These two photographs are a companion to my previous post (Love, our subject:). I’m including them here to chart my progress, and to encourage myself to keep working at reproducing this intricate 18th century English sampler. Completed in 1780 by eleven-year-old Sarah Brignell, the original is on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I chose to reproduce this sampler because of its imaginative floral border and because of the primitive cartouche that appears in the center of the piece. Within this little globe are a girl, a tree, a stag, a bird, a butterfly, a flower, a green meadow, blue sky, a smiling sun – a child’s version of Eden. I’ve never seen another historical sampler that looks like this one, and I find it charming.
I’ve spent some of the pleasantest hours of my life with a needle, floss, and a piece of cloth. This Sarah Brignell sampler is the third and most difficult one I’ve attempted. My motive in choosing it is that I want each of our three children to have one of “my” samplers as a keepsake someday. I’ve finished two already: The Chase sampler, which was completed in 1760 in Newbury, Massachusetts by 11-year-old Mary Starker (the original of which is part of the Williamsburg collection), and an English sampler completed in 1832 by 7-year-old Ann Pasfield. (Yes – she was seven years old, a precocious child to say the least.)
As I mentioned in my previous post, the ongoing challenge of the Sarah Brignell sampler is that the words of its hymn are worked with a single strand of black silk floss over a single thread of 35 count linen – which means there are thirty-five strands of linen to the inch. In the case of this sampler, it also means there are thirty-five cross stitches to the inch – incredibly tiny. I’ve had quite a time of trying to see what I’m doing. Although I’ve worn bifocals for several years, bifocals alone are insufficient for this task. I attempted to work with a needlework magnifier perched in my lap, but found it far too cumbersome. It’s the same reason I’ve never been able to work with an embroidery hoop – it gets in my way and feels artificial. I suppose I’m a needlework purist of sorts – I want nothing between me and my embroidery. However, in the case of the infinitesimal stitches required in the Sarah Brignell, I needed help and ultimately discovered that putting a pair of reading magnifiers over the top of my bifocals worked perfectly. And that, my friends, is how I earned one of my family’s affectionate nicknames: Six Eyes.
Sometime, I’ll tell more about my love of samplers and needlework in general. For now, my embroidery chair in the sunroom beckons. I think I’ll put Ola Gjeilo (my latest favorite composer) on the stereo, unite with all the unsung embroiderers of days long flown, and focus (all six of) my eyes on a work of love.