I’ve been looking through more of my old needlework books, in search of ideas about samplers. First up was Samplers and Stitches by Mrs Archibald Christie. Like Anne Brandon Jones, Christie’s book dates from the 20’s. There’s a contemporaneous review of the book here. I doubt the Spectator reviews embroidery books these days.
I think the title is misleading, as it is more of a stitch dictionary than a book about samplers. Unlike Brandon Jones, Christie feels that samplers should be decorative as well as functional: she suggests you try stitches out to find out how you feel they should be used, then design something which will showcase them. This is an interesting idea, but is the result really a sampler? The examples she shows are beautiful (colour images of some of them here) but not what I think of as a sampler.
Christie also recommends keeping an embroidery notebook, in which to keep notes on stitches as well as ideas, drawings, found images etc.
This is also suggested in the other book I’ve been looking at, The Stitches of Creative Embroidery by Jaqueline Enthoven, published in 1964. It resembles Christie’s book in several ways: for example, it is also a stitch dictionary, and includes images of finished embroideries using some of the stitches. The illustrations in Enthoven are better, unsurprisingly given the changes in printing technology between 1921 and 1964.
Enthoven also believes that samplers should look good, although hers are much simpler in design than Christie’s. They resemble historic spot or band samplers, unlike Christie’s resolved designs. Enthoven suggests that you practice the stitches before adding them to the sampler, on what she calls a ‘doodle cloth’.
Enthoven’s book gives detailed instructions for making samplers, and how to finish them. If you are thinking of trying a sampler of your own, I think this book will be more helpful than Samplers and Stitches, despite the name.
My own sampler is making slow progress. This year has been a really shitty one, and we had more disappointing news yesterday, which always affects my creativity.
All the stitches so far, apart from the lettering, come from the first plate of Brandon Jones Simple Stitch Patterns, mostly combinations of detached chain and fly stitch. And for all bar the first one, the little buds, I’ve looked at the photo and thought ‘that doesn’t look very good, shall I miss that one out?’ But in each case I’ve tried them, and decided the illustration in the book doesn’t do the stitch justice. Partly, I think, because I prefer my colour choices, but also because I am using much finer threads. So what I’ve learned from this exercise is to always try the stitches even if I think I won’t like the result.
I haven’t used a doodle cloth either. There has been some unpicking, but that was mostly in order to line up the stitches nicely. Plus mistakes. But then these are very simple stitches, it’s the combinations that make them interesting. Which is an observation I ought to go and write in my (non-existent) embroidery notebook.