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Tracing Needlework Patterns and Skills in Early America

Dr. Susan P. Schoelwer, Curator at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate
From Old London to New London: Tracing Needlework Patterns and Skills in Early America

Took a look specifically at Connecticut embroideries, in certain styles:
Decorated Bed Rugs, 1770-1810
Norwich embroidered canvas works
Norwich samplers
Patten School embroideries, heraldic works

Connecticut, 1755
Embroidered bed rugs appeared in Lebanon area, predominately 18th century
Coarse wool weave, embroidered with coarse thick yarns, using bold floral designs, meant to be utilitarian items. Created in southeast Connecticut or from women with relations in that geographic area.
1796-1804- Lebanon bed rugs featured a light or white background embroidered in browns, greens and yellows. Central flowering plant, showing symmetrical sense of balance.
1770 Coiled vine bed rug
Foote bed rug evoked blackwork motifs and style, black/dark on white
1778 Bed rug worked by Sarah Otis

How did the colonial women come to use patterns from over a century ago?
-Using pattern books, paper patterns (possibly used in packing) and designs on older ceramics. Carved furniture designs as well as imported Indian textiles featuring the Tree of Life motif can be seen in works.
-Perhaps these designs and skills were passed down through ‘Heritage needleworks’ (or preserved family antiques) and family lessons.

Southeast Connecticut, a canvaswork, possibly from a part of a sweet bag of English origin c.1637-43, owned by Elizabeth Gore Gager. Based on scribbles on the back of the frame that attempt to trace the lineage, it was made or owned by a seven times Great Grandmother.
Martha Coit Hubbard Greene 1706-1784, by Copely
Local traditions - crewel work and pattern darning used as fill

“Norwich” canvaswork were the only rivals of the same period of Boston Fishing Ladies c.1744-58. The Boston Fishing Ladies are pastoral scenes that show a narrative, attempts at perspective and scale and shows a horizon.
The Norwich scenes are horizonless, no scale and perspective, emblematic motifs, flat ground and with religious themes.

A Heritage needlework of an embroidered raised work panel depicting the Queen of Sheba, c. 1661. It was given to the Connecticut Historical Society in 1845, was preserved in Virginia until after the Revolutionary War in the Fox family. (No idea how it moved to CT)

Same for many of the Norwich band samplers. A Heritage Band Sampler by Hannah Punderson of CT, c. 1776-83
Samplers by the 1770’s had moved to square and pictorial, but a band of tulips and irises at the top of the heritage work, and other familiar motifs, were echoed in samplers of those taught by a Miss Punderson.

The Patten School c. 1795-1815, taught silk embroideries, based on nostalgic Heraldic works, even housed the school in the old statehouse.
A set of Twisted Sisters survive with a heraldic arms piece by Jerusha Pitkin, c. 1750
Boston heraldic embroideries were worked on black or dark backgrounds in a lozenge arrangements.
Patten School works were done on white silk in rectangle arrangements, raised work, used metallic threads, and incorporated the display of an eagle where the helm and mantling was traditionally put on heraldic crests.
John Coles made drawings of armorial designs c. 1790-1810, eventually arms were replaced with oval pictures featuring virtues or religious scenes, similar to raised 17th century panels and caskets, even using similar
colors.


Design sources used: printed sources, teachers or immigrant practitioners, other media and we should further consider heritage needleworks and family networks.

A spot sampler preserved in Connecticut Historical Society looks to be 17th century spot sampler. Evidence of water color paints show that it may have been attempted to be refreshed with paints.
The Lora Standish sampler was passed through descendants and tracked in 1770.
“Molly Stark” bed rug should be attributed to a Lebanon CT Family.

At the time, CT had a relatively insular population which helped with tracking, but so far is the only area that has been looked at. Need to look at materials to possibly trace further.

Tags: embroidery, lecture, museum
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