Saturday, February 6, 2016

Are you virtuous?

I wonder, we all know the 7 sins, or can at least guess most of them (with probably a few extra sins thrown in)  but  could you name the virtues?

Sadly, I couldn't.

Isn't that a shame?  What does that say for our society today when it is easier to remember the negative aspects of human nature but not the best?

Now, why do you think I've asked you about virtues?

I've been doing a lot of research lately into samplers and the origins of embroidery, on an Irish theme and of course on a global theme.  I don't mean just looking at pretty works, but the actual differences between types of stitches used which varied country to country and sometimes even county to county. I have a pile of reference books which are just amazing.

I was under the misapprehension that samplers originated as a teaching tool for young ladies, to enable them to learn the sewing skills they would need to become good wives or even to help them to earn a living at a time when careers for women were very limited.

In fact,  samplers actually originated as a way to learn new stitches and to record them for future use.  Each sampler would have various examples of the different stitch forms and would be a personal catalogue for future stitching projects: some stitches would be for clothing, others for kitchenware and more for furniture, screens and cushions for example.  These samplers would be a little like the personal recipe books that some of us keep.  I know I would be lost without mine: with my tweaks and adaptations and tips to some of the many meals I've made over the years.  This is exactly what early samplers were used for. A reference tool!  Just like this example from Turkey (courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum website)

Later on, samplers were indeed used as a way for young girls to learn to sew, while also being used to teach biblical lessons and leave good advice of moral and virtuous behaviour.

 In my research, I found a sampler at the Victoria and Albert Museum which is written like a letter, advising young women to be obedient to their parents and stay at home! The stitcher lists the terrible events which happened to her upon leaving home against her parent's advice,  including  attempted sexual abuse by her employer when she went into service which lead to an attempt to take her own life: something which she didn't do obviously and remember, at that time suicide was an unforgivable sin. You can read about it here.

In one of the books I have, you can actually read every word of is fascinating.  When I looked it up online I was so pleased to see the V & A museum managed to find out a little about this young lady and her life which was long and relatively happy after the events of her misguided youth.

Some of the samplers are quite depressing, though if you think about it, at the time they were made, they would have represented life as it was: meaning for many, it was quite short.  Life expectancy was low and everyone would have experienced the loss of children, siblings and peers and while I expect it would have been heartbreaking and as traumatic as it is today, it would also have been the norm.  So small wonder then that such  a high value was put on life, and samplers would continue to be a way for women to leave something behind from them, a little footstep to prove they were here and they mattered.

All they had to comfort them during such trials was God and the actions that they would need to take to ensure they would all reach heaven when they died and be back with their loved ones. And of course that was the reason most samplers of the 17th, 18th and even early 19th centuries had religious themes.  Although schools at the time would have had strong influences from the church, many girls didn't go to school. So through these samplers,  young girls were encouraged to follow the 7 virtues, if they were to be good mothers and good wives or otherwise face the consequences of an eternity of damnation!

And my oh my: the symbolism that can be found in these samplers!  I knew that there was symbolism in quilting, and that quilts were used to help escaped slaves reach safety but did you know that samplers were filled with symbols, and some, even intrigue and duplicity!

But I digress. 

In my travels through books and websites I feel there is going to be slight change in my style of designing: not for all charts but for some.  I love history: I love knowing where I come from.

On my mother's side I'm from Norfolk, born and bred, related to Lord Nelson through one of his brothers. On my father's side, my family are from Manchester: My great great grandmother was named in the Manchester Evening News as 'having the foulest mouth in Salford'.  Before her came relatives from Ireland and Scotland.  And I love that I know this.

 I found out quite recently that my great grandmother on my mother's side was a headmistress of a grammar school and was one of the first women allowed to remain in her position despite marrying.  In those days it was illegal to work if married!  And her mother before her was also a teacher!.  Little surprise then that I always felt drawn to teaching.

So all of this is having an impact on my designing.  The interest was there before.  I know from the colours I would choose for some of my designs that I prefer older, and more muted tones: or older and bolder tones!  You can have both!

I know; my photo skills haven't improved.

And I love that I can grow in my job: all through self exploration, self discovery and following that feeling that I need to push myself.  I hope I manage to rise to the new challenges I'm setting myself.

So, watch this space!

Really though, for all the research and exploration into the history of embroider, it all started for me with the Victorian Maids.  I made no secret of my passion for all things the time however I didn't think it would lead me further and further through the history books!

The colours associated with historical samplers are just wonderful, and so unlike the popular palettes of today.

Remember these?

The first two of my Virtuous Maids, Love and Temperance.

I'm finishing the series as we speak and Elaine has kindly sent me a photo of Love, which was stitched for me yesterday.  Diligence will be next.  I realise I have been using my maids as my own reference library as I play with colours and tone combinations, ready for this next step.

The weather here is terrible and I know Elaine struggled to get a decent photo, but you can see the gist of Love.  Bear in mind it is stitched on white fabric and you can see how we struggle in the West of Ireland with our lack of decent natural daylight!

I'm very pleased with her. She will be released next week.

I'm currently trying to find out about Norfolk samplers but sadly there is little information out there.  I will be sure to share my stitching travels with you.  Have a lovely week xx


  1. Such a beautiful post..thank you dear x

  2. What a wonderful informative post!

  3. Great post and I love your virtuous maids - so sweet!

  4. Awesome! Good for you! This was a great post. So interesting.

  5. You made me stop and wish there were samplers around that my ancestors stitched. Wouldn't that be wonderful, to be able to connect with them in stitches but also possibly be given a look into their world and what they believed? Food for thought! Hugs!

  6. To know that personal history as an impact in what you make is really interesting. And the details of days gone by do make us think on them (married woman could not work???).
    I also could not name the virtues we all should have.
    Happy woman day
    A stitcher from Portugal


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