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Samplers, Stitches and Techniques

Hello everyone and happy March! Sampler Guild of the Rockies continues to "march" onward as our year continues. This month I thought it might be fun to take note of what the Victoria and Albert Museum has to say about samplers.

“Given technical ability, the effects that can be created through embroidery are almost limitless. While each stitch or group of stitches have their own qualities and characteristics, it is the embroiderer's ability to select and exploit them that will transform a plain piece of fabric into a pleasing and unique work of art.

This power to perform magic with a needle comes through the embroiderer's familiarity with stitches: with their structure, with the hand movements required to make them and with their seemingly infinite variation. In 1980 Mrs. Christie classified stitches by their structure and, in a more rigorously scientific way, so did Irene Emery in 1966. Both demonstrated that a great variety has developed from two or three basic stitches.

The straight stitch evolved into satin, brick, long and short, tent, Gobelin, Florentine, Hungarian and others, while the running stitch evolved into double running, outline, stem, darning and more. It is this variety that often causes confusion. 'Hopeless confusion', Marcus Huish called it, and continued: 'It is hardly too much to say that nearly every stitch has something like half a dozen names, the result of reinvention or revival by succeeding generation, while to add to the trouble, some authorities have assigned ancient names to certain stitches on what appears to be wholly insufficient evidence of identity'.

This plethora of stitch names is not a recent phenomenon. In 1688 the following list was published to explain 'The School Mistris Terms Of Art For All Her Ways Of Sowing':

'A Samcloth, vulgarly a Sampler

Plat-stitch, or single plat-stitch which is good on one side

Plat-stitch, or double plat-stitch which is alike on both sides

Spanish stitch, true on both sides

Tent-stitch on the finger

Tent-stitch in the tent

Irish stitch - Back-stitch

Fore-stitch - Queens-stitch

Whip-stitch - Cross-stitch

Raised work - Needlework Pearl

Cut Work - Open cut work

All of which are several sorts and manners of works wrought by the needle with silk…'.

This almost hypnotic list of stitches, many of them with unimaginable form, serves to illustrate the problem of a nomenclature that has varied over the centuries and across countries and continents. The clearest exposition of both name and form is to be found in Mary Thomas’s ‘Dictionary of Stitches’, 1934, and in the index she usefully groups stitches according to their function. The great variety of stitches has evolved because each stitch has a particular function. Even the slightest variation – in the length of the stitch, the axis of the stitch or the angle of the needle – subtly changes the role that particular stitch plays in an embroidery. It is the understanding of function that gives the embroiderer power to create. The patterns in samplers had their functions too. What could be more functional than a darning sampler with its exercises in how to repair holes and worn areas in woven fabrics? In the most carefully worked samplers holes were actually cut into the fabric, in others (right) there was no hole and the darning was worked entirely on the fabric. Lines of running stitch were made, first along the length of the sampler to replace or strengthen the warp and then across the width of the sampler to replace or strengthen the weft.” More to follow next month.

I hope everyone is able to Zoom in for our meeting this month. Jennifer will announce the nominees for our upcoming open Board positions, with elections being held in April.

Until next time, Happy Stitching!

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