embroidery

Quilts

A quilt is a bed covering, typically made of padding enclosed between layers of fabric stitched into place. It is usually decorative, but its primary purpose is for warmth. Not all quilts, however, are created equal. At the Whanganui Regional Museum there are several quilts in the textile collection, from the utilitarian to the richly embellished, and some in-between. A quilt reflects its creator: her financial circumstances, design and needlework talents and the availability of resources.

1. Salt bag quilt

 Salt bag and wool wisp quilt of the 1930s. WRM ref: 2007.73.1

One of the simplest in the collection, showing the maker’s thrifty use of what she had on-hand, is a modest, rustic, single quilt made from cotton salt bags filled with wisps of sheep fleece, materials readily available at no cost. The names of the salt companies are still readable on some of the bags. This was made around the 1930s, during the Depression era. Although it is simple, it would have been very warm.

2. Woven wool pieces quilt

 Woven woollen fabrics patchwork quilt. WRM ref: TH.568

A patchwork quilt is made of small pieces of cloth in different designs, colours and textures, sewn together. One example in the collection is a double quilt comprising rectangles of woven woollen fabrics sewn in a random pattern. The squares are whip-stitched by hand, and each seam is then embroidered in feather stitch in wools of various colours. This quilt has no backing, obviously intentional, as all edges have been finished; binding is usually the last step in completing a quilt.

A third quilt is made entirely of plain and flowered cotton scraps pieced in a traditional “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” hexagonal pattern, backed with cotton printed with small blue flowers. It was made by Ann Jackson of Market Harborough, Leicester, England. This quilt was later lined and brought to New Zealand by Ann Jackson’s great granddaughter. “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” was one of the most popular patterns of the 1830s-1840s, as it not only displayed design talent, but also because the large number of pieces demonstrated the skill of the needle worker. This quilt has over 300 individual pieces, all whip-stitched together by hand and would have taken months to create.

3. English method quilt

 Patchwork quilt made using the English paper method. WRM ref: 1970.3

A more opulent 19th century quilt used pieces of silk, velvet, taffeta and corduroy in an elongated hexagon pattern called the “Cathedral Window”. It was made using the English paper method, where fabrics are tacked onto paper shapes to stabilise them, before being sewn together. Once the piece has been finished the paper is removed.

This quilt is unfinished and has no backing, which enables us to see the piecing method and how it was assembled. The tacking and backing papers are still in place. Examination of the papers reveals that the sewer used old handwritten letters, a leaflet from a piano and organ tuner and a paper label from a shop in Liverpool, England, called Bon Marché. Founded in 1878, Bon Marché was modelled on its famous namesake in Paris and featured French fashions, perfumes and accessories, so it is possible this quilt had its beginnings in Liverpool.

One of the outcomes from researching the quilts in this article is that there is little or no specific information about their owners, when they were made or who they were made for. In the museums of today, when items are assessed for inclusion in the collection, staff collect as much information about them as possible, and keep this data on permanent record. Imagine the stories these quilts could tell if they could only speak!

 

Kathy Greensides is Collection Assistant at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Marjorie H Mills, needlewoman and artist

A recipe book, recently discovered in an obscure box in the Museum, was given to “Win” by Marjorie H Mills in 1935. This information is inscribed on the flyleaf. The book itself is titled The Red Recipe Book and is a commercially produced indexed book for recording recipes and household hints. Bound in bright red buckram, the index titles are printed in red or blue ink: Small Cakes, Pastry, Baked Puddings, Jams and Preserves, and so on.

3. Nurse

Glamorous nurse in Invalid Dishes

What is fascinating about this quite ordinary mass-produced recipe book is that each index page has been individually and appropriately illustrated in sophisticated watercolours and inks by the giver, Marjorie Mills. The Queen of Hearts sweeps haughtily past a minion in the Pastry section (remember those tarts). A very glamorous nurse is the subject of the Medical Hints; design and palette is distinctively art deco, giving a clue as to when it was created, further ratified by the date on the flyleaf. A wan creature in a purple robe trimmed with swansdown languishes in a luxuriously appointed bed in Invalid Dishes. In Jams and Preserves a beautiful young woman, dressed in a large flowery apron and incongruous red high heels, carries a basketful of newly harvested fruit across the grass; she is encircled by small dancing plums, apples and peaches.

4. Jam maker

 The jam maker is surrounded by dancing fruit in Jams and Preserves

In addition, this lovely little book has a home-made fawn linen cover with a hand-made applique design of a blue vase holding a spray of red berries with a sun behind it. No recipes have been written into the book.

1. Recipe book with hand-made cover

 Recipe book with cover hand-made by Marjorie Mills (ref: 1986.74.1)

Why was this book so beautifully and lavishly illustrated? A clue is in a small hand-painted card found tucked inside the recipe book which depicts a bride dressed in white holding a bouquet of pink roses, with the words, “With best Wishes / for Future / Happiness / from / Marjorie. H. Mills”. This personalised wedding gift, to a friend or a relative, epitomises the talent of Marjorie Mills.

Marjorie Hinemoa Mills, it turns out, was a deeply respected artist, embroiderer and business woman. Born in 1896 in Wellington, she moved as a teenager, with her family, to Feilding and went to Feilding District High School. Marjorie was taught embroidery by her mother, and later attended Saturday art classes where she learned drawing and painting. Her talents in embroidery were extended and enriched, and after leaving school, she started working for the Alcorn sisters in Wellington, designing embroidery patterns. The Depression meant an end to her employment in 1930, but Marjorie bounced back to open a needlework shop in Palmerston North in 1934 with a business partner, Irene Esau. They called the business Millesa, a combination of part of their surnames. By 1938 she had moved back to Wellington to open her own needlework business which became immediately popular.

2. Woman baking

 The first page shows a woman busy baking in Block Cake, plus the title of the index; take note of the currants with legs, running around the kitchen floor

In the 1950s Marjorie sold her business and went abroad, attending a two-year course at St Martin’s School of Art and travelling extensively to see the art of Europe. Returning to Wellington, she opened another needlework business which proved just as successful as her others.

All this time, she was designing, painting, drawing and embroidering, frequently exhibiting her works in shows run by the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. She moved to Blenheim in the 1970s and taught art, later moving to be nearer her family in Dannevirke, where she passed away in 1987.

 

Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

A sampling of samplers

The term “sampler” comes from the Latin word exemplum, meaning an example to be followed, a pattern or a model. Pictorial samplers began life as plain samples of different stitches worked onto a single piece of fabric. A girl would add to it as she learned different needle work techniques, a standard part of her education.

By the mid 17th century, decorative samplers with borders were considered to be a mark of refinement. They were worked with horizontal bands of stitching, featuring letters, numbers and traditional motifs, such as the dove of peace. Later, poetry or religious quotations were added, and ornate borders became common.

The stitching of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue, achievement and industry, and girls were taught the art from a young age. Samplers are still stitched today and are often worked to celebrate a joyous occasion, such as a birth or baptism.

1. Hanner Passell

In 1806 Hanner Passell stitched a sampler of fine coloured wool threads on linen.  This sampler is very fragile and damaged, but you can still see her mistakes – she has not allowed enough room for the word “away” in the third line of the verse. The verse has a dire warning about wasting time:

Exonerate your mind of worldly cares

Spend each Lords Day in Spiritual Affairs

Such wretched souls as squander that aw[ay]

Repent it sorely at their dying Day

And in very faded thread at the bottom we can read: “Hanner Passell Made this in the 11th year of her age”. Hanner is an unusual spelling for the name Hannah. It could be a family name, but it might be that Hanner was a poor speller. Genealogy records show that a Hannah Passell was born in Sussex in 1795 – that might fit.

2. Grace Combe

 

 

While Grace Combe’s sampler is faded, you can still see the skill and charm of her work. Silk threads on fine linen demonstrate cross, feather, herringbone and satin stitches. Sample sewing of the alphabet, homilies and designs of flowers, crowns and geometric motifs all feature. And only just visible under a strong magnifying glass at the lower edge is “Grace Combe March 24 1724.”

 

3. E Gregory

 

E Gregory’s sampler was made in England in 1820 and comprises images of grand buildings and floral motifs, all delicately hand stitched in cotton thread. While we don’t know who E Gregory was, or if and when she came to New Zealand, it is an excellent example of the sampler craft. For new arrivals to New Zealand, samplers were a reminder of family left behind and a way of making a new house more comfortable. A few home comforts transported across the world helped mitigate the hardships of settling in.

 

4. Caroline Hopwood

 

Young Caroline Octavia Hopwood made a simple sampler of wool thread on fine canvas in cross stitch. Lines of the alphabet are repeated in different colours; there is also a line of numbers and small motifs comprising a bunch of grapes, two dragons, a flowering plant in a basket and a deer. The whole is surrounded by a vine with geometric leaves attached. Caroline has stitched her name and age, a mere eight years, at the bottom of the sampler. You can see why it is simple – she is just learning.

 

5. Hannah Hopwood

The very old sampler on fine, natural-coloured linen was completed by Hannah Hopkins in 1729. The deep flower and leaf border is stitched with two strands of twisted silk thread in satin stitch, French knots and cross stitch. The centre panel spells out the great Psalm XXVII, proclaiming absolute faith. It is easy to recognise what sort of beliefs Hannah’s family had:

The Lord is my Light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear, the Lord is the strength of my life of Whom shall I be afraid.

The eccentric punctuation of the lettering is matched by the eccentric switch from rose red to yellow thread, which is very faded and hard to read. Perhaps Hannah ran out of the red and only had yellow left to match the rest of the sampler.

 

Libby Sharpe is the Curator at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Sampler a right old age

Sampler a right old age

I did not know that a beginner’s exercise in embroidery is called a sampler. So when Kathy Greensides says she’s got a 1787 sampler for her turn in our From the Vault series, I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.  The only samplers I knew were manufactured by Griffins and came in a large box or tin.

I guessed that wasn’t what Kathy meant, unless the museum kept 223-year-old mouldy biscuits in the basement.  My enlightenment was audible – like a clunky old bakelite switch – when I saw this embroidered treasure. Of course, it’s not strictly a sampler because whoever made it is hardly a beginner.

The sad thing is we know almost nothing about the needle wielder, the person who sewed the design into the fabric and created what is now a relic of history. Her name was A Rouse and Kathy is fairly sure she was an adult at the time of the sampler’s creation.

It is a map of England and Wales, depicting each shire in different coloured outlines and naming each one. Some grab your attention immediately. Liverpool – spelled Leverpool on the sampler – caught Kathy’s eye because that’s where she’s from. That’s one reason why she chose it.

“I actually sew,” she says. “I do embroidery and cross-stitch, so when I found it …”

The map also shows the coasts of Ireland and France as well as some of southern Scotland. The North Sea bears its original name of the German Ocean, a name that changed after early 20th century hostilities deemed anything German unacceptable in England.

Kathy tells me it is on linen, has a linen backing and looks like it was once framed. The colours are still quite vivid and the thread is silk.

Other places named on the sampler have a connection with Kathy and her family, like the Isle of Man where she used to holiday, although she says she never went there during the Isle of Man TT (motorbike races).  “We used to avoid it then because it was so busy and expensive.”

However, her uncle would have gone. He was actually the Viking King of Man for a long time, says Kathy.  “He used to wear the helmet and everything,” and I don’t think she means a motorbike helmet.

It’s an old Norse tradition, she says.  “Every year they’d get out the longboats and they’d all dress up. They’d have feasts and longboat races. As he was the king he’d preside over it all.” She says he was a large man with a big, full beard and he’d tell stories about the fairies. She says that an island demands that the fairies are chased away in a particularly strenuous ritual, during which her uncle fell into a rabbit hole and broke his leg. Thereafter this Viking king would take great delight in telling people how he had to explain to his doctor how he injured himself chasing fairies.

The Isle of Man is obviously a lot more than just a tax haven.

Kathy works with collections, which is how she discovered this embroidered treasure.  “I put stuff away. I accession it, photograph it and when that’s done I find a place for it. So I was putting some things away and had to pull this out [the sampler] to get to one of the boxes and I saw the label on it,” she says.

That we know so little about this artifact – and many others – is of some concern. It was gifted to the museum by Mr Morrie Randall in 1974, but we have no idea who made it and why. We can only assume it was made in the UK and the date stitched into linen is 1787. That expensive silk thread was used says something about the fortunes of the maker’s family … perhaps. The thread could have been a gift, for all we know.

Kathy has made the odd sampler. “It makes you think you should write a little about yourself and stitch it on to the back for future generations,” she says. Good idea, that way the work arrives at the museum with a ready-made provenance.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek June 2010.  Reproduced with permission of the author.