Sampler book pages

I’ve now compiled and assembled the pages for my nineteenth-century style sampler book that was inspired by this amazing example by Ellen Mahon. You might want to go and get a cup of tea and then make yourself comfortable. There’s a lot to look at today.

The pages are about 7″ square, and I’ve chosen to use cotton rag paper, 150gsm. I like the handmade look and the ragged edges. I also chose to stitch my samples to the paper as I didn’t like the glue stains that you can see on some of Ellen’s pages.

I kept my title page as close as possible to Ellen’s, in appreciation of her skill and dedication. It’s worked in cross stitch on 32-count even weave linen with one strand of DMC thread, and it has a drawn thread hem around the edge.

I felt a bit like a schoolgirl again, stitching this. I hardly ever write my full name on anything.
Ellen Mahon’s title page, worked on finer linen than my sample.

Pages 2 and 3 are based on plain sewing, which would have taken up most of a nineteenth-century needlewoman’s sewing time. Clothes, sheets, towels, table linen, curtains – all would have been made entirely by hand before the arrival of sewing machines. On page 2 I have included a sample of cotton flannel hemmed with herringbone stitch, and a sample of pleats and gathers, stitched to a plain cotton cuff. The hand-worked button holes are functional but they ain’t pretty. I’ve added some etched mother-of-pearl buttons and a packet of vintage needles. The modern tape measure ribbon is a bit corny but I like it. Page 3 includes a selection of fabrics and trims that might have formed the basis for making clothing.

page 2: plain sewing
page 3: fabrics and trims. Ribbon and lace, vintage thread card, with a piece of Victorian wool paisley and some French ticking

Pages 4 and 5 focus on darning and mending. Page 4 is a set of darning samples; on page 5 I have attached a very ragged fragment of 19th-century linen to show mending and patching. If you lift the paper you can see the vintage darning needles.

page 4: darning samples on 32-count even weave linen
page 5: mending and patching

Pages 6 and 7 are all about patchwork. I really like patchwork. I like the way lots of fragments can make a whole, the way lots of years make a life. I’ve used some of the treasure from my little collection of antique fabrics, including a fragment of unfinished patchwork made by someone probably in the later 19th century. The fragment still has the papers attached, and I’ve used some of the papers from other fragments on the page too. You can see that one of the papers has come from a letter that has been crossed (written across both axes of the page) to save paper.

page 6: fragments of patchwork in progress; the large sample was made in the 19th century and still has the papers (from letters and envelopes) left in
page 7: fragment of 19th-century quilt, hand-pieced and hand-quilted from fine wool fabrics. My sample, made from triangles, is made from vintage and antique cotton fabrics.

Pages 8 and 9 show samples of clothing. The shirt is made from vintage cotton, and I’ve also attached to the page some vintage/antique samples of (I think) French printed cotton. The fabrics have come from a sample book as they still have their labels attached. Page 9 is an 1850s-style day dress, made from a vintage silk sari. I’ve added a fragment of block-printed cotton to suggest a shawl, along with some hand-dyed silk ribbon and lace that might have been used for trimming.

page 8: sample shirt, with vintage fabrics and linen buttons
page 9: 1850s style flounced day dress, made from vintage silk

Pages 10 and 11 show samples of tent stitch needlepoint on canvas. All the designs were taken from mid-nineteenth century sources. It’s really amazing how the designs come to life when you see them in thread on canvas. The tiny samples were stitched on 40-count silk gauze; the larger one on page 10 is based on a sample in Ellen Mahon’s book. The thread-wrapped card is made using some of the threads I used on page 11, mostly hand-dyed cotton and silk perle.

page 10: tent stitch needlepoint on canvas
page 11: 9 samples of needlepoint from Mrs Henry Owen’s The Illuminated Book of Needlework (1847)

Pages 12 and 13 are both worked in counted cross stitch on 22-count hardanger fabric. The red work sampler is inspired by those worked in the Bristol orphanages from the 1860s onwards. The alphabet sampler takes the alphabet and numbers from the anonymous The Workwoman’s Guide (1838) and the floral band motif from the Antique Pattern Library.

page 12: red work counted cross stitch on 22-count hardanger fabric
page 13: alphabet/numerical marking sampler, counted cross stitch on 22-count hardanger fabric

The final page is based on simple hand embroidery, designed by Sarah Bland in the mid-19th century. I’ve used a vintage cotton handkerchief as the background, and I’ve attached a Victorian mother-of-pearl thread winder. The embroidery samples are worked on silk taffeta and 22-count hardanger fabric.

page 14: hand embroidery samples

The book collectively looks pretty much as I imagined it. There is still quite a bit to do – I need to sew the pages together, back to back, so that it works like a book, and then I need to bind the pages. I will probably need to use felt spacers between the pages in the binding margin to prevent the samples getting too squashed – the day dress in particular is worrying me a little because it is very bouncy and sits quite high off the page. Then of course I will need to make a cover for the book. But most of the work is done, and I am pleased with the result. I made most of these samples in the evenings, which is when women would probably have sat down to sew, after all the chores of the day had been done. I am used to sewing by hand – I sew every day, and I don’t use a machine – but even I am amazed and impressed by the sheer amount of work that it would have taken to clothe a family in the first half of the nineteenth century.

detail from page 2. I am particularly pleased with that back stitch.

A little needlepoint (4)

For my 19th-century style sampler book, I tried out some designs from Mrs Henry Owen’s The Illuminated Book of Needlework (1847) which you can read online here. Clockwise from top left are Berlin stitch, Perspective stitch, Darmstadt pattern, Willow stitch, Diamonds, Double pointed star, Point stitch, Feather stitch, and (centre) Sutherland stitch.

9 x 2″ samples from 1847 needlework book

I don’t know much about Mrs Henry Owen, but she certainly knew a lot about needlework. I’ve worked these samples on 22-count mono canvas, with various silk and cotton perle threads, mostly no. 8 or 12. The space-dyed threads are particularly effective when worked on canvas like this.

I particularly like the centre design, which Mrs Owen calls Sutherland stitch:

Sample of Sutherland stitch, from Mrs Owen’s 1847 needlework book, worked with hand-dyed cotton sashiko thread. Mrs Owen suggests adding beads.

I also like the double-pointed star:

Double pointed star, from Mrs Owen’s 1847 needlework book. I added the long cross stitches to unify the space between the stars.

And this is Perspective stitch, surprisingly effective and quite modern:

Perspective stitch, from Mrs Owen’s book of needlework (1847)

I wouldn’t normally choose to do this kind of counted canvas work, and I don’t normally enjoy following charts, but I did enjoy making this little sample. It’s very satisfying how the stitches come to life as they are worked. Soon I will be able to start compiling the pages of my sampler book to bring all the samples together.

A little needlepoint (3)

The third sample of miniature needlepoint for my sampler book comes from a chart in the Antique Pattern Library and, like the previous samples, is worked on 40-count silk gauze. I used spun silk thread and tent stitch.

Needlepoint sample on silk gauze, through the magnifying glass

This is the original nineteenth-century charted design, which I printed:

Cross stitch/canvas work chart from the Antique Pattern Library

I wasn’t keen on the colours so I changed them.

Needlepoint sampler before border

It’s amazing how different it looks for being worked in an alternative colour scheme. I adapted the original design by leaving off the outer border and adding a more simple satin stitch edging.

You can see the pin marks from where I blocked it back into a square (ish) shape when it got distorted through stitching

I don’t know why I have decided to make these samples so small, but I do enjoy miniature needlework. Since this little venture is purely for my enjoyment, I figure I can make my own rules, right?

A little needlepoint (2)

Another sample of needlepoint for my Ellen Mahon style sampler book. This one is taken from a design by Sarah Bland (1810-1905), who created many designs for canvas work and embroidery. You can read a little more about her here, and you can see more of her work at the V and A Collections here.

Details from a needlepoint sampler by Sarah Bland, V and A Collections

The great thing about antique canvas work and samplers is that it’s relatively easy to replicate the designs and motifs by zooming in to a photograph and transposing the stitches onto graph paper. I really like this little stylised flower motif:

Needlepoint sample based on a design by Sarah Bland

It isn’t an exact copy, but it’s near enough. I like the idea that women were designing their own work despite the fact that embroidery patterns were commercially available in vast numbers. To me that suggests a recognition of self-worth and individualism, finding a voice through which to express a lived experience. Needle and thread often seems to me more like writing than drawing. Hand stitches in particular are as characteristic as hand writing, whether they depict text, shapes, or abstract patterns and lines.

I worked this one very small as well, like the last one – single strand of DMC cotton thread on 40-count silk gauze:

A Little Needlepoint (1)

A few weeks ago I made a small sample of needlepoint for my sampler book inspired by the 1850s one made by Ellen Mahon (here). She has a couple of examples of needlepoint, but I’m making a few more. I’m not setting out to make a copy of her book; I’m just seeing this exercise as an opportunity to try some of the techniques learned by my nineteenth-century predecessors.

I have a copy of the excellent Samplers, by Rebecca Scott, which I’ve used for reference. The design below appears at least twice in the book – as a motif on a cross-stitched sampler and also as a knitted motif on a pincushion. This suggests that this design was probably commercially available during the nineteenth century. By enlarging the photos I’ve been able to make an approximation of the charted design:

I do like a challenge, so I stitched the design on 40-count silk gauze, with a single strand of DMC embroidery thread.

It looks huge here but in real life it is very small. A sense of scale is often hard to convey in the virtual world. I find that very interesting.