in Honolulu.)

My guess....300, a nice round number.

Cari said...

This was such a wonderful interview with Jean Lea. She is a treasure to our stitching community…world wide. Thanks for sharing.

I'm going to guess 198 samplers.

Darla said...

I had the fortune to live in Mesa and shop at the Attic way back when. Now I love to stop in and shop when visiting family.


My guess is 327 samplers.

The Inspired Stitcher said...

I always enjoy reading the interviews. I always end up learning something interesting. How fun!

Since I've never been there, I'll guess 224.

Dede said...

Interesting interview. Thanks for sharing. The Attic is on my bucket list...someday!
I think about 172 samplers are on the walls.

Marsha said...

132. I've been lucky enough to get their twice and am planning another visit in October. Can't wait.

carolm said...

404 it is just a WAG but having the honor of visiting in the last decade a guess is as good as anything... Loved your shop. It is a good reason to move to the Southwest....

Jenny said...

What a wonderful interview! I too am looking forward to visiting your shop someday soon. In the meantime I will guess 211 samplers are hanging on the walls.

LaurieJ Towle said...

What a wonderful interview and, while never having visited the Attic, I do get the newsletter and dream of the day I can visit. It would have to be a very special journey as we live all the way over in New Jersey; and, like Jean, it was Darleen O'Steen who inspired me to start my journey stitching reproduction samplers. I have several done and several yet to do! My guess for the number of samplers hanging on the walls? 233!

Nana said...

Was just there for an outstanding sampler symposium & love Jean! She always goes the extra mile for her customers(friends):-) It is so hard to put your head around all you see there. It could be far more, but I'll guess 263.

Samplings from Spring Creek said...

A visit to The Attic must be on every sample makers bucket list. I'm guessing 243

Delania said...

Just a guess - 178 - would love to visit this shop one day.

KathieB said...

I like asymmetry too! I'm going to guess 150 samplers.

Laura said...

223 Samplers.
I hope to visit someday.

Joanne O'H said...

Wonderful interview! And thank you , Jean for the opportunity to win such a generous prize. I would guess 335 samplers.

wranglerkate said...

Thanks for sponsoring such a great giveaway! My guess is 278 samplers.

Paula said...

Great interview!! I enjoyed reading.
Guessing 367 samplers (fingers crossed). My daughter's name is Eliza...would love to win.
Paula

Pat said...

I just found your blog and I thoroughly enjoyed reading today's interview. Visiting The Attic is on my list too. My guess that there is 500 samplers on display.

CarolG said...

such a fun contest! I will guess 256 samplers. thanks for the opportunity to win such a great prize!

Theresa said...

This was such a fun interview to read! being way out on the East coast I doubt I will be able to make a good guess as to the number of samplers, but I am going to guess that there is 240 samplers displayed on the walls of this lovely shop!
Theresa

Deb said...

This was a great interview to read!! I guess that there are about 325 samplers on the walls at the shop. One of these days I hope to be able to go there myself and actually count all the samplers (and spend some money!).

pj said...

Jean does a great job! Love this shop as you always get inspired. Jean is a sampler lover and a great business woman.

I am guessing 101 . I have not been to the new shop but hope to visit soon......

Pjstitcher

Sharon Cuppetelli said...

Lovely, 585...

Cindy L said...

Such a wonderful interview! I love looking over the newsletters and wish to visit there in the near future.

My guess is 378.

Bhooma said...

What a nice interview! I guess this is the closest I will come to visiting the store. At least I can order on line and can e-mail Jean and pester her :)

Since I am going to take a stab in the dark, I am going to guess 208.

DawnM said...

My guess is 278. I have been lucky enough to visit the shop and it is one of my favorites. Thanks for the great giveaway.

Chris said...

What a wonderful interview with Jean. My guess is 207.

Carol R said...

Interesting interview! I have no idea of the number of samplers on display so my guess is 137!

capecodgirl565 said...

Loved the interview, I am dying to get to the shop one of these days. I would guess there are 291 samplers hanging.

Elizabeth Ann said...

Thank you for hosting such a wonderful interview! I have always enjoyed reading Jean's newsletters but never had a chance to visit her shop. It must be amazing. I will guess 565. Thank you again!

Ruth said...

Loved the interview and hope to visit the shop in person one day. Love to dream about taking a class there. My guess is 255. Thanks for the chance to be the winner.

woolwoman said...

Lovely interview with Jean ! I have been to the Attic - not the new location - hope to go back one day. I guess 333 . THanks Melody

Krista said...

A wonderful interview! Thank you Jean for giving us a peak into your world. My guess is 303. Hopefully one day I will see them in person!

Debbie Bauer said...

Thank you Jean for sharing. I tend to read over these interviews a couple of times - don't want to miss anything! Then I drool over the walls of needlework. Your interview along with the others have truly inspired me. I love your Berlin Woolwork Sampler. I would love to visit the Attic someday! My guess would be 155 sampler.

samplerlover said...

What a wonderful interview. I love getting The Attics Newsletter in my In Box. I know that mt friend Tanya has her own wall with her Scarlet House Samplers. How wonderful is that.

I would say about 350.

September House said...

I will guess 283.

I had the good fortune to attend Jean's Sampler Symposium this past January. Everything was top shelf. I can't wait to go back.

dhenders said...

The Attic's newsletter is always a special treat! Loved the interview - so nice to get this extra glimpse into Jean. My guess is 187 samplers on the shop walls.

Margaret said...

My dream is to visit the Attic one day. Thanks so much for this great interview, Jean! And for the giveaway too! My guess is 198.

lisa said...

Great interview.

I will guess 388 samplers.

Terry N said...

I have been lucky enough to visit both the new and old locations of The Attic several times over the last 5 years, ever since my daughter moved to Arizona. The walls are *covered* with samplers and it's so tempting to spend a lot more time and money -- it's very inspiring!

My guess for the number of samplers is 235.

Donna said...

Very nice interview. I will guess 313

Donna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Faye said...

Going to The Attic is certainly on my bucket list!!!! And getting yo meet Jean would be the highlight!!!! I am guessing 229 simply because 29 is my lucky number~~~ this was an awesome interview!!!

SewAmy said...

I've never been to the Attic but hope to one day. I am going to take a guess.. 175. I loved the interview!

Babs said...

I was at Attic a year ago inthe old shop. I cannot wait to see the new shop. I would guess there is there are 203 samplers on display.

Tedra said...

I am guessing there are 264 samplers at the Attic! I just love looking at them every time I'm there!

Tania Kleckner said...

Great interview. I hope one day I can visit The Attic! My guess is 212.

Loraine said...

What a great interview. Jean is an inspiration, and wonderful person. Her store is amazing! She has the nicest staff working for her as well. It's a treat to visit each year.
I am going to guess 350 samplers are hanging on the walls. It would be a lot higher if we were counting the stitched objects in cases.
Thank you for spending the time to post this interview, and for the chance to win.

Cindy Gershin said...

My answer? More than I can ever stitch in my lifetime!!!!

But since you are probably looking for a real number, I'll guess 150, based on the "old" location. I haven't been in AZ since the shop moved-looking forward to seeing it on my next trip there. Jean and her staff are always so helpful and welcoming.

Thoeria said...

What a lovely interview :) The likelihood of me ever getting over to the States..let alone Arizona is so slim...that I'm forced to live vicariously through online descriptions of these wonderful places :)
At a guess...I'd say about 236?

Louise said...

This was a great interview, especially since I am currently working on the Berlinwork Sampler. It's great to see it almost done.

My guess is 213 samplers, but I'd love to go and count then for myself.

Terri said...

I am going to guess 181. Great interview!

lisa said...

Wow...what an inspirational story....wish I lived close enough to visit the shop and get some personal tips as well!!! Thanks for sponsoring the give away....I will guess 323 because my daughter's birthday is March 23! Cross fingers! Lisa K at scneth@verizon.net

Elizabeth said...

Oh goodness me -what a challenge.

I just loved the interview.

I am going to go with 243.

klmvangard said...

What a treat to read about how you began in needlework. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

I've been wanting to visit The Attic for 10 years. Pretty much since the first year I started stitching. Someday, I'll get there. :)

I would like to guess that there are 242 samplers on your walls.

Karen H.

Patti said...

Really enjoy reading about you! I am planning a trip to The Attic in October and hope to meet you. I'm hoping it all works out for me. Can't wait to visit this amazing shop I keep hearing so much about!

My guess will be 218. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Stitch Wizard said...

What a wonderful interview. I would just love to visit Attic Needleworks someday! They have been really good about getting some fabric sent out to me and I love their newsletters too. I am going to guess 250 samplers hanging up but have no idea as I love so far away, I have never been to their shop. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed!

Margotatau said...

I will guess at 198. From all the comments, the walls must be packed with samplers

RuthB said...

Wonderful interview! And a reminder that it has been too long since my one and only trip to the "old" Attic. :)

How about 123? Wow, that's probably a colossally bad number to guess. lol

KrissKross said...

I would love to visit The Attic some day. My guess is 318! :)

Kristina

Laura in SP said...

It feels like thousands and thousands. But I would guess 243.

Ali said...

What a wonderful interview and maybe one day I'll get to visit the attic! My guess is 299 plucked that out of nowhere.

Merilde said...

Loved the interview - thank you! I especially liked the picture of your stitching spot. It is fun to see where other people stitch. I'm guessing 256 samplers.
Lori

Maria del Valle said...

I really would like to visit your store!
My guess....498

LAR said...

What an incredible display. My guess is 313 on display. LAR