Mary Parsons 1780

A new venture and a shop on my site (look up at the menu at the top of the page) …but first, the background as to why.

Way back in 2016, Steve and I were in Witney, England and stopped by Witney Antiques. At that time, I didn’t know much about samplers other than I was interested in the history of them and their makers. We spent a wonderful couple of hours with Jill, learning about samplers and choosing three to purchase. The one pictured below is the first sampler I purchased. I was drawn to it because of the saying on the sampler.

The second sampler I chose that day was the one you see Jill and me looking at in the photo below. I’ve enjoyed having samplers hanging in my studio and loved looking up the girls who stitched them on ancestry web sites. It’s another glimpse into the past and how embroidery connects those embroiderers to us today.

As much as I loved my samplers, I never was interested in learning how to do that kind of counted work. I’ve done blackwork and enjoyed it, but stitching samplers just didn’t interest me.

Until now…

When we returned to the USA from Germany and I joined the Cedar Valley Chapter of the EGA, I was surrounded with embroiderers who did beautiful, complex counted work. Some of them stitched on reproduction samplers during our meeting and I got very interested in those. A friend encouraged me to take a class taught by Amy Mitten with her and I loved it.

Since then I’ve become more interested in samplers and their history, as well as learning how to reproduce the samplers I own. About two months ago I purchased a computer program and spent the most wonderful week charting my first sampler. It was completely absorbing – just what I needed during the early days of Covid 19. I discovered that studying a sampler and charting it gave me an insight into what the little girl did as she stitched. I found myself saying things like “Oh, you silly Mary, why did you make that “s” a little higher than the rest?” and “Oh dear, you’ve run out of space here and had to squish the letters together!”

The sampler I chose to chart was the same one my friend wanted to stitch. (The friend who encouraged me to go to Amy Mitten’s class). I’ve now finished the model and she’s currently working on it using her own colors. I’m so looking forward to seeing how hers turns out!

This doesn’t mean I won’t be doing my traditional historic embroidery anymore – quite the contrary! I’m working on finishing up the Trevelyon’s Garden pincushion and I have two more traditional projects in the design and development stage.

It’s fun to spread your wings and do something new, though! I have more samplers that I want to chart and share with anyone who’s interested, so watch this space in the future.


New directions

It’s been quite a while since I communicated with all of you. The Covid 19 pandemic has meant that, although I am keeping busy stitching, I didn’t feel up to communicating. The longer the uncertainty goes on, the more accustomed I am becoming to the uncertainty. Human beings are adaptable and I’m experiencing that right now. My mood has brightened noticeably in the last week and, even though I’m still not going out, I feel less overwhelmed and lethargic.

So, what’s been going on in my studio? So many different things! I’ll give you a brief overview today and then follow up with more details in upcoming posts.

Firstly, I decided (just before the pandemic started) to enroll in the National Academy of Needlearts Teacher Certification Program. Sadly, the NAN Assembly that was to be held earlier this spring was cancelled because of Covid 19, so I didn’t get to meet everyone face to face. However, we did meet online in a Zoom call (one of the first of many!) so I could get started. So far I love what I’m doing and the course looks wonderful! Even though I’m an experienced teacher, I haven’t had specific needlework teacher training and this program is going to refine and hone my skills. My counselor is the fantastic Marsha Papay Gomola, who also inspired me to take the course after being in one of her amazing classes at the EGA National in St Louis last year.

My first project is for a short, 3 hour class which is a little needlebook using crewel wool and linen. Below is a picture of the piece in progress.


A piece I’d been working on months ago has been finished and is ready to be made into a large pin cushion. Two things about this project have been difficult: taking photos of it that are clear and deciding what to use to fill the pin cushion. The red silk seems to be especially difficult to photograph and all of the photos are less clear than I usually will accept. It’s almost like the red silk glows and messes up the light!

As for filling the pin cushion, naturally I considered using some kind of fill similar to what one would use in a pillow. I’ll be making an inner cotton pin cushion which will go inside the red silk embroidered outer cover. I want there to be some weight to the cushion. I have considered hulls or flax seeds mixed with lavender. Any suggestions would be welcomed! I want whatever it is to be affordable. (I’ll be offering this class somewhere, sometime in the future …)

During the beginning of our shelter in place order, I worked for a long time on this wonderful sampler by Amy Mitten. I find that the concentration required to stitch counted work is the perfect way to distract my mind from everything I would prefer not to think about just now! I love this design, based on Dutch samplers. It’s called Tour van Holland and was my first foray into samplers.

A new direction I’ve taken is to chart samplers that I own. This all came about because a friend in my EGA group wants to stitch one of my samplers in particular. I asked the wonderful Nicola Parkman of Hands Across the Sea Samplers for a charting program recommendation and decided on Macstitch. It didn’t take long to learn how to use it and I find charting samplers completely absorbing!

Here’s the sampler my friend wants to stitch. It was worked by a little girl named Mary Parsons from Dewsbury, Yorkshire, UK. I love the verse! I’ve done loads of research on her and discovered why she’s included both a ship and a maze in her sampler.

Here’s what the charted sampler looks like on my computer screen. It’s such fun to examine the stitches and see what little Mary did here or there!

Naturally the colors on the sampler have faded, so owning the sampler, and being able to peek at the back, is very helpful when choosing a color palette! Here you see the threads in 100.3 silks but I’ll also be listing d’Alger and DMC threads in the chart. Now I just need to stitch up the model!

And lastly, for those of you who hung in there until the end, the news I’m most excited to share with you all is that I’ve been invited to teach at the EGA National Seminar in Chicago in 2021! I’m teaching three different classes and was honored and thrilled to be chosen to be one of this amazing faculty!

Until next time, please stay safe and well!

I, Bathya (and our travels)

There’s so much to write about I’m not sure where to begin! Let’s start with the most recent events and then go back in time.

On Saturday and Sunday, June 8 and 9, I was fortunate enough to attend the workshop taught by Nicola Parkman on the I,Bathya sampler.  As you all know, I’ve only taken one class from the delightful Amy Mitten and worked a small bit of that sampler, so I am in NO way an expert.

I, Bathya Sampler

This workshop enticed me because Bathya stitched her sampler to be reversible. Years ago I purchased a German sampler from a reputable auction house in Germany and, when it arrived and I took it out of the frame, I discovered it was reversible. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with how these samplers were stitched. When the chance to learn how to do this came up, I didn’t hesitate to sign up!

The Attic Needlework Shop

The workshop was sponsored by The Attic Needlework shop in Mesa, Arizona. The owner of The Attic, Jean Lea, is another one of those special people you meet in the needlework world. Her love of needlework and her customers is apparent in everything she did for us.

Nicola is a wonderful, talented teacher. She has multiple ways of explaining things so that everyone in the class can understand. I even watched her “walk out” the direction of stitching which was really helpful! She was always available to cheerfully help students during lunch time and after class. 

Nicola generously asked me if I wanted to do a short video with her about classes I’ll now be teaching in the fall. Here is a link to that video. What an honor!

Of course, what’s always the most fun in any class, is meeting all the people who are attending class with you. The group of women in our class were so friendly, helpful and funny! The room was often filled with conversation and laughter. If I needed help, I could ask one of my fellow students and they gladly stopped their own work to help. We are so lucky to be part of this thoughtful, giving community!

When doing crewelwork, silk shading, goldwork, or canvas work, I don’t usually think about what it looks like on the back side of the fabric. My threads rarely “travel” and I make the end of a thread as neat as possible, but I certainly don’t try to make the back look as finished as the front. However, that’s exactly what Bathya and many other girls did as a matter of course. 

Front of the spot sampler we worked on during class – this is Nicola’s completed one.

Band samplers were worked as an aid memoir, so when it came time to embroider for example, a ruffled sleeve cuff, the pattern was recorded on the band sampler. The embroidery on the cuff would have been viewed from both sides, hence the need for it to be reversible.

Reverse of Nicola’s spot sampler

It’s a fun brain challenge to think about what is being created on the back side as you’re stitching on the front side. I found I developed the ability to “see through” the fabric. 

Working out stitch path…

The most important skill to develop, and one I’m still working on, is planning out your stitch pathway. If you don’t pre-plan, you’ll find yourself  stuck, unable to continue embroidering reversible stitches.

In the class we spent a lot of time with graph paper and pencils thinking through and experimenting with the path our needle would take. The doodle cloth was our way of trying out our path with needle and thread on fabric. We were encouraged not to take out a mistake, but instead, to make a note of what went wrong in our stitch journal so we could refer to it later. 

It will be a little while before I’m ready to begin I, Bathya, but I know when I do begin, I’m prepared!

For those of you who want more information, here is a link to a video with Nicola and Gary Parr talking about I, Bathya. I understand the sampler will be released in the next year, so be sure to check the Hands Across the Sea web site!

Have you embroidered anything that’s reversible? Any tips for us you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!

Mesa was one stop on what has been an astounding 4 week road trip. We traveled west from Iowa, then up to northern California, then down to Mesa and back home to Iowa.  We saw national parks, historic sites, museums, forests, mountains, and deserts. We met only warm, friendly people along the way. Most importantly, this road trip was a time for my husband and I to reconnect, relax and reflect on what this year has brought us and how well we’ve done through all of it. 

Relaxing at La Posada in Winslow, AZ

We arrive home on Friday of this week and that’s when I’ll be putting together a schedule of classes for the fall. I do hope you’ll join us in Ames, Iowa!

Next time I’ll write about a museum where I saw Native American quill work, bead work and Spanish goldwork.