The neighborhood surrounding our new home has a lot of really beautiful houses. Some are modern and perfect and have complex landscaping that is beyond my knowledge of design. Others—the ones I love most—are more...timeworn.
I obsess over the details of those homes and dream up their histories. Admittedly, in a lot of ways, I'm very wrapped up in the past (sometimes excessively so). Unsurprisingly, when it comes to needlework, that's what I'm most drawn to.
When I first started stitching, nearly two decades ago, I knew there was something missing. I would go to Michael’s with a family member, pick out a Dimensions pattern, and lose interest in it pretty quickly. The kits contained pages and pages of grids with a list of a hundred colors needed to reproduce lifelike representations of horses or cats or famous paintings, and I could never get beyond a few stitches. Those projects are works of art and way beyond my attention span. I’m in awe when someone completes them, but it was never my thing.
I found out about samplers around age 19 when I first visited an honest-to-goodness needlework shop and found a reproduction chart of an antique piece in a clearance bin. The designer replicated every aspect of the original layout, including an alphabet that was so warped and crooked, it looked as if it were spilling down the right side of the linen. The girl who originally stitched it in 1787, according to the included biography, wasn’t a big fan of cross stitch and didn’t particularly care to keep her lines straight. I loved it.
I spent years familiarizing myself with the world of cross stitch that didn’t exist in craft stores. Thanks to museum exhibitions, and Samplers and Antique Needlework Magazine, and the Scarlet Letter, I realized that as much as I loved stitching, I was all about the history.
Shortly after, I realized that samplers are literally a combination of every historical detail that I obsess over. The things I love about abandoned houses, however curious and creepy and untouchable, are so interesting in first person. There's so much there to imagine and interpret. The original sampler-makers, going back hundreds of years, put a glimpse of their lives on cloth. Their names, homes, communities, education and status...their religion and their families and their animals and their passions, were documented in bright colors on raw linen.
I had always devoured biographies and historical fiction for the details on the lives of girls and women who lived in other centuries, and here are their direct voices recorded through crafts. I hope to be able to capture a semblance of that with my project.