Friday, November 27, 2009

Belated Happy Thanksgiving

We hope you had a wonderful holiday with your families and loved ones all around!  Turkey with all the trimmings - what diet?  As Thanksgiving approached, we started to think a bit about the first Thanksgiving and the pilgrims who started it all, and how can you think of them, and not remember the Loara Standish sampler?  Here are some thoughts on that from Becky:

I had the opportunity to take a class on Loara Standish from Joanne Harvey at one of the Sampler Gathering events years ago in Plymouth, MA. Along with Joanne’s class on the technical aspects of stitching Loara, we were treated to a lecture on the history of Loara’s life and a tour of her home site and grave.  I even found acorns that I still have from her site. It was such a special day to feel the past of one of our first known sampler makers in America and to share that with so many others who have the passion I do for the history of these women who came before us, leaving the thread of their lives through the samplers they made. 

I always come back to the question, why do we create the pieces we do? Why did they create the pieces they did? Will others come after us and study what we have left behind as we do those before us? What will they learn or wonder about me? Now if only Loara would get her chance to come out of the cupboard and come to life in my hands!  Hopefully her time will come in this vast amount of stitching I dream of doing some day soon.

Loara's sampler is, in many ways, a typical 17th Century English Band Sampler, as are most American samplers of the time.   Its long, narrow form features row after row  of ever more complex bands of decorative border patterns.   

The verse reads :
Loara Standish is my name
Lord guide my heart that I may do thy will
Also fill my hands with such convenient skill
As may conduce to virtue void of shame
and I will give the glory to thy name

This beautiful piece stands out as the oldest known sampler stitched in America.  While we don't know the exact date she stitched it, we do know Loara's approximate birth date (sometime after 1627) and that she died  very young - before her father, Myles, who wrote in a 1655/56 will that he wished to be buried beside her:

"...if I Die att Duxburrow my body to bee layed as neare as Conveniently may bee to my two Daughters Lora Standish my Daughter and Mary Standish my Daughter in law..."

So we can date this sampler with confidence at approximately 1650. Loara was one of 7 children, and living in the Plymouth Colony when she stitched her sampler.  A visit to the Pilgrim Hall Museum site will give you more information yet about this very important relic of our past.

Loara included many very complex stitches in her sampler, one of which has been dubbed the "Standish Stitch".  The Standish Stitch is not only on Loara's sampler, but has been found on other seventeenth century samplers. The stitch has not yet been identified and was named the Standish Stitch by Joanne Harvey. The Standish Stitch is a reversible stitch mainly used  for dividing bands. I would describe it as a cross stitch with angled stitches at the bottom, but this is not done in the fashion of a normal cross stitch. To make this stitch reversible, it has many passes to create the stitch, sharing many of the same holes. Most of the stitches on the Standish Sampler are worked over three threads, which takes some getting used to. Other stitches used on the Loara Standish sampler are: Long Armed Cross Variation, Side by Side Cross Stitch, Marking Cross Stitch, Double Running, Diagonal Cross Stitch, Cross Stitch with Bar, Algerian Eye, Variation on a diagonal Cross Stitch and running Stitch. The sampler is stitched in a reversible manner throughout.

The next oldest American sampler known of is Mary Hollingsworth, who also has a very interesting history!  She stitched her sampler around 1665.  That these samplers have lasted so long and in such fabulous condition is a testament to the fact that they were always valued as historical documents as much as works of art.

From Becky:

As we enter the holiday season this year, I know we tend to reflect on our lives and the year that has passed. I know even though it was a difficult year for our family with the loss of our nephew, we find so many things to be thankful for. It has been a difficult year or two for our country and so many people we know have faced hardships, but hopefully we can each find a way to do something to help lessen the difficulties someone else is facing in some small way. Giving of a minute or two, showing a kindness, just a smile or hello, can add a lot to someone’s day. So from us to all of you, consider yourselves hugged and a smile sent to each and every one of you.  We hope you will be surrounded this next month with many family and friends and laughter! 

From Julie:
When I count my many blessings I find that I am most grateful for the simple things:  a beautiful sunset; a well-turned phrase; the warmth of our home on these cold winter nights.  Life is so complex - as anyone trying to navigate through the myriad of avenues now available on the internet well knows.  Simplicity can bring you back to the very essence of life and how it can be celebrated!  I think this is why we love samplers so much - it hearkens back to a time when life was lived more slowly, and perhaps savored more completely.  My wish for you is that you find the inner peace and contentment of a life lived simply and fully.

As the holiday season is now upon us, we thought it only appropriate to share some recipes of family favorites.  From our families to yours - the very best this season has to offer!

Favorite Recipe from Becky:
Aunt Jackie’s Cut Out Cookies

1 ½ cups sifted powdered sugar
1 cup margarine (soften)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar

Cream the sugar and margarine. Mix in the egg and flavoring. Sift the dry ingredients together and blend in the sugar and margarine mixture. Refrigerate for two to three hours. Find your favorite cookie cutters and heat oven to 375 dgrees. Roll dough to 3/16” thickness and cut out. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with colored sugar decorations if not planning to frost. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until lightly brown around edges, very lightly brown! They will darken fast and so watch them carefully. If wishing to frost, cool completely.

1 pound powdered sugar
1 TBL Crisco
1 tsp vanilla
Milk to spreading consistency and a dash of salt
Mix together. Divide into small bowls and add favorite food coloring choices for your decorating pleasure.

This has been in my family forever, and it is always my favorite cookie! I tend to like it best with just some sugar sprinkles, but frosting is always fun for the younger people in your lives.

Favorite recipe from Julie  
Mom’s Shortbread with Lavender

½ cup cornstarch
½ cup icing sugar                                            
½ tsp salt
2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
2 tbsp dried lavender (use only organically grown lavender to be sure it's safe to eat - I buy mine at Whole Foods) 
1 cup butter (2 ¼ lb sticks)at room temp.

Sift the first four ingredients together four times.  (I know, I know - but it’s what makes the cookies melt in your mouth.  Buy a battery-operated sifter like I did!)  

Gently crush the lavender in your hands and sprinkle into the dry ingredients, stirring to mix thoroughly.  

Mix in the butter with your hands (the heat from your hands melts the butter and makes the batter hold together better than if you mix with a spoon).   

Roll into walnut sized balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Flatten with a fork or cookie press dipped in flour.  (you can crowd them on the cookie sheet - they don’t spread).   

Bake at 325 for 20 minutes, or until they’re as golden brown as you like them.  I like mine a little darker than most people do.  

The lavender in these cookies adds a very sophisticated touch - but be careful not to overdo - you don't want the lavender to overpower the delicious cookie.  I've been making these cookies without the lavender all my life - its my very favorite cookie and the only one I must bake for it to be Christmas!  I added the lavender as an experiment a few years ago and loved it!

Makes about 2 ½ dozen.  Can easily be doubled.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mexican Sampler Tidbits

You have seen our little girl, from 1844 in a few of our products; she will be out again in some new and upcoming items. She is a beauty and shows much of what is popular and endearing in the Mexican samplers. The wonderful use of colorful threads and variety of stitches used, including the most popular to Mexican samplers, the Aztec stitch.  

For a terrific tutorial on the Aztec Stitch, see Denise Beusen's site.  She also has a wonderful article on Mexican samplers.

Piecework Magazine also has a small bookmark project using the Aztec stitch, which is available for download.

There has not been a lot of research done in the study of Mexican samplers, but we will start with a few historical notes of interest.  Friar Thomas Gage reported in 1648 -   “The Indians make it their great commodity to employ their wives in working towels with all colors of silk, which the Spanish buy, and send to Spain. It is rare to see what works these Indian women will make in silk, such as might serve for patterns and samplers to many school-mistresses in England.”

The varied designs and patterns reflect the lasting influences of 3 cultures, Mesoamerican, European and Oriental.

Embroideries’ worked by Indian girls were evidence of a girl’s conversion to Christianity and more a European way of life.  Many motifs you find on Mexican samplers have a Germanic influence. Many of the nuns in the convents were from Germany at the time when schools were set up throughout “New Spain” (Mexico) after the conquest.

Spanish needlework at the time of the conquest included a wide variety of stitches, many of which are thought to have originated in ancient Egypt, Persia and other parts of the near East. Teaching was done with the help of examplers, or samplers. Few samplers have survived from the early period of Colonial rule.

Embroidery threads were most often silk, cotton or linen. In sixteenth-century Spanish court circles colors were generally used with restraint, and there was a vogue for black work. This style, introduced by the Arabs and deriving originally from the Persians, consisted of coal-black embroidery worked in a variety of stitches on a white ground. The elite also acquired a taste for gilt of silver and gold. Bright colors, though, were destined to exert a strong fascination in Mexican sampler making.

Popular methods of embroidery are darning over and under to create the pattern. Satin stitch, black work or Spanish stitch, running stitch, long and short stitches for shading, and cross stitch. As well many have drawn and cutwork. But the key stitch found on Mexican samplers only is the Aztec stitch. Beads also became fashionable on the Mexican samplers in the 19th century.

One symbol recalls the founding of the Aztec capital; an eagle perched on a prickly pear with a serpent in its beak. A fascination with death is expressed in many ways. Poet Octavio Paz wrote in the Labyrinth of Solitude, “the Mexican is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it, it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.”  According to popular belief, the departed return to earth each year for the Festival of the Dead. Crafts inspired by this and other celebrations have a spiritual dimension rarely found in the modern world.

There are many beliefs and rituals associated with textile arts in Mexico. After the birth of a bay girl- place in hand a spindle and weaving stick as a sign that she should be diligent and housewifely.  Various depictions of the heart symbolize divine love; a heart pierced with two or more arrows, a crowned heart, a heart decorated with palms and garlands, or a heart-shaped vase sprouting flowers. Romantic love is often represented by entwined hearts. Not a lot of information is found on symbolism of motifs for Mexican samplers. Much though relates to religion and nature.

Julie and I had the opportunity to visit The Hispanic Society of America in New York City a few years ago. We had arranged a special visit of the textiles and samplers this facility owns.  What a treat we had! Not only did we see the collection of exquisite samplers and lace work, we were allowed to see beautiful examples of secular embroidery that this museum owns. If you have the opportunity to visit this museum on a trip to New York City, it is well worth your time.

So this is just a mere taste of Mexican sampler making. You can see there is an opening for further research in this area and we hope someone will pick up that torch and share it with us one day.

Sources used:
Piecework May/June 1997
Samplers in The European Tradition: Kathleen Staples and Margriet Hogue
Counted Thread: June 1979, December 1979, September 1981, December 1985, September 1986
Crafts of Mexico; Chloe Sayer
Costumes of Mexico, Chloe Sayer
Arts and Crafts of Mexico, Chloe Sayer
 Northwest Sampler Guild Newsletter; July 2005, article: The Hispanic Society of America’s Collection of Spanish and Mexican Samplers.

Download a free chart to make a scissors fob with a Mexican-inspired motif.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Attic Needlework Event 11/09

We LOVE tea parties!  Here are a few we've enjoyed lately.

Christmas tea, 2009
Mad Hatter Tea
Mad Hatter Tea Redux
Mad Hatter Tea Templates  

And of course this tea in Arizona!

Julie and I set off in search of a needlework fix and fun with friends of like minds last week. I also was in search of SUN!!!!! But I didn’t find much sun; in fact I was pretty chilled much of the time. But that was okay, because we did find a great needlework fix once again at the Attic Needlework and Collectibles Sampler Symposium in Mesa, AZ. I wonder if I should continue?   Do I really want to tell all of you what fun we have when we visit Jean Lea and her events, or would I rather keep it to myself? You know there is a limit to the number of attendees for this event and I do want to go again and again…so do I want to share this experience with all of you and wonder if you will take my spot next time round!?!

This year Julie and I arrived a day early so we would also have time to take in some of the other shops and interesting spots in the area, of course we weren’t able to fit all of those in either, so we will just have to keep going back until we do!  Two quilt shops were enjoyed, “The Olde World Quilt Shop” in Phoenix and “Zoe’s Trunk” in Chandler.  Both had a great selection of fabrics, just right for finishing our needlework smalls or something larger! Next year we will have to try to fit in 3 Dudes as well, we were told it’s another not-to-miss fabric stop. .  These were just a couple of the outside shops we enjoyed to give you a taste. 

Friday before starting the official event, we decided to take in afternoon tea with our friends Barbara and Beth at Ms Thomas’ Lovely Tea House in Mesa.  We enjoyed dolling ourselves up in their beautiful hats and enjoying our tasty finger sandwiches, scones and tea; a nice relaxing start to our fun-filled weekend!  I very much enjoyed the chicken curry sandwich they served that day.

Friday night started our event with a welcoming buffet of hors d'Ĺ“uvres, but we were ready to get into the dye pots with Pat Evans of Lakeside Linens!   Each of us was given a piece of linen and directed in the steps of hand-dyeing. It wasn’t until the next day after we had taken them back to our rooms and rinsed and ironed them and allowed them to dry, that we could compare all the beautiful pieces. Depending on how much agitation we provided for our piece of linen, we had more or less of a vintage look. They were all beautiful and many participants were already planning how to use for their unique piece of linen.

Saturday found Elizabeth Talledo, of Dames of the Needle/Fingerworks,  and Linda Vinson, of Needlemade Designs, presenting a collaborative piece based on “Twas The Night Before Christmas” in a beautiful wooden book box, filled with the perfect holiday motifs to hold our special needlework tools. Many Christmas trees were being decorated with care and mice were dangling from mother-of-pearl rulers before the weekend was over.  

That evening we took over the shop and boy did we shop until we dropped! But Jean kept us going with a lovely dinner buffet. What are best are the friendships we find at these special gatherings, seeing friends from afar who we only have the chance to visit with on these journeys and meeting so many new friends who enjoy the same things we do. We talk and talk and never seem to make it around to all those we would love to catch up with.   

One new friend, Bernie from Belgium celebrated her 50th birthday and tried to keep it a secret!  But luckily we were able to sing to her a day late before leaving the event.  Oh but those Belgians know their chocolate, thank you for sharing Bernie!

Sunday featured a special treat - we were invited to visit the beautiful home of Linda Danielson of “Samplers Remembered” to see her private sampler collection.    Linda’s favorites are the Mexican samplers with their bright colors. She finds they make her happy to have them around her. Many of the Mexican samplers have German influences in the motifs you find on them, which might be due to the large number of German Nuns who were teaching in the convent schools in Mexico at the time these samplers were created. 

One of my favorites included a wonderful set of stags with checkerboard bodies, holding strawberry branches in their mouths. 

The Aztec stitch is one of the most predominant stitches you will find on the Mexican Samplers. A tiny scorpion in a line of black work on another and a Havelina on yet another, were some of the other favorites in this collection of Mexican samplers. I learned that Decado means Sampler in Spanish.  

 Not a lot of research has been done at this time on Mexican Samplers, showing us that there is still so much to learn about these beautiful works that endear themselves to us.  Linda also has American and European samplers in her collection. Two Christmas samplers caught my eye. I haven’t seen many Christmas samplers and one was particularly interesting from 1858 showing Mary and Joseph and Baby on their journey to Egypt.

Linda has reproduced several of her samplers and you can find these under “Samplers Remembered”.

To add to this special display, Ria MacCrisken also brought several of her Mexican samplers for us to view.  She had a particular one with an arrowhead border surrounding ducks or loons that had an Inuit feel to the design. It was mentioned that there is some speculation of a possible Canadian connection with some of the Mexican samplers, there were many who migrated to Canada at one time.

As if this wasn’t enough, there was more! As we took turns viewing the samplers, Linda Lautenschlager of Chessie & Me treated those not visiting the collections to a new sampler, which was all kitted up in cute sampler bags. 

We ended our time with a luncheon, door-prizes and lots of good-byes to new and old friends. Thank you Jean Lea, for another special symposium and all you do to make our time in Arizona so special!  We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

But it's not Friday!

Hi - I know we said we would be posting every Friday, if possible, and immediately, we find a week when we can't!  We are so excited to be off this weekend playing in Arizona!  

We are heading to Mesa, AZ for The Attic's wonderful symposium!  We went last year and had such a terrific time, that we had to go again this year!  What makes it even better is our friends Barbara and Beth will be able to come, too, and we'll be seeing Pat Evans of Lakeside Linens there, too - she's presenting a class on hand-dyed fabric! I can't wait to get my hands into the dye - reminds me of the old Dick Van Dyke show where Rob and Laura accidentally dyed their hands black and then had to go to a fancy dress event!  Laura looked elegant in elbow-length white gloves, but Rob just looked silly!

So, Friday's post will be unavoidably delayed, but we'll make up for it (we hope you think so) by telling you all about it on Monday.

Friday, November 6, 2009


What IS an etui, anyway?  According to one dictionary, it’s:
Noun1.etui - small ornamental ladies' bag for small articles -  handbag, purse, bag, pocketbook - a container used for carrying money and small personal items or accessories (especially by women); "she reached into her bag and found a comb". 

And whenever it appears in a crossword puzzle, it’s always clued as “needle case”.   

According to Antique Sewing Tools and Tales by Barbara D. Gullers, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, nearly all the well-to-do in Europe carried an etui.  The housewife carried one that held needles, thread, scissors, and a thimble.  The fashionable man or woman carried one that held a bottle of perfume, earscoop to remove wax, tweezers, toothpick, and a scaler to remove tarter from the teeth. A doctor would carry an etui that had knives for bloodletting. They were made from all types of fine materials such as gold, silver, tortoise shell or enamel. It was  much like a purse today except more specialized.

But you know what I’m talking about – the lovely little sewing accessories that are all the rage these days, in lots of wonderful shapes and sizes

Etui’s made their debut in the early 1700’s in Europe, and some of the most spectacular ones to be seen are the Palais Royal sets made in France in the early 19th century.   Such things are far beyond the reach of the average stitcher, but we can dream! 

There are some wonderful etuis available to stitch – so many designers have put their personal spin on them, and the results are truly delightful.  Becky and I decided we’d have a go at it, too, and came up with a pyramid etui that has pictures from one of our favorite samplers on it and quite a few little goodies inside. We loved the idea of the pyramid shape - it holds so many mysteries!  

The shape of Egyptian pyramids is thought by some to represent the primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the earth was created. The shape is also thought to be representative of the descending rays of the sun, and most pyramids were faced with polished, highly reflective white limestone, in order to give them a brilliant appearance when viewed from a distance. Pyramids were often named in ways that referred to solar luminescence, such as The Southern Shining Pyramid.  And of course, if you're a fan of Dan Brown's, then you know the theory that the pyramid with the all-seeing eye (such as on the American dollar bill) is a symbol of a vast conspiracy!  ;-)  Personally, I just think it's a very clever shape and it was a challenge for us to achieve it, especially in a small form such as this.

Now, when “we” come up with a new idea, it’s usually Becky, but this was my brain-child.  Of course, in the end, it was Becky who put them together because her expertise in crafting and sewing is so much more than mine.  I’m the computer gal – I can manipulate the pictures to beat the band, but getting the ribbon to lay just right?  Not so easy for me.  There certainly was a time when I think Becky would have gladly shot me for this idea – but she worked and worked on them and I think the result is spectacular!  Especially when you see them all stacked up together in our workroom.

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