Sarah's Sampler II: My Spin
Part 1, What to do: My Considerations
About the time I was working on my portrait of Queen Victoria, I found this little sampler, stitched by Sarah Radburn in 1857, about 20 years into Queen Victoria's reign.
I had in mind reproducting the sampler, something I had never done before. Over and over again I have looked to the past for inspiration in my work, but I had never tried to stitch something exactly as it had been created all those years ago, and here was my chance.
I looked for a ground fabric that matched the ground fabric of the sampler. Of course, how could I tell what matched because there were so many shades of the off white, mostly grayed, I was guessing, from the grime of the centuries.
I ordered several swatches of linen and most were close but to my eye clashed. I had th same problems with thread, in particular the gold. On the front it was faded to a dark ecru, on the back a color still without much contrast.
And what texture thread? I think the original was similar to DMC's coton a broder which is still available but not in any colors remotely similar to the ones on my sampler.
If I remember correctly, I chose Impressions and Pearl Cotton and tried both on swatches of a couple of the linens.
And I started. A dozen clunky Cross Stitches over 2 threads and I thought: no. There may be virtue in reproducing the sampler but I wasn't seeing that virtue.
Then I recalled the words of two authors, Carol Humphrey and Joan Edwards. The messages from both, which have resonated with me for years, are essentially these thoughts: for samplers (Carol Humphrey) and Blackwork (Joan Edwards) to live on, we needlewomen have to make them reflect our times.
With these thoughts in mind (as they have been for years) I started over again.
Sarah's Sampler II: My Adaptation
Part 2, My Decisions
Yes, I started over again and here are my decisions: I changed to congress cloth. There is a nice ecru color that didn't duplicate but reflected the color of the original, and the count (congress is 24 meshes to the inch) was the same.
I chose my go-to thread, Soie d'Alger. I found threads that brightened the sampler slightly, my guess that the original colors all those years ago might have been closer to the ones I chose.
I made three big changes to the original: first, I worked the Cross Stitches over 1 mesh instead of 2, second I stitched a border of Double Running Stitch instead of turning under a hem and hemstitching it, third, where Sarah had miscounted, leaving only one thread between motifs, I had to even the original one to two. Two over 2 meshes= one over 1 mesh, ie I couldn't leave half a mesh, could I.
Other than the ground change, the color and thread changes, and the changes listed above, I stitched my sampler as Sarah stitched hers. It was a fun exercise -- it wasn't a reproduction of Sarah's Sampler, it was an adaptation. A close adaptation, and I named it "Sarah's Sampler Adaptation."
I had a good time, but I knew I wasn't finished yet.
Above: the original Sarah's Sampler with my little adaptation next to it.
On the right: a closer look at my adaptation.
Below: the reasons for my decisions.