This year is flying right by - Here we are in July already with another wonderful interview for you! Today we sit with Jackie and learn about her love of reproduction sampler stitching, including samplers from the Scarlet Letter, that are all quite stunning!
How old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?
My mother let me embroider a stamped fabric floss holder when I was 7 or 8. I am the youngest daughter of 4 children (I’m number 3) and I think she needed to keep me busy. J
What was the first sampler that you stitched?
In the Summer of 1980, during college, I purchased a stamped Bucilla “sampler.” I had just had my wisdom teeth pulled and was between jobs so I bought this to keep me busy. Little did I know what that would start! It took 2 ½ years to stitch and right now it is hanging in my bedroom, over my bed. I love it because it shows where things started.
Over the years, as I was having my children, I stitched all the usual things, birth, wedding samplers, and decorative stitchery for the home. One day in 1995 I took a class in Kansas City led by Joanne Harvey. We received the kit for Isobel Doig 1777. I had never heard of people exactly reproducing something a girl had stitched hundreds of years earlier. I was entranced.
A few years later I found myself as a divorced, single mother of three children who hadn’t been employed in over 15 years. There is a lot of loss and grief experienced when a marriage ends. A part of that loss, for me, was this sampler and how it represented a part of my identity and the loss of personal time to explore my own interests. I stuck it all in my nightstand and kept it there, even when I moved from place to place. Fast forward 14 years, to Fall of 2011 where I now was happily remarried and retired. One of the first things I did was to pull that sampler back out of my night stand and take it back up again.
What is your favorite time of day to stitch?
First thing in the morning! I make a pot of coffee and will stitch 2 or 3 threads before I get the paper and have breakfast.
Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?
I sit in our study. I have a bookcase next to me that my husband built with a special pull down slot where I stash my current materials, safe from kitties claws...
Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?
I stab away most times, but some specialty stitches require a sewing stitch and so those are done in hand.
Do you prefer to stitch in hand, or with a hoop or frame?
I use an old 10 inch hoop most of the time, but stitch in hand for things like chain, bullion and others.
What is your favorite linen and thread?
I prefer antique white, cream, lambswool...35, 40 count. Right now I’m stitching over 3 on 45 count graziano and I love it! I love the weight, the density of the fabric. I’m not certain how over 2 would go, however. I love stitching with silk! I want to use fabric that the original stitcher may have used at that time.
Have you tried specialty stitches and do you have a favorite?
I am crazy about Montenegrin stitch! I analyze the motif and determine the most efficient route to take when stitching the outline in Montenegrin. I really enjoy that challenge. I love stitching all the different directions. I’ve also done a fair share of queen stitches and although time consuming, I find them enjoyable. I love the pattern the pulled stitch makes in groups.
When did you discover the Scarlet Letter?
In the Fall of 2011, after I finished my first reproduction sampler, I wanted more and found The Scarlet Letter in a google search.
What was the first Scarlet Letter sampler you stitched?
Elisabeth 1629: This was my first band sampler and one in which I realized I might be a porn stitcher. I contacted Marsha Parker about the eros or boxer motifs and their graphic physical appearance. We both had a good laugh over that. J
What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?
Currently I have 2 favorite periods.
First: 17th and 18th century band samplers: I am amazed at the intricacies of the motifs, the vibrant colors used and the complexities of the stitching. I never grow tired of examining reference books about the subject. I love the challenge of reproducing them.
Elizabeth 1647 is the second Scarlet Letter sampler I stitched. I redesigned the “zoo parade” bottom band as the chart did not match the photograph of the original. It was more difficult than I expected, but I had a lot of fun and learned how difficult it is to chart.
|Elizabeth Harborne 1647|
My second favorite is American pictorial samplers. I really really enjoy learning the history of the school (the teacher) and the life story of the stitcher. Every time I stitch one, I end up purchasing books about the time period, the school, that area in history, etc.
Here are some of my favorites:
Sally Munro 1796. I stitched this as a class which included a monthly webinar where we learned much about the history of the Mary Balch School in Providence, Rhode Island. It was the second reproduction sampler I ever made and has several specialty stitches, including many queen stitches: half queens, quarter queens, queens on their sides, queens of two colors... Also the entire sampler is covered completely in stitches (the background is entirely filled in) Ignorance is such bliss! I had no idea what I was getting into. But I learned much and lost my fear of trying new things. Part of the prose speaks of “the pallid cheek of fear.” While I was stitching the letters, Sally turned into a boy named “Pallid Chico”.
Hannah Stacy 1789. This was my first sampler with free hand stitching where I transferred the pattern using a light box. I realized here that reproducing is an imperfect science and a stitcher truly imparts her own personality into the final product.
Anne Maria Clarke. I haven’t framed this one yet as I’m intrigued by the incomplete poem that pays homage to Lafayette that was written to commemorate his visit to the US. I was able to obtain a copy of a research paper from the Valentine Museum. The author states the original sampler today is in terrible condition as the linen itself was stabilized with an acid based material commonly used at the time it was woven. She also proposes the likely stitching Anne made, describing her age when stitched. Although this violates my philosophy about reproducing samplers exactly, I’d like to add that to my sampler, along with the complete poem, if I can ever find it. She seemed to me to be unhappy with the lettering arrangement and partially picked it. I’d like to restore the prose and the age information, in a slightly different color.
|Anne Maria Clarke|
|queen stitch Basket in Anne Maria Clarke border|
Which designs appeal to you the most?
I really don’t have specific motifs that I prefer. I want the sampler to be appealing, but reproducing a specific style or school is the most important thing to me. I believe that all of us reproduction sampler stitchers are custodians of the art or craft. I think we are preserving this art form whenever we stitch one. We are keeping it alive.
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?
When I retired in 2011 and I returned to stitching, I didn’t know I was embarking on an art history education and an historical education of the world during the times these samplers were being produced. My education and career have always been more scientific and technical, so I had no idea what I had been missing.
How do you display your stitched samplers? Do you frame them? Hang them singularly or in groupings?
I frame them and I try to make arrangements, but I can see I am going to be having “gallery” wall(s), dedicated to samplers.
My husband mounts and frame all my samplers. One of his hobbies is to gather downed lumber from our wooded areas and mill and process all into frames for my work. He has even chiseled patterns into some of them. This makes my samplers into a true labor of love that the two of us create together.
What other types of hand work do you enjoy?
This is the only thing I’m interested in right now. I do knit, crochet and sew. When I was a young girl of 13 and 14 (an upstart!), I knitted an argyle sweater of three colors. I also knitted a pair of gloves (in the round). During that same time, I found my grandmothers’ (both of them) work baskets (which I have today). There are all sorts of doilies, camisole straps, etc. I was so fascinated by the work our grandmothers did that I crocheted some doilies of my own. I remember one with multicolored thread and several pansies in it. I wish I had that today.
Any guilty secrets to confess?
Of course I’m drinking coffee (carefully) while I stitch! I have had the occasional glass of wine or Scotch, but only with mundane work! I do leave tails on the back (how evil!). I try not to let any of the cats near my stitching even though the stitchings are chock full of animal fur.
This may be a guilty secret, but I consider leaving small errors in a sampler as simply being realistic. Major errors are different. They are earth shaking and there‘s no getting around them. Things are never going to match up or appear proper, so these errors must be ripped out. But the smaller errors are merely a nuisance. Only I will notice them (if I remember where they are), so I don‘t spend hours correcting a mistake that does not impact the overall design. I rationalize these errors by saying they are my own interpretation, my own personality, stitched into the sampler. J I stitch for enjoyment.
Having said all that, I’m not so sure what I’ll do about little errors when I stitch Loara Standish and Jane Bostocke...
What has been your worst needlework disaster?
I haven’t had a true disaster, but right now I’m stitching Dorothy Ward 1687, a band sampler, and the serged fabric I purchased was not cut square. I did not check it (that is the disaster part) and as I stitched, I realized I was going to run off one side of the fabric. I’ve pieced more on, so there is a visible seam. Now the true confession (I can’t believe I’m going to tell you): In the very beginning of this project, after stitching a few lines, I was unhappy with the fabric and thread count I was using and so started over with this badly cut 45 count graziano. I made a second mistake by miscalculating the size of fabric needed when I converted from 35 to 45 count. So, now I have a second looming disaster in which, near the end of the whole thing, I am going to run off the fabric again! I am going to piece another chunk of fabric on to this monster! I may hang this in my laundry room or next to a toilet. J But I believe all is good as this is a learning process for me.
If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched? And why?
Sally Munro 1796. This sampler really changed my stitching world. It opened many doors for me. Now the sky’s the limit as to what I might attempt next.
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?
My husband and I enjoy traveling, especially in our Roadtrek, which we drive all over the country and enjoy many of the national parks. We also enjoy bicycling together. I have 5 cats and 2 dogs (all strays) and we live in the countryside. I enjoy going for walks, sleeping on our sleeping porch, sitting in our fern garden by our stream, watching wildlife and otherwise enjoying our private world in the country.
One last thought:
Right now I am working on Dorothy Ward 1687 and Marie Lallemand 1878 (now finished in photo below). They are very different; one being a band sampler, over 3 on dense fabric with the older stitching techniques (e.g. Montengrin) and the other a more modern alphabet, monochromatic darning sampler. Yet both challenge me with things I have never done: the former, stitching over 3 threads and the latter, stitching the various darning patterns. (The true weaving darn is giving me a challenge.) Both these samplers, different though they may be and stitched almost 200 years apart, provide excellent examples of why I am excited to be stitching and to be on this journey of discovery of the past and myself.
Thank you, Jackie, for sharing your stitching story with us! Your samplers are both gorgeous and inspiring!! It is amazing to see that while all of our stories may take a different path we are all on the same journey in the love of stitching.