Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It's What We Do


While thumbing through some sampler books last week, I was thinking about needleworkers in history, why they did what they did, how they did it, and what they must have been thinking while stitching.

At the same time, I've also been working on stitching Hannah Pepper's Sampler (see above) -- a reproduction sampler of an original stitched over 200 years ago. And that gives me thinking time, too. The magazine I'm working from shows the reproduction stitched on a creamy linen in reds and golds alongside the original which is now stained with age...the antique sampler looks almost like a sepia-toned version of the newer version. I want mine to look like the old one -- like it looks now -- not like something brand new. I selected a hand-dyed fabric and am stitching in silks in mucky shades of green, brown, gold and red, and I'm pretty pleased so far.

You know that these original sampler stitchers were usually girls in school -- anywhere from, oh, say, six years old to 13 or 14. Their samplers were lessons in marking linens, in history, math, religion, spelling, geography, and virtue. These samplers were hung by families who were proud of their daughters and eager to show each girl's worth in terms of her education and her abilities as a woman.

Up until recently, I've always thought that what we do is interesting, neat, intriguing, a little nerdy, and complimentary -- copying the work of schoolgirls long gone -- schoolgirls who didn't always want to be stitching samplers, but persisted nonetheless. We're really copycats, right? What value can be found in a copycat?

So, I'm thinking and I'm thinking, and what I think is this:

In 200 years, what are people going to be thinking ... about US?

Surely, our work will last that long. Our samplers are conservation framed with acid-free materials, spacers, and museum-quality glass. The fibers and fabrics we use are much more stable than the animal/mineral/plant dyes used way-back-when. And, it will be so much easier for our descendants to pull up information about us and our lives, even copies of the patterns we used, books we read, pictures of our faces.

We are so fortunate to have the kind of leisure time women had little of long ago. Dishwashers, washing machines, electricity, refrigeration, transportation, even the ability to go to a store and purchase clothes, food, whatever we need, quickly, and relatively inexpensively, all give us the ability to spend time doing what we WANT to do.

There has been a fundamental shift from samplers being stitched by girls in school to samplers being stitched by women as a leisure activity. While needlework used to be a part of a regular education program, now we find needlework as an activity outside of (and after) school. And while some girls enjoyed and others hated their stitching lessons, we stitch now because we WANT to stitch. We find peace in it. We use our needlework to say, "This is what is important to us -- home, beauty, patience, silence, persistence, enjoyment, thought, quality."

Are we copycats? In a way. But I think more than that we value those who have gone before us and left us a little piece of themselves. And so, too, we leave pieces of ourselves ... X by X by X.

17 comments:

Kristen said...

Lovely post, Theresa. Really wonderful! :)

Dana Baker said...

What a beautiful post. I often wonder while stitching a reproduction sampler or holding an old quilt, what the person was going through in their life and how things were in their tme. My finished stitching pieces are often a reminder to me of what was going on in my life at the time I stitched them.
Our work really does become a part of us X by X.

Chocolates4Breakfast (TerriBoog) said...

Lovely and eloquent post, Theresa.

marly said...

I like the mucky colors much better. The old samplers are somewhat of a record with the stitcher's name and such, some times a verse of their beliefs. Today's samplers are created more for aesthetics and artistic design, with no story of the maker. Is it the personalization with young hands that draws us to the reproductions, and will beauties that lack that be as sought after in 200 years? I have no idea - just had a bunch of chocolate and I'm hyped.

Ginger said...

A lovely post!

Melissa said...

I really enjoyed reading this post!

The colours you are using on the sampler are just beautiful!

Charlene ♥ SC said...

So thoughtful and lovely. My concern is that the descendants may not hold onto them. I've had the discussion with my son, and he does value my love of the needle, but as we watched the sale of Ms. Ring's treasures, my heart pounded a little faster. Of course circumstances require this at times, but we only hope it isn't done frivolously.

Danielle said...

What a great post! I like to think that someone will be looking at my work long after I am gone and saying, wow, the pieces that she created! LOL. I am always fascinated at the samplers, and that children of such a young age stitched something so grand, and by candlelight and whatnot, and in school! Fascinating that stitching has been around that long.

Barb said...

I so enjoyed your post! I have antiques and often wonder about the people who made or used them!

Wanda said...

Well said! I like to think that we are paying the greatest tribute we can by being copycats. I love your comment about what we use our needlework to say - so true.
Wanda

P.J. said...

If those stitches could talk. My GF and have wondered aloud if any one will ogling our hand work as we do the samplers we see in antique stores and museums. We can only hope.

charlene said...

What a well written, expressed version of what so many of us believe and think as we stitch. I cannot get my hands on enough reading of these old items and this post just makes me want to study even more. We need to be sure and leave this legacy for the next generation and teach it to them as well. We aren't copycats so much as history stitchers and makers!

Ginger said...

I love the new look! It looks "fresh."

Jo Ann said...

Great article~ I would love to be able to go back in history and talk to some of the girls that did these beautiful works of "hand". It seems strange to think they HAD to do this work as part of school, when we take each precious second we can spare to ENJOY our work. I thank them for the legacy they left us.

Kerri said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I often think what will happen with all my treasures when I am gone. But, I stitch to calm my mind and bring a little quiet to my life. I think it links me somehow to the women/girls who came before and maybe those who will come after. I can't put expectations on what will be done with the pieces I complete, but hope my children will love them knowing that I invested a part of myself in them.

Debbie said...

Karen, I often think the very same things about stitching that you have expressed here. I know that we can look at a piece that we have stitched and said," What a wonderful time in my life that was then." Or "That was a really dark time for me when I stitched this. I thought I would never make it." I only wish we could know what the stitcher was thinking and what was going on in that time of their life. It is indeed therepy to stitch when there is so much fast paced events all around us. As a woman who walked into the doctors' office I worked in at the time said, "This is my sanity," after I ask to see the stitching she had pulled out of her bag while waiting for her son. I know I can say the same and I will always remember her comment.

Debbie said...

I have no idea where I got the name Karen when I was typing my post here, Theresa. I think I need to get to bed. I knew I was tired, but not that tired. lol Anyway,, please forgive me, Theresa!