Friday, January 20, 2012

Betty Ring Samplers

To someone who aspires to the title "needleworker" the name Betty Ring is synonomous with "samplers".  She is, after all, the foremost authority on girlhood embroidered samplers.  Her landmark work Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework 1650-1850 is a magnificent reference on the genre.  When I first obtained my copy almost 20 years ago, I spent countless hours leafing through the pages just looking at the pictures of samplers worked hundreds of years ago.  I marveled at the designs, some intricate and some quite simple, and the beauty of the stitching, all accomplished without electric light.  Many of the samplers were completed by girls younger than I was when I first put needle to fabric.

Betty Ring's own collection of samplers is now on display at Sotheby's New York in advance of its sale by auction this Sunday, January 22.  The exhibit/auction is entitled Important American Schoolgirl Embroideries: The Landmark Collection of Betty RingI was extremely fortunate in being able to visit the exhibit yesterday and all I can say is - WOW! There are more than 200 pieces in this exhibit and each one is a gem of its own.

Many of the needlework on display are "mourning pictures" which generally are embroidered on painted silk.  It is amazing to see the beauty of the stitches while realizing that girls and women undertook these as memorials for family members who had passed away, many of them babies and children.

Traditional samplers also abound and, since these are more to my taste than the mourning pictures, I was truly in heaven as I wandered the gallery soaking in the beauty.  These pieces range from simple Quaker designs to complex band samplers, from small pieces (about 6 inches by 4 inches) to large (34 inches by 28 inches).  I was awestruck by the accomplishments of all these women who had come before me.

This picture is one of the samplers on display.  I want to thank Emily Bergland in Sotheby’s Press Office for providing this image to me for use on this blog.

Lot 516
Fine and Rare Silk Embroidered Sampler, Abigail Prince,
Newburyport, Massachusetts, dated 1801, Abigail Prince
This piece is worked on a linen ground in silk and measures 15¼ inches by 21¾ inches.

If you are in the New York area and are as fascinated by samplers as I am, I highly recommend dropping everything and getting over there tomorrow.  The auction is scheduled for Noon on Sunday.  Perhaps this is your chance to own a piece of history.

By the way, there is an exhibition catalogue available.  I purchased mine in advance of the exhibit and so had it available while viewing the pieces.  The catalogue itself is a wonderful addition to my needlework reference library.  I am planning on pulling out my copy of Girlhood Embroidery along with the catalogue so that I can reacquaint myself with the stories of these wonderful pieces.

The catalogue is available through Sotheby's website.  Links are also provided to Betty Ring's Girlhood Embroidery Volumes I and II and American NeedleworkTreasures.

I'm going to close this post with two quotes from Colin Eisler's review of Girlhood Embroidery published in Magazine Antiques in September 1994.  "Only recently have art historians begun to appreciate the key role of the pictorial embroiderer - whether that of the individuals who stitched the Bayeux tapestry in the eleventh century or of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the sixteenth century."  He continues "After a century of snobbery, the decorative arts are seen, once agin, for what they are - the staff of life." 

How satisfying that our hobby, what we love to do, continues that history.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 First Finish

Hooray - I have my first finish for 2012!  I put the last stitch (actually the last charm) on The Four Seasons of Mystic on Friday night.  I just love this design; it's so nice to have a piece that is seasonal yet can be displayed year-round.  The specialty stitches added some "pizazz" as did all the fabulous threads that were used.  The border is done in Gloriana Threads Lorikeet, which is an overdyed 9-strand 100% Australian wool.  I've never used this thread before, but will be considering it in future pieces.  It was a joy to stitch and provided a very nice offset to the silks.

The Four Seasons of Mystic
Jeannette Douglas Designs
So, what next to stitch?  Well, my New Year's stitching resolution is to finish some of those class projects that have been languishing.  My next project is going to be a painted canvas that I started two years ago - Birds on a Cherry Blossom Branch - which was a class at Ridgewood Needlepoint with Gretchen Viggiano, who created the stitch guide.  The canvas is from HP Needlepoint Designs.

Birds on a Cherry Blossom Tree
HP Designs
Design Size 6" x 9"
I don't really have much more to stitch on this piece, primarily French knots. I can hear some of you asking why I didn't finish them at the time. Unfortunately, as I was finishing this piece, I managed to fracture my left humerus in two places just below the shoulder. I did this during the extremely dangerous activity of crossing the street while out on a walk during a long weekend getaway. (Who says exercise is good for your health?) This severely restricted my ability to stitch with two hands. Considering the amount of trouble I have with French knots on a good day, there was no way I could attempt them with one hand! So this canvas went into the "to be finished" pile. I've decided it is finally about time that I just finish the canvas and be done with it!

I will also be working on a small cross stitch project for the Winter Exchange through the I Love Cross Stitch Yahoo Group.  I won't be able to post that piece until after it has been received.