Time to show, tell and imagine

Time to show, tell and imagine

I just want to give you some background into this little story.

I was so fortunate when I got married all those years ago.  Hubby came with a wonderful extended family.  Lest I leave anyone with the impression of interference on any of their part, these were all formidable, strong women, born in the 1920s and 30s who were interesting and interested but never prying.  Every single one of them was creative and all lived well into their 80s.  Three are still with us and, despite the years, their characters have not changed.   I feel privileged to have known them all for the greater part of my life.

So, back to my story.  One of the aunts, Kathleen, passed a few years ago.  In her working life she was the Head of an Arts and Crafts Department at College (adult) level.  She was a great collector of beautiful objects and when she died she left me her collection of textiles.  I used one of these to line the 1950’s style hat I featured in my last post (September 18th).

All the fabrics filled two cars so I decided to catalogue them when I got them home.  I should mention here that my dining room was out of commission for some time while I carried out this task.  I noted dimensions, cut a sample and categorised each piece.  There were rich silks from her early travels in Asia, beautiful wools (Prato, Italy is embedded on the side on one piece), edgy cottons from the 60’s, fabrics with exclusive stand alone labels included on the selvages – all in all there were over 450 pieces, which I documented and stored in boxes.  Realistically I knew I could never use them all so I shared with various sewing enthusiasts.  My aim was purely to recoup the cost of all the storage boxes I had to buy so excited buyers got to enjoy top class coat weight 100% wool fabric for €15 (this was the maximum charged).  In short, I shared some of the joy Kathleen gave me.

While sorting through all the fabrics I made two other amazing finds and it is one of these that I want to bring to you today.  It was a sampler which my husband’s aunt no doubt picked up in an English or Scottish auction house at some stage in her life.  I suspect it was an examination piece as the name on the side in perfect copperplate handwriting is ‘Edith M. S. Simpson No. 48’.  The date, which is cross stitched into the top of the piece is 1900.  The folder used to hold the pieces looks to be handmade – although a sewing machine has been used to bind the edges.  Yellow silk has been hand sewn into the folder and acts as a backdrop for all the pieces.  The samples are, in my mind, perfection.  I hope Edith scored highly in her exam.  I wonder what became of her.  I hope she had a happy life but given the tumultuous events which would occur in the world throughout the following 20 years, I suspect she faced down many challenges and heartaches like many women of that era.

I hope you enjoy the photos and perhaps pause for a moment or two to think about Edith.  Never in her wildest dreams would she have thought that all her painstakingly beautiful work would one day be shown to a worldwide audience.

With sincerest thanks to my husband Enda for the photography.

The closed pack.  Still beautiful after 120 years.

For scale the complete pack is 22 inches by 15 inches (56 by 39cm)

The young lady herself – look at that copperplate handwriting

Inserting a patch  and teeny tiny knitting.  There are over 15 rows in the middle knitted sample and it measures only 1 inch square.

Cross stitching her initials, knitting on the round and a beautiful sock sample (heel) length 2 inches

More patching, on very fine wool this time.  Look at the size of the cross stitches.  Below decorative stitching gold and blue on linen.

More  fine stitching (gold/blue) this time on fine wool.  Gathering for a sleeve.  A buttonhole the sample measure 3 by 1.5 inches.

Darning on fine knit:

Tiny gathers.  I counted 66 gathers into the cuff:

I think this is a placket but happy to be corrected:

A patch.  Look at the perfect matching:

A patch on fine wool.  Look at the tiny cross stitches.  There are also two rows of tiny running stitch around the triangle.

Not sure what the top piece is called.  The bottom could be a decorative line of stitches for a collar:

A hand sewn French seam.

(Top) more fine gathering. Can you see the tiny little holes created by stitches in the bottom of the gathering?

(Bottom) Pin tucks with a decorative stitch.

24 thoughts on “Time to show, tell and imagine

    1. Isn’t the work totally amazing Lyn! It is from a different era but that said, it is a shame that these skills, which were handed down through generations, are now practically lost.

      There was a time when an individual was employed as a letter reader and writer. Thankfully education standards improved for folk over the years and while the need for (human) readers has reduced greatly in the developed world (for my youngest who has severe dyslexia, he uses technology to fulfil this need). I do wonder if we are reaching a stage where society will hire ‘writers of script’ – that copper plate handwriting that existed in my mother’s generation.

      Similarly with stitching we rely on expertise which is taught at third level to produce this wonderful standard. I am very much in awe of the pieces whenever I pick them up.

    1. It sure is Karen. I love to take it out every now and then and just stare at its perfection!

  1. The scale, breadth and quality of the work are really noteworthy. And so is the fact that it all fit into that packet so tidily. What a wonderful treasure – thank you for sharing it.

    1. You are very welcome Linda. It is quite something. I hope future generations will appreciate these skills to the same extent. Maybe this piece is destined for the Antiques Roadshow in 2050!!

  2. I am amazed. such tiny work they had to do for their samples. I saw on antiques road show an exam piece that had tiny little undergarments and complete dresses in miniature. I imagine working full scale would feel like easy street after making such tiny perfect examples. Thanks for sharing your treasure.

    1. You are most welcome Ann! I wonder how long eye sight lasted with the makers of these beautiful miniatures. They can only have been produced by young eyes.

      Your mention of full scale work reminds me of a dress I saw some years ago in Bayeux Museum. As far as I recall it was hand stitched in the 1700s – at one stage I used it as a background on my social media account. I must find it again and ‘pin’ you with it (no pun intended) lol.

  3. How wonderful that you were gifted this remarkable work. As someone who does a lot of family history research, I’m so tempted to see whether I could identify her for you. I’m happy to try, if you’d like?

    1. That would be wonderful, thank you. I have often thought about trying to trace the young woman but I don’t have access to the appropriate sites here in Ireland. I can’t tell you where Kathleen came upon the piece but I do know she lived most of her working life outside Edinburgh and Plymouth (St. Germans). That said there is no guarantee that she bought from a local auction house in either of those areas. Wouldn’t it be fun if you did manage to find her (especially based on so little information). I would love you to try. Thank you 🙂

  4. What a marvelous piece and to think that most people these days would have no idea what it was and just throw it out or take it to the thrift store. I know all about creating samples so it’s interesting to see how they were presented in 1900. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I know exactly what you mean Ruth. When I examined the casing carefully I began to wonder if in fact that would be part of the examination. Certainly nothing was left to chance. Quite the artisan was our Edith!

    1. You are most welcome Laura. I feel it’s the kind of piece that if we were all geographically closer we could sit at table and stare in awe. I’m glad that it transferred so well virtually.

  5. Totally amazing work. The samples are so well presented too.
    Somewhere I have a collection of very old lace samples that someone made. I’d always thought how lovely they would be presented, rather than just stacked in a pile. Aunt Kathleen certainly had a very keen eye in terms of her textile collection & great that the appreciation is continuing 120 years on.

    The skills shown here, whilst not always to this exceptional standard, were once commonplace, so too darning. Sadly, so many in our wealthier societies have a throw-away mentality rather than a make do and mend attitude.

    Generally I’m in the latter camp and love the Japanese Kintsugi ideas. Sadly the skills I learned I was unable to pass on to my children as they had their heads in every other direction which were much more interesting. So I’m guilty of not passing knowledge on….but it is all on the internet!!!

  6. That is the big challenge Antje. Our kids are not really that interested in these particular skills. That said, Edith’s skills were required for home making and this was the place the woman was bound to once the match was made. Thankfully our daughters (like ourselves) now have choices so it is understandable that the skill set is specific to sets of artisans (in developed countries). I suppose in a way it’s a kind of balance.

    Another thing we have in common my dear Kathleen’s boxes of old lace (no arsenic thankfully lol!!). Which reminds me of another story from my annual visits to Bayeux. There is a lace academy/shop opposite the Cathedral. Some years ago I was in purchasing silk thread (which I must stop admiring and use…). Anyway framed on the wall of the shop was a handmade lace black shawl). It was perfection, nothing less. Written under it was Price: X hours at €4 per hour). Calculating the piece was well over €30k. The following year when I called in, it was gone. I hope the purchaser fully appreciates the art work and not just the price of it.

    1. 30K € is certainly a true reflection of the work involved….like you I hope the new owner is fully appreciative.

  7. My goodness, what a lovely set of samples! I’m in awe of Edith’s sewing skills (and a bit jealous!)

    I’ve read some of the comments and I found it interesting that some of you thought this level of precision was commonplace “back in the day.” I can assure you it wasn’t! In fact, it was quite common to leave raw edges or just do a quick (often haphazard) whipstitch to keep the seams for unravelling. Women had so much to do then, they often lacked the time to do things beautifully when they weren’t meant to be admired.
    I find this makes these samples even more heartwarming, because Edith did her very best and made sure it was apparent that she knew how, and took the time to, create all of them.

    1. How very true Leonor. I suspect Edith was quite young when she completed this masterpiece. Certainly her eyesight must have been perfect to execute the stitches. And thank you for your kind offer regarding Edinburgh. It would be great fun if we could find out a bit more about her. Maybe she has living relatives.

      I have another piece which I must show you all at some stage. It was made by a student in her final year in Home Economics college back in the 70’s. It is a night dress but not as we would know it. Definitely not Marks and Spencer’s lol! It is silk, hand made with French seams and hand embroidered. Again, it came from Kathleen’s house. The college she taught at was closing down and this I suspect would have found its way into a dump so she rescued it. I have tried to trace the lady who made it as a friend of mine also went to that college and had a list of graduates but unfortunately the maker was nowhere to be seen. Another mystery. My daughter has now taken possession of it. She totally appreciates the workmanship so I don’t mind.

    1. Thank you Marilyn.

      Edith could not have imagined how far and wide her sample would be shared and appreciated by so many discerning and talented artists.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this. I found it so interesting and wish I had just some of her skills especially the darning.

    1. You are more than welcome Norma. Edith was at the top of her game when it came to this work. 🙂

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