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.