Sampling for practice...
I adore samplers, and sampling for that matter! The very first sampler I ever worked was from a cross-stitched pattern in a stitch magazine, and was based on Delftware, in 2 shades of blue. It was actually an anniversary gift for my parents, but I enjoyed the process so much that it wasn’t long before I was tempted by ‘historical’ sampler kits with gorgeous, muted colours. These were also all in cross-stitch and for a long time I thought that was what samplers WERE - cross-stitched motifs, alphabets and verses in various layouts. Most of the actual historic samplers I went on to look at only confirmed my assumption.
Samplers were the embroidery ‘Pinterest boards’ of the past.
But then I became an apprentice at the Royal School of Needlwork, and began my first piece known as Jacobean Crewelwork - ‘Jacobean’ from the historical style I had to adhere to, ‘Crewelwork’ from the 2-ply crewel wools I had to use. But surprise surprise, it was actually a kind of sampler of a bunch of different stitches that I’d already heard of and seen in all sorts of different settings. Chain, stem, satin, bullion and french knots, fly, feather, and some new ones like long and short, laid, raised stem, cretan and vandyke. By summer I was ‘sampling’ something called Stumpwork (which I’d never even heard of before), and once again I had a little project, actually laid out like a sampler, with names of stitches written in fine ink so I’d remember which stitches were which. This of course, was the original purpose of samplers, which were in fact used as personal ‘catalogues’ of patterns, motifs, colour combinations and stitches for embroiderers at a time when neither books on the subject, nor patterns, were readily available. From ‘catalogues’ samplers moved on to become a place to practice and perfect different stitches. Only much later did these textiles evolve into something worked for purely decorative purposes.
After graduating from the RSN I moved back to Bristol (UK) and began teaching everything I’d learned to enthusiastic embroiderers in the West Country. Eventually I landed on the idea of a ‘sampler club’ which would teach students different stitches one Saturday a month in a very traditional format known as a ‘band’ sampler - each stitch being worked in rows from one side to the other of the fabric. We moved on to a goldwork sampler the next year, and a stumpwork sampler the year after that, so it’s not really surprising that I’ve done the same thing online over the past 2 years. Now, there are pre-recorded videos for each stitch, plus background information and design help for students. Each year I tweak the courses to add more goodies and improve wherever I can. Which brings me to Saturday March 4th 2023, when I begin teaching my first online Stumpwork Sampler group - a year in preparation and design, I think this is my biggest project yet (certainly the kit is, coming in at just under 1 kilo in weight). As I frame up and sample my stitch combinations and recipes for each motif, I can’t help but look up at that lovely Delftware sampler, now hanging on my wall, and anticipate the fun in store for everyone involved in this coming year of raised stitching.
In my workbox...
Part of the rather huge Raised Work Embroidery Sampler kit (can’t believe it weighs a kilogramme) is a rather lovely little watercolour paintset, complete with water-holding brush. I know some of my students probably already have their own paints, but just to be on the safe side, I wanted to make sure everyone had something they could use to do a little bit of painting on fabrics for their own pieces. The set I decided on can be found at https://amzn.to/3wyp2vR and it really does represent excellent value for money. I paint fabrics with watercolour rather than fabric paint, because I’m used to them, and I like the different effects I can get. All of the kits also include several pieces of Egyptian Cotton from Empress Mills, which is GORGEOUS stuff to paint on and stitch with. I’m looking forward to seeing what my lovely ladies come up with when we have our fabric painting class in a couple of months!
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