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Title: The Development of Embroidery in America
Author: Wheeler, Candace, 1827-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  By Candace Wheeler

  [Illustration: CANDACE WHEELER

  From the painting by her daughter Dora Wheeler Keith.

  _Painted by Dora Wheeler Keith_]








  Copyright, 1921, by Harper & Brothers
  Printed in the United States of America


  CHAP.                                                             PAGE

  Introductory. The Story of the Needle                                3

  I.    Beginnings in the New World                                   10

  II.   The Crewelwork of Our Puritan Mothers                         17

  III.  Samplers and a Word About Quilts                              48

  IV.   Moravian Work, Portraiture, French Embroidery and Lacework    62

  V.    Berlin Woolwork                                               96

  VI.   Revival of Embroidery, and the Founding of the Society
        of Decorative Art                                            102

  VII.  American Tapestry                                            121

  VIII. The Bayeux Tapestries                                        144


  CANDACE WHEELER. From the painting by her daughter
      Dora Wheeler Keith                                    Frontispiece

      Made by Sioux Indians                                  _Facing_ 12

  PIPE BAGS OF PORCUPINE QUILLWORK. Made by Sioux Indians             12

  MAN'S JACKET OF PORCUPINE QUILLWORK. Made by Sioux Indians          14

  MAN'S JACKET OF PORCUPINE QUILLWORK. Made by Plains Indians         14

  CREWEL DESIGN, drawn and colored, which dates back
      to Colonial times                                               18

  TESTER embroidered in crewels in shades of blue on white
      homespun linen. Said to have been brought to Essex, Mass.,
      in 1640, by Madam Susanna, wife of Sylvester Eveleth            22

  RAISED EMBROIDERY ON BLACK VELVET. Nineteenth century American      22

  QUILTED COVERLET made by Ann Gurnee                                 26

  HOMESPUN WOOLEN BLANKET with King George's Crown embroidered
      with home-dyed blue yarn in the corner. From the Burdette
      home at Fort Lee, N. J., where Washington was entertained       26

  CHEROKEE ROSE BLANKET, made about 1830, of homespun wool with
      "Indian Rose" design about nineteen inches in diameter
      worked in the corners in home-dyed yarns of black, red,
      yellow, and dark green. From the Westervelt collection          26

  BED SET, Keturah Baldwin pattern, designed, dyed, and worked
      by The Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework,
      Deerfield, Mass.                                                32

  BED COVERS worked in candle wicking                                 32

  SAMPLER worked by Adeline Bryant in 1826, now in the possession
      of Anna D. Trowbridge, Hackensack, N. J.                        50

  SAMPLER embroidered in colors on écru linen, by Mary Ann Marley,
      aged twelve, August 30, 1820                                    52

  SAMPLER embroidered in brown on écru linen, by Martha Carter
      Fitzhugh, of Virginia, in 1793, and left unfinished
      at her death                                                    52

  SAMPLER worked by Christiana Baird. Late eighteenth
      century American                                                54

  MEMORIAL PIECE worked in silks, on white satin. Sacred to
      the memory of Major Anthony Morse, who died March 22, 1805      54

  SAMPLER of Moravian embroidery, worked in 1806,
      by Sarah Ann Smith, of Smithtown, L. I.                         54

  SAMPLER worked by Nancy Dennis, Argyle, N. Y., in 1810              56

  SAMPLER worked by Nancy McMurray, of Salem, N. Y., in 1793          56

  PETIT POINT PICTURE which belonged to President John Quincy Adams,
      and now in the Dwight M. Prouty collection                      56

  SAMPLER in drawnwork, écru linen thread, made by Anne Gower,
      wife of Gov. John Endicott, before 1628                         60

  SAMPLER embroidered in dull colors on écru canvas by Mary
      Holingworth, wife of Philip English, Salem merchant,
      married July, 1675, accused of witchcraft in 1692,
      but escaped to New York                                         60

  SAMPLER worked by Hattie Goodeshall, who was born
      February 19, 1780, in Bristol                                   60

  NEEDLEBOOK of Moravian embroidery made about 1850, now in
      the possession of Mrs. J. N. Myers, Bethlehem, Pa.              64

  MORAVIAN EMBROIDERY worked by Emily E. Reynolds, Plymouth, Pa.,
      in 1834, at the age of twelve, while at the Moravian Seminary
      in Bethlehem, and now owned by her granddaughter                64

  MORAVIAN EMBROIDERY from Louisville, Ky.                            66

  LINEN TOWELS embroidered in cross-stitch. Pennsylvania Dutch
      early nineteenth century                                        70

  "THE MEETING OF ISAAC AND REBECCA"--Moravian embroidered picture,
      an heirloom in the Reichel family of Bethlehem, Pa. Worked by
      Sarah Kummer about 1790                                         74

      made about 1825, now in the possession of the Beckel family,
      Bethlehem, Pa.                                                  74

  ABRAHAM AND ISAAC. Kensington embroidery by Mary Winifred Hoskins,
      of Edenton, N. C., while attending an English finishing school
      in Baltimore in 1814                                            76

  FIRE SCREEN embroidered in cross-stitch worsted                     78

  FIRE SCREEN, design, "The Scottish Chieftain," embroidered in
      cross-stitch by Mrs. Mary H. Cleveland Allen                    78

  FIRE SCREEN worked about 1850 by Miss C. A. Granger,
      of Canandaigua, N. Y.                                           78

  EMBROIDERED PICTURE in silks, with a painted sky                    80

  CORNELIA AND THE GRACCHI. Embroidered picture in silks,
      with velvet inlaid, worked by Mrs. Lydia Very, of Salem,
      at the age of sixteen while at Mrs. Peabody's school            80

  CAPE of white lawn embroidered. Nineteenth century American         84

  COLLARS of white muslin embroidered. Nineteenth century American    84

  BABY'S CAP. White mull, with eyelet embroidery.
      Nineteenth century American                                     86

  BABY'S CAP. Embroidered mull. 1825                                  86

  COLLAR of white embroidered muslin. Nineteenth century American     86

      Westervelt collection                                           88

  EMBROIDERED WAIST OF A BABY DRESS, 1850. From the collection
      of Mrs. George Coe                                              88

  EMBROIDERY ON NET. Border for the front of a cap made about 1820    90

  VEIL (unfinished) hand run on machine-made net.
      American nineteenth century                                     90

  LACE WEDDING VEIL, 36 × 40 inches, used in 1806. From the
      collection of Mrs. Charles H. Lozier                            92

  HOMESPUN LINEN NEEDLEWORK called "Benewacka" by the Dutch.
      The threads were drawn and then whipped into a net on
      which the design was darned with linen. Made about 1800
      and used in the end of linen pillow cases                       92

  BED HANGING of polychrome cross-stitch appliquéd
      on blue woolen ground                                           98

  NEEDLEPOINT SCREEN made in fine and coarse point.
      Single cross-stitch                                             98

  HAND-WOVEN TAPESTRY of fine and coarse needlepoint                 100

  TAPESTRY woven on a hand loom. The design worked in fine point
      and the background coarse point. A new effect in hand
      weave originated at the Edgewater Tapestry Looms               100

  EMBROIDERED MITS                                                   104

  WHITE COTTON VEST embroidered in colors. Eighteenth-nineteenth
      century American                                               104

  WHITE MULL embroidered in colors. Eighteenth-nineteenth
      century American                                               104

  EMBROIDERED VALANCE, part of set and spread for high-post
      bedstead, 1788. Worked in crewels on India cotton,
      by Mrs. Gideon Granger, Canandaigua, New York                  104

  DETAIL of linen coverlet worked in colored wool                    108

  LINEN COVERLET embroidered in Kensington stitch
      with colored wool                                              108

  QUILTED COVERLET worked entirely by hand                           118

  DETAIL of quilted coverlet                                         118

  THE WINGED MOON. Designed by Dora Wheeler and executed
      in needle-woven tapestry by The Associated Artists, 1883       122


  THE MIRACULOUS DRAUGHT OF FISHES. Arranged (from photographs
      made in London of the original cartoon by Raphael, in the
      Kensington Museum) by Candace Wheeler and executed in
      needle-woven tapestry by The Associated Artists                130

      and executed in needle-woven tapestry by
      The Associated Artists, 1884                                   132

  APHRODITE. Designed by Dora Wheeler for needle-woven tapestry
      worked by The Associated Artists, 1883                         134

  FIGHTING DRAGONS. Drawn by Candace Wheeler and embroidered
      by The Associated Artists, 1885                                140

  THREE SCENES FROM THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY                              146



The story of embroidery includes in its history all the work of the
needle since Eve sewed fig leaves together in the Garden of Eden. We are
the inheritors of the knowledge and skill of all the daughters of Eve in
all that concerns its use since the beginning of time.

When this small implement came open-eyed into the world it brought with
it possibilities of well-being and comfort for races and ages to come.
It has been an instrument of beneficence as long ago as "Dorcas sewed
garments and gave them to the poor," and has been a creator of beauty
since Sisera gave to his mother "a prey of needlework, 'alike on both
sides.'" This little descriptive phrase--alike on both sides--will at
once suggest to all needlewomen a perfection of method almost without
parallel. Of course it can be done, but the skill of it must have been
rare, even in those far-off days of leisure when duties and pleasures
did not crowd out painstaking tasks, and every art was carried as far as
human assiduity and invention could carry it.

A history of the needlework of the world would be a history of the
domestic accomplishment of the world, that inner story of the existence
of man which bears the relation to him of sunlight to the plant. We can
deduce from these needle records much of the physical circumstances of
woman's long pilgrimage down the ages, of her mental processes, of her
growth in thought. We can judge from the character of her art whether
she was at peace with herself and the world, and from its status we
become aware of its relative importance to the conditions of her life.

There are few written records of its practice and growth, for an art
which does not affect the commercial gain of a land or country is not
apt to have a written or statistical history, but, fortunately in this
case, the curious and valuable specimens which are left to us tell their
own story. They reveal the cultivation and amelioration of domestic
life. Their contribution to the refinements are their very existence.

A history of any domestic practice which has grown into a habit marks
the degree of general civilization, but the practice of needlework does
more. To a careful student each small difference in the art tells its
own story in its own language. The hammered gold of Eastern embroidery
tells not only of the riches of available material, but of the habit of
personal preparation, instead of the mechanical. The little Bible
description of captured "needlework alike on both sides" speaks
unmistakably of the method of their stitchery, a cross-stitch of colored
threads, which is even now the only method of stitch "alike on both

It is an endless and fascinating story of the leisure of women in all
ages and circumstances, written in her own handwriting of painstaking
needlework and an estimate of an art to which gold, silver, and precious
stones--the treasures of the world--were devoted. More than this, its
intimate association with the growth and well-being of family life makes
visible the point where savagery is left behind and the decrees of
civilization begin.

I knew a dear Bible-nourished lonely little maid who had constructed for
herself a drama of Eve in Eden, playing it for the solitary audience of
self in a corner of the garden. She had brought all manner of fruits and
had tied them to the fence palings under the apple boughs. This little
Eve gathered grape leaves and sewed them carefully into an apron, the
needle holes pierced with a thorn and held together by fiber stripped
from long-stemmed plantain leaves. Here she and her audience of self hid
under the apple boughs and waited for the call of the Lord.

The long ministry of the needle to the wants of mankind proves it to
have been among the first of man's inventions. When Eve sewed fig leaves
she probably improvised some implement for the process, and every
daughter of Eve, from Eden to the present time, has been indebted to
that little implement for expression of herself in love and duty and
art. For this we must thank the man who, the Bible relates, was "the
father of all such as worked in metals, and made needles and gave them
to his household." He is the first "handy man" mentioned in
history--blest be his memory!

If the day should ever come, not, let us hope, in our time or that of
our children, when the manufacturer shall find that it no longer pays to
make needles, what value will attach to individual specimens! If they
were only to be found in occasional bric-à-brac shops or in the
collections of some far-seeing hoarder of rarities, it would be
difficult to overrate the interest which might attach to them. How, from
the prodigal disregard of ages and the mysteries of the past, would
emerge, one after another, recovered specimens, to be examined and
judged and classified and arranged!

Perhaps collections of them will be found in future museums under
different headings, such as:

"Needles of Consolation," under which might come those which Mary Stuart
and her maids wrought their dismal hours into pathetic bits of
embroidery during the long days of captivity, or the daughter of the
sorrowful Marie Antoinette mended the dilapidations of the pitiful and
ragged Dauphin; or:

"Needles of Devotion," wielded by canonized and uncanonized saints in
and out of nunneries; or:

"Needles of History," like those with which Matilda stitched the prowess
of William the Conqueror into breadths of woven flax.

Possibly there may arise needle experts who, upon microscopic
examination and scientific test, will refer all specimens to positive
date and peculiar function, and by so doing let in floods of light upon
ancient customs and habits. It is idle to speculate upon a condition
which does not yet exist, for, happily, needles for actual hand sewing
are yet in sufficient demand to allow us to indulge in their purchase
quite ungrudgingly.

I was once shown a needle--it was in Constantinople--which the
dark-skinned owner declared had been treasured for three hundred years
in his family, and he affirmed it so positively and circumstantially
that I accepted the statement as truth. In fact, what did it matter? It
was an interesting lie or an interesting truth, whichever one might
consider it, and the needle looked quite capable of sustaining another
century or so of family use. Its eye was a polished triangular hole made
to carry strips of beaten metal, exactly such as we read of in the Bible
as beaten and cut into strips for embroidery upon linen, such
embroidery, in fact, as has often been burned in order to sift the pure
gold from its ashes.

Not only the history, but the poetry and song of all periods are starred
with real and ideal embroideries--noble and beautiful ladies, whose
chief occupations seem to have been the medicining of wounds received in
their honor or defense, or the broidering of scarfs and sleeves with
which to bind the helmets of their knights as they went forth to
tourney or to battle. In these old chronicles the knights fought or made
music with harp or voice, and the women ministered or made embroidery,
and so pictured lives which were lived in the days of knights and ladies
drifted on. The sword and the needle expressed the duties, the spirit,
and the essence of their several lives. The men were militant, the women
domestic, and wherever in castle or house or nunnery the lives of women
were made safe by the use of the sword the needle was devoting itself to
comforts of clothing for the poor and dependent, or luxuries of
adornment for the rich and powerful. So the needle lived on through all
the civilizations of the old world, in the various forms which they
developed, until it was finally inherited by pilgrims to a new world,
and was brought with them to the wilderness of America.


The history of embroidery in America would naturally begin with the
advent of the Pilgrim Mothers, if one ignored the work of native
Indians. This, however, would be unfair to a primitive art, which
accomplished, with perfect appropriateness to use and remarkable
adaptation of circumstance and material, the ornamentation of personal

The porcupine quill embroidery of American Indian women is unique among
the productions of primitive peoples, and some of the dresses, deerskin
shirts, and moccasins with borders and flying designs in black, red,
blue, and shining white quills, and edged with fringes hung with the
teeth and claws of game, or with beautiful small shells, are as truly
objects of art as are many things of the same decorative intent produced
under the best conditions of civilization.

To create beauty with the very limited resources of skins, hair, teeth,
and quills of animals, colored with the expressed juice of plants, was a
problem very successfully solved by these dwellers in the wilderness,
and the results were practically and æsthetically valuable.

In the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D. C., there has happily
been preserved a most interesting collection of these early efforts. The
small deerskin shirts worn as outer garments by the little Sioux were
perhaps among the most interesting and elaborate. They are generally
embroidered with dyed moose hair and split quills of birds in their
natural colors, large split quills or flattened smaller quills used
whole. The work has an embossed effect which is very striking. A coat
for an adult of Sioux workmanship, made of calfskin thicker and less
pliant than the deerskin ordinarily used for garments, carries a broad
band of quill embroidery, broken by whorls of the same, the center of
each holding a highly decorated tassel made of narrow strips of
deerskin, bound at intervals with split porcupine quills. These
ornamental tassels carry the idea of decoration below the bands, and
have a changeable and living effect which is admirable. In a smaller
shirt, the whole body is covered at irregular intervals with whorls of
the finest porcupine quill work, edged by a border of interlaced black
and white quills, finished with perforated shells. Many of the designs
are edged with narrow zigzag borders of the split quills in natural
colors carefully matched and lapped in very exact fashion. There is one
small shirt, made with a decorative border of tanned ermine skins in
alternate squares of fur and beautifully colored quill embroidery, not
one tint of which is out of harmony with the soft yellow of the deerskin
body. The edge of the shirt is finished in very civilized fashion, with
ermine tails, each pendant, banded with blue quills, at alternating
heights, making a shining zigzag of blue along the fringe. The
simplicity of treatment and purity of color in this little garment were
fascinating, and must have invested the small savage who wore it with
the dignity of a prince.

The mother who evolved the scheme and manner of decoration carried her
bit of genius in an uncivilized squaw body, but had none the less a true
feeling for beauty, and in this mother task lifted the plane of the art
of her people to a higher level.

[Illustration: _Left_--MOCCASINS of porcupine quillwork, made by Sioux

_Right_--PIPE BAGS of porcupine quillwork, made by Sioux Indians.

_Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History, New York_]

The purely decorative ability which lived and flourished before the
advent of civilization lost its distinctive simplicity of character when
woven cloth of brilliant red flannel and the tempting glamour of
colored glass beads came into their horizon, although they accepted
these new materials with avidity. Porcupine quill work seems to have
been no longer practiced, although a few headbands of ceremony are to be
found among the tribes, and now and then one comes across a veritable
treasure, an evidence of long and unremitting toil, which has been
preserved with veneration.

Of course many valuable results of the best early embroideries still
exist among the Indians themselves.

A very striking feature of both early and late work is the fringing,
which plays an important part in the decoration of garments. The fringe
materials were generally of the longest procurable dried moose hair, the
finely cut strips of deerskin, or, in some instances, the tough stems of
river and swamp grasses twisted, braided and interwoven in every
conceivable manner, and varied along the depth of the fringes by small
perforated shells, teeth of animals, seeds of pine, or other shapely and
hard substances which gave variety and added weight. Beads of bone and
shell are not uncommon, or small bits of hammered metal. In one or two
instances I have seen long deerskin fringes with stained or painted
designs, emphasized with seeds or shells at centers of circles, or
corners of zigzags. This ingenious use of a decorative fringe gave an
effect of elaborate ornament with comparatively small labor.

Perhaps the best lesson we have to learn from this bygone phase of
decorative effort is in the possibilities of genuine art, where scant
materials of effect are available.

A thoughtful and exact study of early Indian art gives abundant
indication of the effect of intimacy with the moods and phenomena of
Nature, incident to the lives of an outdoor people.

Many of the designs which decorate the larger pieces, like shirts and
blankets, were evidently so inspired. The designs of lengthened and
unequal zigzags are lightning flashes translated into embroidery; the
lateral lines of broken direction are water waves moving in masses.
There are clouds and stars and moons to be found among them, and if we
could interpret them we might even find records of the sensations with
which they were regarded.


_Courtesy American Museum of Natural History, New York_]


_Courtesy of American Museum of Natural History, New York_]

It would seem to argue a want of inventive faculty, that the
aboriginal women never conceived the idea of weaving fibers together in
textiles, but were contented with the skins of animals for warmth of
body covering. The two alternatives of so close and warm a substance as
tanned skins, or nakedness, seem to a civilized mind to demand some
intermediate substance. This, however, was not felt as a want, at least
not to the extent of inspiring a textile. Perhaps we should never have
had the unique porcupine quill embroidery except for the close-grained
skin foundation, which made it possible and permanent. Certainly the
cleverness with which the idea of weaving has been used in the evolution
of the Indian blanket shows that only the initial thought was lacking.
The subsequent use of the arts of spinning and weaving, with the
retention of the original idea of decoration in design and coloring, has
made the Indian blanket an article of great commercial value.

Fortunately, these productions are valuable to their producers, and even
to other members of the tribes, and were carefully preserved from
casualties, so that there are still many examples of Indian manufacture,
such as belts of wampum, and headbands of ceremony, to be found among
existing tribes.

These early specimens are not only intrinsically valuable, but give many
a clue to what may be called the spiritual side of the aborigines. They
had not learned the limits of representation, and as this history deals
with results of life and not with the impulse toward expression which
lies at the root of design, we need not attempt more than a suggestion
of some of the results. The unguided impulses of Indian art, as seen or
imagined in their work, lies behind the work itself and can be read only
by its materialization.


The crewelwork of New England was the first ornamental stitchery
practiced in this country by women of European race, and in their hands
made its first appearance even during the days of privation and nights
of fear which were their portion in this strange new world to which they
had come.

The seed of it was brought by that winged creature of destiny, the
_Mayflower_, hidden in the folds or decorating the borders of the
precious household linen which was a part of the gear of the first
Pilgrims. In its hollow interior there was room for bed dressings and
table napery, even when the high-posted bedsteads and tables which they
had adorned were abandoned, or exchanged for peace of mind and liberty
of action.

It may have declared itself in the very first years of settlement,
before they had encountered the savage antagonism of the aborigines, and
while they still had only the privations incident to pioneer life; or
it may have been after the long struggle for ascendancy and possession
was over, and they could settle down in hard-won homes. Upon neighboring
or contiguous farms there they gradually drew together the threads of
memory concerning former peaceful occupations, and wove them once more
into the warp of daily life. They could visit one another, exchanging
domestic experiences, or reminiscences of spiritual struggles of their
own or of fellow Pilgrims, and old-time hand occupations would be a
mutual lullaby and an exorcism of anxiety.

The real beginning of embroidery as a national art was probably at a
later period, for its previous practice would be but a continuation of
old-world occupations or diversions of life.

The devoted mothers of the American race, who sailed the seas in those
far-off days, might have brought some favorite "piece" of embroidery
among their most intimate belongings, wherewithal to while away the
hours of weary days upon the limitless breadths of ocean. There would be
intervals of calm between storms, and periods when even the merest shred
of a home-practiced art would be doubly and trebly valued, like a
piece of heavenly raiment to a naked and banished angel.

[Illustration: CREWEL DESIGN, drawn and colored, which dates back to
Colonial times.

_In the possession of the Dunham family of Cooperstown._]

The most natural effort of the woman standing in the midst of such new
and strenuous conditions as surrounded the Pilgrim mothers in America,
would be to reproduce something which had meant peace and tranquillity
in former days. We can imagine her, searching the closely packed
iron-bound chests which held most of the worldly goods of the traversing
pilgrims--those famous chests, the boards of which had been carefully
doweled and faithfully put together to resist outward and inward
pressure--packed and repacked with constant misgivings and hopeful
foresight. In those crowded treasure chests it was possible there might
be found skeins of crewel, and even working patterns which some hopeful
instinct had prompted her to preserve.

While the Puritan mother was scheming to add embroidery to her
occupations, she did not forget to train each small maid of the family
to the use of the needle. Ruth and Peace and Harmony and Mercy made
their samplers as faithfully as though they were growing up under the
shade of the apple trees of old England instead of among the blackened
stumps of newly cut forests.

So the old art survived its transplantation and rooted itself in spite
of storms of terror, and during and after the test of fire and blood,
and spread, after the manner of art and knowledge, until it became the
joy and comfort of a new race, a vehicle of feminine dexterity and an
expression of the creative instinct with which in a greater or lesser
degree we are all endowed.

We can easily believe that stores of linen and precious china, as well
as the small wheels for the spinning of the flax, could not be denied to
the devoted women who chose to share the hard fortunes of their Pilgrim
husbands and fathers. It is probable that in one form or another
possessions of crewel embroidery were transported with them.

I know of no well-authenticated specimen which came in actual substance
in that elastic vessel, but undoubtedly there were such, while many and
many existed in the minds and memories of the women of the new colony,
to come to life and take on actual form, color and substance when the
days of their privations were numbered. If such actual treasured things
existed and were preserved through the early days of colonial life,
every stitch of them would hold within itself traditions of tranquillity
in a world where homes stood, and fields were tilled in safety, because
of the vast plains of ocean which lay between them and savage tribes.

In the earliest days of the colonies we could hardly expect more than
the necessary practice of the needle, but when we come to the second
period, when neighborhoods became towns, and cabins grew into more or
less well-equipped farmhouses, Puritan women gladly reverted to the
accomplishments of pre-American conditions. The familiar crewelwork of
England was the form of needlework which became popular.

In looking for materials with which to recreate this art, they had not
at that time far to seek. Wool and flax were farm products, necessities
of pioneer life, and their manufacture into cloth was a well-understood
domestic art.

Domestic animals had shared the tremendous experiment of transplantation
of a fragment of the English race, and had suffered, no doubt, with
their masters and owners, the struggles with savages and unaccustomed
circumstances, but they had survived and increased "after their kind."
Even through the strenuous wars against their very existence by
uncivilized man, they lived and increased. Cows "calved," and sheep
"lambed," and wool in abundance was to be had.

The enterprising Puritan woman pulled the long-fibered straggling lock
of wool, sorted out and rejected from the uniform fleeces, carded it
with her little hand cards into yard-long finger-sized rolls, and
twisted it upon her large wheel spindle, producing much such thread as
an Italian peasant woman spins upon her distaff to-day as she walks upon
the shore at Baiæ.

If the pioneer was a natural copyist, she doubled and twisted it, to
make it in the exact fashion of the English crewel; if adventurous and
independent, she worked it single threaded. This yarn had all the pliant
qualities necessary for embroidery, and was in fact uncolored crewel.

[Illustration: TESTER embroidered in crewels in shades of blue on white
homespun linen. Said to have been brought to Essex, Mass., in 1640, by
Madam Susanna, wife of Sylvester Eveleth.

_Courtesy of Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._

To the right, raised embroidery on black velvet. Nineteenth century

So, also, the production of flax thread, when the crop of flax was
grown, and the long stems had struggled upward to their greatest
heights, and finished themselves in a cloud of multitudinous blue
flax flowers, beautiful enough to be grown for beauty alone, they pulled
and made into slender bundles, and laid under the current of the brook
which neighbored most pioneer houses, until the thready fibers could be
washed and scraped from the vegetable outer coat, the perishable parts
of their composition, and combed into separateness. Then it was ready
for the small flax wheel of the housewife. Every woman had both wool
wheel and flax wheel, the latter of all grades of beauty, from those
made for the use of queens and ladies of high degree--royal for
elaboration--to the modest ashen wheel, derived from a long line of
industrious and careful foremothers, or copied by the clever Pilgrim
fathers, from some adventurous wheel which had made the long voyage from
civilized Holland to uncivilized America.

For color, the simplest and most at hand expedient was a dip in the
universal indigo tub, which waited in every "back shed" of the Puritan
homestead. One single dip in its black-looking depths and the skein of
spun lamb's wool acquired a tint like the blue of the sky. Immersion of
a day and night gave an indelible stain of a darker blue, and a week's
repose at the bottom of the pot made the wool as dark in tint as the
indigo itself. For variety in her blues, the enterprising housewife used
the sunburned "taglocks" which were too hopelessly yellow for webs of
white wool weaving, and gave them a short immersion in the tub, with the
result of a beautiful blue-green, tinged through and through with a
sunny luster, and this color was sun-fast and water-fast, capable of
holding its tint for a century.

We know how knots of living wool grow golden by dragging through dew and
lying in the sun, and how the ladies of Venice sat upon the roofs of
their palaces with locks outspread upon the encircling brims of
crownless hats, in order to capture the true Venetian tint of hair. We
do not know by what alchemy the sun _silvers_ a web spread out to
whiten, and yet _gilds_ the human tresses of ladies and yellows the
"taglocks" of sheep. Chemists may be able to explain, but simple woman,
unversed in the mysteries of chemistry, cannot. Whatever may have been
the science of it, this golden hue added to medium and dark blue a triad
of shades, which proved to be most effective when placed upon pure
white of bleached linen, or the gray-cream of the unbleached web.

The color seekers soon learned that every indelible stain was a dye, and
if little God-fearing Thomas came home with a stain of ineffaceable
green or brown on the knees of his diminutive tow breeches, the mother
carefully investigated the character of it, and if it was unmoved by the
persuasive influence of "soft soap and sun," she added it to a list
which meant knowledge. It is to be hoped that this was often considered
an equivalent for the "trouncing" which was the common penalty of
accident or inadvertence suffered by the Puritan child. In truth,
Solomon's unwholesome caution, "Spare the rod and spoil the child," was
all too strictly observed in those conscience-ridden Puritan days. I had
a child's lively disapproval of Solomon, since the curse of his
sarcastic comment came down with the Puritan strain in my own blood, and
I have a smarting recollection of it.

God-fearing Thomas and his brothers added to their mother's artistic
equipment not only a list of variously shaded brown from the bark of the
black walnut tree, and of yellows from the leaves and twigs of the
sumac and wild cherry, but numberless others. She was an untiring color
hunter, an experimenter with the juices of plants and flowers and
berries, and with every unwash-outable stain. She set herself to the
exciting task of repetition and variation. She tried the velvet shell of
young butternuts upon threads of her white wool, and found a spring
green, and if she spread over it a thinnest wash of hemlock bark, they
were olive, and if she dipped them in mitigated indigo, lo! they were of
the green of sea hollows. The butternut in all stages of its growth,
from the smallest and greenest to the rusty black of the ripe ones, and
the blackest black of the dried shell, was a mine of varied color; and
the brass kettle of from ten to twenty quarts capacity, which served so
many purposes in domestic life, could be tranquilly carrying out some of
her propositions in the corner of the wide chimney while dinner was
cooking, or in the ashes of the burned-out embers while the household

[Illustration: QUILTED COVERLET made by Ann Gurnee.]

[Illustration: HOMESPUN WOOLEN BLANKET with King George's Crown
embroidered with home-dyed blue yarn in the corner. From the Burdette
home at Fort Lee, N. J., where Washington was entertained.

_Courtesy of Bergen County Historical Society, Hackensack, N. J._]

[Illustration: CHEROKEE ROSE BLANKET, made about 1830 of homespun wool
with "Indian Rose" design about nineteen inches in diameter worked in
the corners in home-dyed yarns of black, red, yellow, and dark green.
From the Westervelt collection.

_Courtesy of Bergen County Historical Society, Hackensack, N. J._]

It was interesting and skillful work to extract these colors, and the
emulation of it and the glory of producing a new one was not without
its excitement. There was a certain "fast pink" which was the secret
of one ingenious ungenerous Puritan woman, who kept the secret of the
dye, when rose pink was the unattainable want of feminine New England.
She died without revealing it, and as in those days there were no
chemists to boil up her rags and test them for the secret, the "Windham
pink," so said my grandmother, "made people sorry for her death,
although she did not deserve it." This little neighborly fling passed
down two generations before it came to me from the later days of the

Yellows of different complexions were discovered in mayweed, goldenrod
and sumac, and the little-girl Faiths and Hopes and Harmonys came in
with fingers pink from the handling of pokeberries and purple from
blackberry stain, tempting the sight with evanescent dyes which would
not keep their color even when stayed with alum and fortified with salt.
All this made Mistress Windham's memory the more sad. A good reliable
rose red was always wanting. Madder could be purchased, for it was
raised in the Southern colonies, but the madder was a brown red. Finally
some enterprising merchantman introduced cochineal, and the vacuum was
filled. With a judicious addition of logwood, rose red, wine red and
deep claret were achieved.

The dye of dyes was indigo, for the blue of heaven, or the paler blue of
snow shadows, to a blue which was black or a black which was blue, was
within its capacity. And the convenience of it! The indigo tub was
everywhere an adjunct to all home manufactures. It dyed the yarn for the
universal knitting, and the wool which was a part of the blue-gray
homespun for the wear of the men of the household. "One-third of white
wool, one-third of indigo-dyed wool, and one-third of black sheep's
wool," was the formula for this universal texture. Perhaps it was not
too much to say that the gray days of the Pilgrim mother's life were
enriched by this royal color.

The soft yarns, carefully spun from selected wool, took kindly to the
natural dyes, and our friend, the Puritan housewife, soon found herself
in possession of a stock of home-manufactured material, soft and
flexible in quality, and quite as good in color as that of the lamented
English crewels. The homespun and woven linens with which her chests
were stocked were exactly the ground for decorative needlework of the
kind which she had known in her English childhood, long before questions
of conscience had come to trouble her, or the boy who had grown up to be
her husband had been wakened from a comfortable existence by the
cat-o'-nine-tails of conscience, and sent across the sea to stifle his
doubts in fighting savagery.

Probably the Puritan mother could stop thinking for a while about the
training of Thomas and Peace and Harmony, and the rest of the dozen and
a half of children which were the allotted portion of every Puritan
wife, while she selected out intervals of her long busy days, as one
selects out bits of color from bundles of uninteresting patches, and
devoted them to absolutely superfluous needlework.

What a joy it must have been to ponder whether she should use deep pink
or celestial blue for the flowers of her pattern, instead of remembering
how red poor baby Thomas's little cushions of flesh had grown under the
smart slaps of her corset board when he overcame his sister Faith in a
fair fight about nothing, and what a relief the making of crewel roses
must have been from the doubts and cares of a constantly increasing

She sorted out her colors, three shades of green, three of cochineal
red, two of madder--one of them a real salmon color--numberless shades
of indigo, yellows and oranges and browns in goodly bunches, ready for
the long stretches of fair solid white linen split into valances or
sewed into a counterpane. Truly she was a happy woman, and she would
show Mistress Schuyler, with her endless "blue-and-white," what she
could do with _her_ colors! Then she had a misgiving, and reflected for
a moment on the unregeneracy of the human soul, and that poor Mistress
Schuyler's quiet airs of superiority really came from her Dutch blood,
for her mother was an English Puritan who had married a Hollander, and
her own husband revealed to her in the dead of night, when all hearts
are opened, his belief that "Brother Schuyler had been moved to emigrate
much more by greed of profitable trade with the savages than by longings
for liberty of conscience."

She went back to her "pattern," which she just now remembered had been
lent her by poor Mistress Schuyler, and was soon absorbed in making
long lines of pin pricks along the outlines of the pattern, so that she
could sift powdered charcoal through and catch the shapes of leaves and
curves on her fair white linen.

Her foot was on the rocker of the cradle all the time, and the last baby
was asleep in it. The hooded cherry cradle which had rocked the three
girls and four boys, counting the wee velvet-scalped Jonathan, against
whose coming the cradle had been polished with rottenstone and whale oil
until it shone like mahogany.

Should the roses of the pattern be red or pink? and the columbines blue
or purple? She could make a beautiful purple by steeping the sugar paper
which wrapped her precious cone of West Indian "loaf sugar," and
sugar-paper purple was reasonably fast. So ran the thoughts of the dear,
straight-featured Puritan wife as she sorted her colors and worked her

At this period of her experience of the new life of the colonies, the
chief end of her embroidery was to help in creating a civilized home, to
add to what had been built simply for shelter and protection, some of
the features which lived and grew only in the atmosphere of safety and
content. Hospitality was one of the features of New England life, and
the first addition to the family shelter was a bedroom, which bore the
title of the "best bedroom," and a tall four-post bed, which was the
"best bed." The adornment of this holy altar of friendship was an urgent

When I began this allusion to the "best bedroom," I left the housewife
sorting her tinted crewels for its adornment, and she still sat, happily
cutting the beautiful homespun linen into lengths for the two bed
valances, the one to hang from the upper frame which surrounded the top
of her four-post bedstead, and the other, which hung from the bed frame
itself, and reached the floor, hiding the dark space beneath the bed.
The "high-post bedstead" had long groups of smooth flutes in the upward
course of its posts, and no footboard, a plain-sawed headboard and
smooth headposts. There must be a long curtain at the head of the bed,
which would hide both headboard and plain headposts, and this curtain
she meant should have a wide border of crewelwork at the top and bunches
of flowers scattered at intervals on its surface.

[Illustration: BED SET. Keturah Baldwin pattern, designed, dyed, and
worked by The Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework. Deerfield,

[Illustration: BED COVERS worked in candle wicking.

_Courtesy of Colonial Rooms, John Wanamaker, New York_]

None of Mistress Schuyler's "blue-and-white" for her! It should carry
every color she could muster, and the upper valance should have the same
border as the head curtain. The lower valance would not need it, for the
counterpane would hang well over, and she meant somehow to bend the
border design into a wreath and work it in the center of the
counterpane, and double-knot a fringe to go entirely around it, the same
as that which should edge the upper valance.

It was a luxurious bed dressing when it was finished, and nothing in it
of material to differentiate it from the embroideries which were being
done in England at the very time. There were no original features of
design or arrangement. The close-lapping stitches were set in exactly
the same fashion, and, considering the absolute necessity of growing and
manufacturing all the materials, it was a wonderful performance.

It was not alone bed hangings which were subjects of New England
crewelwork; there were mantel valances, which covered the plain wooden
mantels and hung at a safe distance above the generous household fires.
These were wrought with borders of crewelwork, and finished with
elaborate thread and crewel fringes. They were knotted into
diamond-shaped openings, above the fringes, three or four rows of them,
the more the better, for in the general simplicity of furnishing, these
things were of value. Then there were table covers and stand covers and
wall pockets of various shapes and designs, and, in short, wherever the
housewife could legitimately introduce color and ornamentation,
crewelwork made its appearance.

In the very infancy of the art of embroidery in America, the primitive
needlewoman was possessed of means and materials which fill the
embroiderers of our rich later days with envy. Homespun linen is no
longer to be had, and dyes are no longer the pure, simple, hold-fast
juices which certain plants draw from the ground; and try as we may to
emulate or imitate the old embroidered valances which hung from the
testers of the high-post bedsteads and concealed the dark cavities
beneath, and the coverlet besprinkled with bunches of impossible flowers
done in home-concocted shades of color upon heavy snow-white linen, we
fall far short of the intrinsic merits of those early hangings.

There are many survivals of these embroideries in New England families,
who reverence all that pertains to the lives of their founders. Bed
hangings had less daily wear and friction than pertained to other
articles of decorative use, and generally maintained a healthy existence
until they ceased to be things of custom or fashion. When this time came
they were folded away with other treasures of household stuffs, in the
reserved linen chest, whence they occasionally emerge to tell tales of
earlier days and compare themselves with the mixed specimens of
needlework art which have succeeded them, but cannot be properly called
their descendants.

The possession of a good piece of old crewelwork, done in this country,
is as strong a proof of respectable ancestry as a patent of nobility,
since no one in the busy early colonial days had time for such work save
those whose abundant leisure was secured by ample means and liberal
surroundings. The incessant social and intellectual activity demanded by
modern conditions of life was uncalled for. No woman, be she gentle or
simple, had stepped from the peaceful obscurity of home into the field
of the world to war for its prizes or rewards. If the man to whom she
belonged failed to win bread or renown, the women who were bound in his
family starved for the one or lived without the luster of the other.

I have shown that even in the early days of flax growing and indigo
dyeing the New England farmer's wife had come into her heritage, not
only of materials, but of the implements of manufacture. She had the
small flax wheel which dwelt in the keeping room, where she could sit
and spin like a lady of place and condition, and the large woolen wheel
standing in the mote-laden air of the garret, through which she walked
up and down as she twisted the yarn.

Later, the colonial dame, if she belonged to the prosperous class--for
there were classes, even in the beginning of colonial life--had her
beautifully shaped mahogany linen wheel, made by the skillful artificers
of England or Holland, more beautiful perhaps, but not more capable than
that of the farm wife, whittled and sandpapered into smoothness by her
husband or sons, and both were used with the same result.

The pioneer woodworker had a lively appreciation of the new woods of the
new country, and made free use of the abundant wild cherry for the
furniture called for by the growing prosperity of the settlements, its
close grain and warm color giving it the preference over other native
woods, excepting always the curly and bird's-eye maple, which were
novelties to the imported artisan.

I remember that "curly maple" was a much prized wood in my own
childhood, and that after carefully searching for the outward marks of
it among the trees of the farm, I asked about the shape of its leaves
and the color of its bark, so that I might know it--for children were
supposed to know species of trees by sight in my childhood. "Why," said
my mother, "it looks like any other maple tree on the outside; it is
only that the wood is curly, just as some children have curly hair."
Even now, after all these years, a plane of curly maple suggests the
curly hair of some child beloved of nature.

The beautiful curly, spotted and satiny maple wood was, however, "out of
fashion" when the roving shipmasters began to bring in logs of Santo
Domingo mahogany in the holds of their far-wandering barks, and the
cabinetmakers to cut beautiful shapes of sideboards, and curving legs
and backs of chairs, as well as the tall carved headposts and the head
and footboards of luxurious beds from them. It was not only that they
were a repetition of English luxury, but that they made more of
themselves in plain white interiors, by reason of insistent color, than
the blond sisterhood of maples could do. Cherry, which shared in a
degree its depth of color, held its world for a longer period, but no
wood could withstand the magnificence of pure mahogany red, with the
story of its vegetable life written along its planes in lines and waves,
deepening into darks, and lightening into ocher and gold along its

If the cabinetry of New England is a digression, it is perhaps excusable
on the ground of its close connection with the crewel work of New
England, of which we are treating, and to which we shall have something
of a sense of novelty in returning, since at least the complexion of our
colonial embroidery has experienced a change.

So, in spite of the success of the early Puritan woman in producing
tints necessary to the various needs of colored crewelwork, the
supremacy of indigo as a dye led to a lasting fashion of embroidery
known as "blue-and-white." It was the assertion of absolute and tried
merit in materials which led to its success. We sometimes see this
emergence of persistent goodness in instances of some human career,
where indefatigable integrity outruns the glamour of personal gift. This
was the fortune of the "blue-and-white," which not only created a style,
but has achieved persistence and has broken out in revivals all along
the history of American embroidery. It has been somewhat identified with
domestic weaving, for the loom has always been a member of the New
England family, the great home-built loom, standing in the far end of
the kitchen, capable of divers miracles of creation between dawn and

On this much-to-be-prized background of homespun linen the different
shades of indigo blue could be, and were, very effectively used, and it
is worthy of note that it repeated the simple contrasts of the Canton
china or the "blue Canton" which were the prized gifts brought to their
families by the returning New England seamen in the profitable "India
trade," which soon became a commercial fact.

"Blue-and-white" had at first been evolved by tight-bound
circumstances. Excellent practice in shades of blue had given it a
certified place in the embroidery art of America, but we do not find it
in collections of old English embroidery. It is one of the small
monuments which mark the path of the woman colonist, narrowed by
circumstances, which created a recognized style. It is not to be
wondered at that blue-and-white crewelwork made a place for itself in
the history of embroidery which was a permanent one. The circumstances
of Puritan life being so simple and direct would induce a corresponding
simplicity of taste, and simplicity is apt to seize upon first

Every colorist knows that strong but peaceful contrast is one of the
first laws of color arrangement, and the unconscious yoking of white and
blue placed one of the strongest color notes against unprotesting and
receptive white. This made a new manner or style of embroidery. Its
permanence may have been influenced by the art of one of the oldest
peoples of the world, and as we have said, the prevalence of Canton
china upon the dressers and filling the mantel closets and serving the
tables of the rich, was beginning to appear in all houses of growing
prosperity, even where pewter ware and dishes carved from wood still
held the place of actual service.

The Puritan housewife could arrange her grades of blue according to the
Chinese colors of this oldest domestic art of the world, and be
correspondingly happy in the result. Chinese design, however, had no
influence in the growing practice of embroidery, and here also an
instinctive law prevailed. She recognized that even the highly
artificial landscape art of her idolized plates would not suit the
flexible and broken surfaces of her equally cherished linen, or the
surroundings of her life.

It was small wonder that this became a favorite style of embroidery and
has in it the seeds of permanence. A table setting of snow-white or
cream-white homespun, scalloped and embroidered in lines of blue
crewels, shining with the precious Canton blue, was, and would be even
at this day, a thing to admire.

The first deviation from the habitual crewelwork is to be found in the
"blue-and-white," for although the same stitch was employed, it was
more often in outline than solid. The designs were sketches instead of
"patterns" as had formerly been the case. Although this variety of work
comes under the head of colonial crewelwork, there was in it the
beginning of the changes and variety effected by differing circumstances
and influences--those vital circumstances which leave their traces
constantly along the history of needlework. It was owing to various
reasons that outline embroidery largely took the place of solid

The question of design must have been a rather difficult one, as there
were no designs, and almost no sources of design for needlework, and at
this stage of the art in New England original design seems not to have
suggested itself. It would certainly have been quite natural to have
copied pine trees and broken outlines of hills, but as this class of
embroidery was almost entirely used for hangings and decorative
furnishings, the Pilgrim mothers seem to have had an instinctive sense
that such design was incongruous. Consequently they copied English
models. We find designs of crewelwork of the period in English museums
identically the same as in the New England work, thorned roses and
voluminously doubled pinks, held together in borders of long curved
lines or scattered at regular intervals in groups and bunches.

My grandmother explained to me in that long-ago period, where her great
age and my inquisitive youth met and exchanged our several and
individual surplus of thought and talk, that to a certain extent ladies
of colonial days copied many of their designs from what were called
India chintzes. These chintzes seem to have been the intermediate wear
between homespun of either flax or wool and the creamy satins or the
thick "paduasoy," the more flexible "lutestring" silks, worn by great
ladies of the period, and the wrought India muslins for less
conventional occasions. India chintzes were printed upon white or tinted
grounds of hand-spun cotton, in colors so generously full of substance
as to have almost the effect of brocaded stuffs, and adaptations from
their designs were suitable for embroidery. I remember the
three-cornered and square bits of India chintz which my grandmother
showed me in long-preserved "housewives," or "huz-ifs," as she called
them. They were lengths of domestic linen on which small squares or
triangles of chintz were sewn, making a series of small pockets, each
one stuffed with convenient threads or bits of colored sewing silks, or
needle and thimble. These were pinned at the belt of the active
housewife, and hung swaying against her skirts if she rose from her
sewing, or were conveniently at hand if she sat patching or
embroidering. I remember that some of my grandmother's "huz-ifs" still
held threads of different colored crewels wound on bits of cardboard,
and any embroiderer might envy the convenience of such holders.

I do not see, in fact, why there should not be a revival of "huz-ifs," a
pleasant new fashion, founded upon the old, holding in harmonious
variety all the wonders of modern manufacture, as well as making
mementos of former gowns of one's own and of one's friends. They might
be studied gradations of color and design, and be enriched by harmonious
bindings. If my dwindling time holds out, perhaps I shall institute or
assist at such a renewal of old conveniences, in spite of sharp contrast
of purposes, adding to home costume a grace of pendent color.

I was talking of design, when "huz-ifs" intruded, and was saying that at
the period when "blue-and-white" took on the "outline practice" design
was a difficult question; indeed, it is always a difficult question for
embroiderers. It is so important a part or quality of the art of
embroidery. In fact, it is the business of the successful embroiderer to
know as much about design as she must about stitchery and color.

After the advent of "blue-and-white," embroidery took on many different
features. Curiously enough, when it was confined to decorative uses, its
character immediately changed. Crewelwork of the period was not given to
hangings and furniture, but to clothing. An embroidered apron became of
much more importance than a bed valance or counterpane. The young girl
began by embroidering her school aprons with borders of forget-me-nots
and mullein pinks, in colored crewels.

I remember seeing among my grandmother's savings an apron of gray
unbleached linen, quite dark in color, with a border of single pinks
entirely around it. The design had evidently been drawn from the flower
itself, and the whole performance was essentially different from that
of a slightly earlier period. The materials of homespun linen and
home-dyed crewels were the same. The thing which was different and
showed either a cropping-out of original thought or a bias toward the
style of embroidery lately introduced by the famous school of Bethlehem,
Pennsylvania, was an over-and-over stitch instead of the old crewel
method. This over-and-over stitch was apparent in all crewel embroidery
devoted to personal wear, but was never found in articles used for house
or decorative purposes. It was certainly a proper distinction, as the
_flat_ of crewel was not capable of shadow and was more inherently a
part of the textile, as much so, indeed, as a stamped or woven
decoration would have been.

It was not long before the over-and-over stitch demanded silks and
flosses instead of crewels for its exercise, and silk or satin for the
background of its exploits. There were satin bags covered with the most
delicate stitchery, and black silk aprons with wreaths of myrtle done
with silks or flosses, and, finally, satin pelerines exquisitely
embroidered in designs of carefully shaded roses. Although nothing
remarkable or epoch-making happened in the art of embroidery, it
retained an even more than respectable existence. The skill, taste, and
love for the creation of beauty, which were the heritage of the race,
were kept alive.


A chapter upon Samplers, by right, should precede the discussion of
colonial embroidery, although the practice of mothers in crewelwork was
simultaneous with it. They were carried on at the same time, but the
embroidery was work for grown-up people, while samplers were baby
work--a beginning as necessary as being taught to walk or talk, to the
future of the child. Fortunately, the very infant interest in samplers
has tended to their preservation, and when the child grew to womanhood
the sampler became invested with a mingling of family interests and
affections, and she, the executant, came to look upon it with
motherliness. The loving pride of the mother in the child's
accomplishment also tended to the care and preservation of the first
work of the small hands.

As late as the twenties of the eighteenth century, infant schools still
existed and samplers were wrought by infant fingers. Eighty-five years
ago, I myself was in one of a row of little chairs in the infant school,
with a small spread of canvas lying over my lap and being sewn to my
skirt by misdirected efforts. My box held a tiny thimble and spools of
green and red sewing silk, and I tucked it under alternate knees for

_Sarah Woodruff!_--I wonder where she is now?--sat next to me in my
sampler days, and her canvas was white, while mine was yellow. Her
border was worked with blue, and mine with green. With a child's
inscrutable and wonderful awareness of underlying facts, I knew that
Sarah Woodruff's father was richer than mine, and that the white canvas
and blue border, which the teacher said "went with it," was an
indication of it. I have it now, the little faded yellow parallelogram
of canvas, on which the germ of the very fingers with which I am now
writing wrought with painstaking care--"Executed by Candace Thurber, her
age six years." They have since had various fortunes and experiences,
these fingers, and have wrought to the satisfaction, I hope, of their
foregone line of Puritan ancestors.

The sampler has special claims upon the world, because it is probable
that all forms of textile design originated with it. In fact, design for
needlework began with small squares formed by crossing stitches at the
junction of textile fiber.

In sequences these squares formed lines, blocks, and corner, and in
double-line juxtaposition made the form of border probably the oldest
ornamental decoration in the world, generally known as a Roman border.
This decoration escaped from textiles into stone and building materials,
and in fact appeared in the elaboration of all materials, from the
fronts of temples to the ornamentation of a crown. The most ancient
examples of design are founded upon a square, and this points inevitably
to the stitch covering the crossing of threads, the cross-stitch, which
preceded all others and remained the only decorative stitch until
weaving sprang into so fine an art that interstices between threads are
unnoticeable. Then, and not until then, the long over-stitch, the _opus
plumarium_, which we call "Kensington," was invented, and served to make
English embroidery famous in early English history. This was the stitch
used by the Pilgrim mothers in their crewel embroidery, as we use it
to-day in most of our decorative presentations.

[Illustration: SAMPLER worked by Adeline Bryant in 1826, now in the
possession of Anna D. Trowbridge, Hackensack, N. J.]

In spite of the achievements of the _opus plumarium_, we are indebted
to simple cross-stitch, to the obligations of the mathematical square of
hand weavings, for all the wonderful borderings which have been evolved
by ages of the use of the needle, since decoration began. We do not stop
to think of the artistic intelligence or gift which made mathematical
spaces express beautiful form, any more than we stop in our reading to
think of the sensitive intelligence which drew a letter and made it the
expression of sound, and yet most of us use the result of some
exceptional intelligence and feel the exaltation of what we call

The stitch itself is entitled to the greatest respect, as the very first
form of decoration with the needle--an art growing out of and controlled
by the earlier art of weaving. Decorative bands of cross-stitch come to
us on shreds of linen found in the sepulchers of Egypt and the burial
grounds of the prehistoric races of South America. I have seen, in a
collection of textiles found in their ancient burial places, the most
elaborate and beautiful of cross-stitch borders, wrought into the
fabrics which enriched Pizarro's shiploads of loot sent from Vicuna,
Peru, to the court of Spain at the time of the wonderful and barbarous
"Conquest." All of the old "Roman" borders are found in this collection,
the best designs the world has produced, those which architects of the
period used upon the fronts and in the interiors of their first
creations. And here arises the ever recurring question of
thought-sharing between the most widely removed of the earlier human
races. How did early Peruvians and far-off Latins think in the same
forms, and how did they come to select certain ones as the best, and
cleave to them as a common inheritance? But leaving the puzzle of design
and returning to the cross-stitch, which was its first interpretation or
medium, and to the little Puritans who shared its acquaintance and
practice with the women of all ages, we may see how the New England
sampler opened the door of inheritance.

As Eve sewed her garments of leaves in the Garden of Eden, so each one
of these little Puritan Eves, so far removed in the long history of the
race from the first one, was heir to her ingenuities as well as her
failings, from her patching together of small and inadequate things, to
her creative function in the kingdom of the world, as well as to her
attempts to sweeten life, and to her failures and successes.

[Illustration: _Left_--SAMPLER embroidered in colors on écru linen, by
Mary Ann Marley, aged twelve, August 30, 1820. _From Providence, R. I._

_Right_--SAMPLER embroidered in brown on écru linen, by Martha Carter
Fitzhugh, of Virginia, in 1793, and left unfinished at her death.

_Courtesy of Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._]

The learning to do an A or a B in cross-stitch was the beginning of
household doing, which is the business of woman's life. The decorative
and the useful were evenly balanced in sampler making. All this skill in
lettering could be applied to the stores of household linen in the way
of marking, for cross-stitch letters, done in colored threads, were a
part of the finish of sheets and pillowcases and fine toweling which
made so important a part of the riches of the household, and it led by
easy grades of familiarity to more comprehensive methods of decoration.
In truth, the letters first practiced in cross-stitch opened the door to
all future elaborations, and were the vehicle of moral instruction as
well; for little Puritans took their first doses of Bible history in
carefully embroidered text, and their notions of pictorial art from
cross-stitch illustrations. One finds upon some of the early examples
pictures of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, with the ever present
author of sin, climbing the stem of the tree of life, or Jacob's dream
of angels ascending and descending a ladder, intersecting clouds of
blue and smoke-colored stitches.

These pictorial samplers are certainly interesting, but those which
confine themselves to simple cross-stitch with borders, and the name of
the little child who wrought them, touch a note of domestic life which
is more than interesting.

The sampler was purely English in its derivation and followed the
English with great fidelity, although redolent of Puritan life and
thought. Sometimes, indeed, it carried cross-stitch to the very limit of
its capability in an attempt to render Bible scenes pictorially, but for
the most part it was confined to the practice of various styles of
lettering consolidated into text or verse.

The material upon which they were worked was generally of canvas, either
white or yellow, and this was of English manufacture. As all
manufactures were things of price, later samplers were often worked upon
coarse homespun linens, which, barring the variations in the size of the
threads inevitable in hand-spinning, made a fairly good material for

[Illustration: _Left_--SAMPLER worked by Christiana Baird. Late
eighteenth century American.

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York_

_Right_--MEMORIAL PIECE worked in silks, on white satin. Sacred to the
memory of Major Anthony Morse, who died March 22, 1805.

_Courtesy of Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._]

[Illustration: SAMPLER of Moravian embroidery, worked in 1806, by Sarah
Ann Smith, of Smithtown, L. I.]

Sampler making was a home rather than a school taught industry, going
down from mother to daughter along with darning and other processes
of the needle, and having no relation, except that of its dexterity, to
the distinct style of decorative embroidery called crewelwork, which
accompanied it, or even preceded it.

The collecting of samplers has become rather a fad in these days, and as
they are almost exclusively of New England origin, it gives an
opportunity of acquaintance with the little Puritan girl which is not
without its charm. As most of their samplers were signed with their
names, the acquaintance becomes quite intimate, and one feels that these
little Puritans were good as well as diligent. Here is Harmony
Twitchell's name upon a blue and white sampler. What child whose name
was Harmony could quarrel with other children, or how could this other,
whose long-suffering name was Patience, be resentful of the roughnesses
of small male Puritans? Hate-evil and Wait-still and Hope-still and
Thanks and Unity must have sat together like little doves and made
crooked A's and B's and C's and picked out the frayed sewing-silk
threads under the reproofs of the teacher of the Infant School, Miss
Mather or Miss Coffin or Miss Hooker, whose father was a
clergyman, or even Miss Bradford, whose uncle was the Governor?

All this is in the story of the sampler, and so the teaching and
practice of the canvas went constantly forward. The method was so
simple, quite within the capacity of an alphabet-studying child. To make
an A in cross-stitch was to create a link between the baby mind and the
letter represented. There was no choice, no judgment or experience
needed. The limit of every stitch was fixed by a cross thread, one
little open space to send the needle down and another through which to
bring it back, and the next one and the next, then to cross the threads
and the thing was done. Yes, the little slips could make a sampler,
every one of them, and when it was made, sometimes it was put in a frame
with a glass over it, and Patience's mother would show it to visitors,
and Patience would taste the sweets of superiority, than which there is
nothing to the childish heart, nor even to mature humanity, so sweet.

[Illustration: _Left_--SAMPLER worked by Nancy Dennis, Argyle, N. Y., in

_Right_--SAMPLER worked by Nancy McMurray, of Salem, N. Y., in 1793.

_Courtesy Mrs. E. M. Sanford, Madison, N. J._]

[Illustration: PETIT POINT PICTURE which belonged to President John
Quincy Adams, and now in the Dwight M. Prouty collection.

_Courtesy Colonial Rooms, John Wanamaker, New York_]

There were Infant Schools in my own days, little congregations of
children not far removed from babyhood, who were taught the alphabet
from huge cards, and repeated it simultaneously from the great
blackboard which was mounted in the center of the room. In the schools,
as well as at home, every little girl-baby was taught to sew, to
overhand minutely upon small blocks of calico, the edges turned over and
basted together. When a perfect capacity for overhand sewing was
established, the next short step was to the sampler, and the tiny
fingers were guided along the intricacies of canvas crossings. The dear
little rose-tipped fingers! the small hands! velvet soft and satin
smooth, diverse even in their littlenesses! They were taught even then
to be dexterous with woman's special tool, the very same in purpose and
intent with which queens and dames and ladies had played long before.

The sampler world was a real world in those days, full of youth and as
living as the youth of the world must always be, but now it is dead as
the mummies, and the carefully preserved remains are only the shell
which once held human rivalries and passions.


The domestic needlework of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries, should not be overlooked in a history of embroidery, it
being often so ambitiously decorative and the stitchery so remarkable.
The patchwork quilt was an instance of much of this effort. It was
unfortunate that an economic law governed this species of work, which
prevented its possible development. The New England conscience, sworn to
utility in every form, had ruled that no material should be _bought_ for
this purpose. It could only take advantage of what happened, and it
seldom happened that cottons of two or three harmonious colors came
together in sufficient quantity to complete the five-by-five or
six-by-six which went to the making of a patchwork quilt. Nevertheless
one sometimes comes across a "rising sun" or a "setting sun" bedquilt
which is remarkable for skillful shading, and was an inspiration in the
house where it was born, and where the needlework comes quite within the
pale of ornamental stitchery.

This variety of domestic needlework, and one or two others which are
akin to it, survived in the northern and middle states in the form of
quilting until at least the middle of the nineteenth century, while in
the southern states, especially in the mountains of Kentucky and North
Carolina, it still survives in its original painstaking excellence.

Among the earlier examples of these quilts one occasionally finds one
which is really worthy of the careful preservation which it receives. I
remember one which impressed itself upon my memory because of the
humanity interwoven with it, as well as the skill of its making. It was
a construction of blocks, according to patchwork law, every alternate
block of the border having an applied rose cut from printed calico in
alternate colors of yellow, red, and blue. These roses were carefully
applied with buttonhole stitch, and the cotton ground underneath cut
away to give uniform thickness for quilting. The main body of the quilt
was unnoticeably good, being a collection of faintly colored patches of
correct construction. The quilting was a marvel--a large carefully drawn
design, evidently inspired by branching rose vines without flowers, only
the leafage and stems being used, and all these bending forms filled in
with a diamonded background of exquisite quilting. The palely colored
center was distinguished only by its needlework, leaving the rose border
to emphasize and frame it.

There was a bit of personal history attached to this quilt in the shape
of a small tag, which said:

"This quilt made by Delia Piper, for occupation after the death of an
only son. Bolivar, Southern Missouri, 1845."

The same kind friend who had introduced me to this quilt, finding me
appreciative of woman's efforts in fine stitchery, took me to call upon
other pieces which were equally worthy of admiration. One was a white
quilt of what was called "stuffed work," made by working two surfaces of
cloth together, the upper one of fine cambric, the lower one of coarse
homespun. Upon the upper one a large ornamental basket was drawn, filled
with flowers of many kinds, the drawing outlines being followed by a
back stitchery as regular and fine as if done by machine, looking, in
fact, like a string of beaded stitches, and yet it was accomplished by a
needle in the hand of a skillful but unprofessional sewer. The picture,
for it was no less, was completed by the stuffing of each leaf and
flower and stem with flakes of cotton pushed through the homespun
lining. The weaving of the basket was a marvel of bands of buttonholed
material, which stood out in appropriate thickness. The centers of
the flowers had simulated stamens done in knotted work.

[Illustration: _Left_--SAMPLER in drawnwork, écru linen thread, made by
Anne Gower, wife of Gov. John Endicott, before 1628.

_Center_--SAMPLER embroidered in dull colors on écru canvas by Mary
Holingworth, wife of Philip English, Salem merchant, married July 1675,
accused of witchcraft in 1692, but escaped to New York. _From the Curwen

_Courtesy the Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._

_Right_--SAMPLER worked by Hattie Goodeshall, who was born February 19,
1780, in Bristol.

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_]

I think this stuffed work was rather rare, for I have only seen two
specimens, and as it required unusual and exhaustive skill in
needlework, the production was naturally limited. The practice was one
of the exotic efforts of some one of large leisure and lively ambitions
who belonged to the class of prosperous citizens.

"Patchwork," as it was appropriately called, was more often a farmhouse
industry, which accounts for its narrow limits, since, with choice of
material, even a small familiarity with geometrical design might bring
good results. It might have easily become good domestic art. Geometrical
borders in two colors would have taken their place in decorative work,
and the applied work, so often ventured upon, was the beginning of one
very capable method. The skillful needlework, the elaborate quilting,
the stitchery and stuffing are worthy of respect, for the foundation of
it all was great dexterity in the use of the needle.


While the ladies and house mistresses of New England were busy with
their crewelwork, the children with their little samplers, and farm
housemothers sewed patchwork in the intervals of spinning and weaving,
an entirely different development of needlework art had taken place,
beginning in Pennsylvania. Embroidery in America did not grow
exclusively from seed brought over in the Mayflower. It sprang from many
sources, but its finest qualities came from the influence of what was
called "Bethlehem Embroidery."

The advent of this style of needlework was interesting. It originated in
a religious community founded in 1722 at Herrnhut, Germany, by Count
Zinzendorf. It was a strictly religious, semimonastic group of single
men and single women, whose hearts were filled with zeal for mission
work. At that period, I suppose America seemed a possible and promising
field for such efforts, and accordingly forty-five of the brothers and
as many of the sisters turned their faces toward this new world. One
can fancy that when the thought first entered their minds, of coming to
a land peopled by savage Indians, with but a bare sprinkling of "the
Lord's people," they trembled even in their dreams at the thought of the
cruel incidents they might encounter in that wilderness toward which
they were impelled by apostolic zeal, and the unquiet sea upon which
they were about to embark foreshadowed an unknown future. But there was
small danger for them upon the sea; surely they could not sink in
troubled waters, these etherial souls! The heavenly quality of them
would upbear the vessel and cargo. They would come safe to land, no
matter how tempestuous the elements!

I suppose, at all periods of the world, prophet and martyr stuff might
be sifted out from the man-stuff of the times if the race had need of
them. In normal states of growth, we call them "cranks" and look for no
results from their existence. But the elusive spirit of love never dies.
It appears and reappears in the history of all races and times, and
leaves its mark upon them in various shapes of beneficence.

These missionary brothers and sisters had chosen as the theater of their
labor that part of our broad land which was pleasantly christened
Pennsylvania, and selecting a portion of the southern area, they founded
their colony and called it "Ephrata."

It existed for forty years, constantly increasing its membership, and
living a life reaching out toward a perfection of goodness which seemed
quite possible to their apostolic souls.

Time, however, brought changes of circumstance and of mind, and after
many philanthropic phases, in 1749 the mingled elements and aspirations
of the enlarged congregation were merged into two boarding schools, one
for boys, which was the germ of Lehigh University, and another for girls
at Bethlehem, which, under the careful fostering of the sisters, became
the birthplace of the famous Moravian needlework. So were melted into
the modern form of scholastic instruction the various efforts of
religious activity, the eternal reaching out for conditions in human
life in which it is easy and natural to be good and happy. It had not
been accomplished in this semimonastic life, but the efforts toward it
had their influence, and, you may judge by the quality of its
founders, had never died.

[Illustration: NEEDLEBOOK of Moravian embroidery, made about 1850. _Now
in the possession of Mrs. J. U. Myers, Bethlehem, Pa._]

[Illustration: MORAVIAN EMBROIDERY worked by Emily E. Reynolds,
Plymouth, Pa., in 1834, at the age of twelve, while at the Moravian
Seminary in Bethlehem, and now owned by her granddaughter.

_Courtesy of Claire Reynolds Tubbs, Gladstone, N. J._]

The two schools very early in their history seem to have established a
reputation for learning and culture which made them a desirable
influence in the formative lives of the children of the most thoughtful,
as well as the most prominent and prosperous, American families. Indeed,
the school for girls became so popular as to lead to an extension and
founding of several branches in other of the southern states. The art
and practice of fine needlework became a popular and necessary feature
of them, distinguishing them from all other schools. "Tambour and fine
needlework" were among the extras of the school, and charged for, as we
learn from school records, at the rate of "seventeen shillings and
sixpence, Pennsylvania currency."

It was not alone tambour and fine needlework, as we shall see later,
that was taught by the Moravian Sisters, but the ribbon work, crêpe
work, and flower embroidery, and picture production upon satin. These
pictures, however important as performances, were not the most common
form of needlework taught by the Sisters. Flower embroidery was the
usual form of practice, and it was of a quality which made each one a
wonder of execution and skill. The materials were satin of a superb
quality for the background, or Eastern silk of softness and strength,
and the silks used in the stitchery were generally "slack twisted" silk
threads of very pure quality, and in certain cases, where they would not
be likely to fray, lustrous flosses of Eastern make. The stitch used in
these flower pieces was an over-and-over stitch, or what was called
satin-stitch, which was without the lap of Kensington stitch. There was
in every piece of embroidery done under the instruction of the
accomplished and devoted Sisters certain virtues, certain effects of
conscientious and patient work, mingled with the love of good and
beautiful art, which were plainly visible. It had in all its flower
pieces, and they were many, the quality of beautiful charm. The ministry
of nature may have had something to do with this, since the lives of the
executants were open to its influences.

[Illustration: MORAVIAN EMBROIDERY from Louisville, Ky.]

One can make a mental picture of those early days beside the peaceful
"Lehi," where the Sisters taught and nurtured the young girls of very
young America, and trained them in such beautiful and womanly
accomplishments. The scattered bits of needlework which remain to us are
so fine, so clear, so thoroughly exhaustive of all excellence in
technique, that they are to the art of embroidery what the ivory
miniature is to painting. We cannot but hail the memory of the Sisters
of Bethlehem with respect and admiration.

I became familiar with the work of this community when I was arranging
an historic exhibition of American Embroidery for the Bartholdi Fair in
1883. Few people may remember that, among the means for the installation
of the Bartholdi Statue of Liberty which welcomes the world at the
entrance to the harbor of New York, was an effort called the Bartholdi
Fair, held in the then almost new and very popular Academy of Design at
the northwestern corner of Fourth Avenue and Twenty-third Street.
Knowing the value of Bethlehem work, I made an effort to secure a
representative collection, with the result of gathering a most
interesting group of specimens, mainly by the interest and help of Mr.
Henry Baldwin of Lehigh University, to whom I was referred for
assistance in my purpose. I have before me now the correspondence which
ensued, a most painstaking, kind and patient one on his part, giving me
much interesting history of the Bethlehem mission, as well as its life
and progress. Among the legends is one--that during our Revolutionary
war, Pulaski recruited some of his Legion at Bethlehem, and ordered a
banner, which was carried by his troops until he fell in the attack upon
Savannah. This banner is now in the rooms of the Maryland Historical
Society, and I find the question of its having been an order from Count
Pulaski, or a gift to the Legion, is one of very lively interest in the

This exhibit of 1883 was as complete an historical collection of
American needlework as was possible, and I have a list of ten articles
loaned from collections in Bethlehem, which reads as follows:

1. Embroidered pocketbook of black silk with flowers in bright colors.
Former property of Bishop Bigler.

2. Embroidered needlebook of white satin with bright flowers, date 1800.

3. Embroidered needlebook of white satin with bright flowers and vines,
dated 1786.

4. Sampler, dated 1740.

5. Yellow velvet bag embroidered with ribbon work.

6. Black velvet bag embroidered in crêpe work with flowers.

7. White satin workbag embroidered in fine tracery of vines.

8. A box with embroidered pincushion on top.

9. A blue silk pocketbook with very fine ribbon work.

10. A paper box done with needle in filigree.

It will be seen by this list how varied were the forms of needlework
taught at Bethlehem. The crêpe work mentioned in No. 6 is, probably
owing to the perishable character of its material, very rare, but was
extremely beautiful in effect. Bits of colored crêpe were gathered into
flower petals and sewed upon satin, roses laid leaf upon leaf and built
up to a charming perfection, while the stems and foliage were partially
or wholly embroidered in silk.

The ribbon embroidery of No. 5, has been revived by the New York Society
of Decorative Art and practiced with great success. The flower
embroideries, in the specimens exhibited, were of two sorts--the small
groups being done with fine twisted silks in a simple "over and over"
stitch, called at that time "satin stitch," alike on both sides, except
that on the right side the flowers and leaves were raised from the
surface by an under thread of cotton floss called "stuffing." This did
not prevent, as it might easily have done, an unvarying regularity and
smoothness, which was like satin itself, thread laid beside thread as if
it were woven instead of sewed.

In the larger flowers, the sewing silk had been split into flosses, or
perhaps the prepared flosses were used in the "tent stitch," which is
now known as "Kensington." The colors of all these specimens were as
fresh as natural flowers, speaking eloquently in praise of early
processes of dyeing.

[Illustration: LINEN TOWELS embroidered in cross-stitch. Pennsylvania
Dutch early nineteenth century.

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_]

These things seem to fairly exhale gentility, that quality-compact of
everything superior in the life of early American womanhood. I have
especially in mind one cushion where flowers, apparently as fresh in
color as when the cushion was young, are laid upon a ground of silk of
the pinky-ash color, once known as "ashes of roses." The real charm
of the thing, that which lends it a tender romance, is the legend worked
upon the back of the cushion in brown silk stitches which are easily
mistaken for the round-hand copperplate writing of the period--"Wrought
where the peaceful Lehi flows." One seems to breathe the very air of the
secluded valley, peopled by brethren and sisters set apart from the
strenuous duties of the builders of a new nation, and distinguished for
learned and devoted effort toward the perfection of moral, and
spiritual, rather than the conquests of material, life.

The Sisters had many orders from the outside world, as well as from
visitors, and the profit upon these helped to maintain the school. Many
of these orders were in the shape of pocketbooks, pincushions, bags,
etc., having a bunch, or wreath, or cluster of flowers on one side,
wonderfully wrought in silken flosses or sewing silks, and on the other,
some pretty sentiment or legend done in dark brown floss in the most
perfect of "round-hand"; so perfect, in fact, that it would require the
closest scrutiny to decide that it was not handwritten script.

These plentiful orders for things were induced by the several
attractions of the situation, the remoteness from warlike and political
disturbances, and the relationship of so many young girl lives, as well
as the interest which attached to the school and community, making a
constant demand in the shape of small articles of use or luxury,
decorated by the skillful fingers of the Sisters.

Parallel with this fine practice of flower embroidery, was a period of
far more important needlework, which we may call Picture Embroidery.
This also owed its introduction to the Moravian School of Bethlehem,
although it was probably of early English origin, going back to that
period when English embroidery was the wonder of the world; and the
_opus plumarium_, or feather-pen stitch, or tent stitch, or Kensington
stitch, as it has been known in succeeding ages, first attracted
attention as a medium of art.

Passing from England to Germany it became purely ecclesiastical, and
even now one occasionally finds in Germany, and less often in England,
bits of ecclesiastical embroidery of unimaginable fineness,
commemorating Christ's miracles and other incidents of Bible history. I
know of one small specimen of ancient English art, covering a space of
five by seven inches, where the whole Garden of Eden with its weighty
tragedy is represented by inch-long figures of Adam and Eve, and a
man-headed snake, discussing amicably the advantages of eating or not
eating the forbidden fruit.

Such elaboration in miniature embroidery made good the claim of English
needlework to its first place in the world, since nothing more wonderful
had or has been produced in the whole long history of needlework art. It
was undoubtedly from this school, filtered through generations of
secular practice, that the Moravian picture embroidery came to be a
general American inheritance.

To adapt this wonderful method to the uses of social life was an
admirable achievement, and whether by the sisters of the Moravian
school, or the growth of pre-American influence and time, we do not
certainly know, the fact remains, however, that it was here so cunningly
adapted to the circumstances and spirit of colonial and early American
days as to seem to belong entirely to them, and it would seem quite
clear that Bethlehem was the source of the most skillful needlework art
in America. It was there that the fine ladies of the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries, who sat at the embroidery frame in the
intervals when they were not "sitting at the harp," acquired their

It was the romantic period of embroidery that makes a very telling
contrast to the earlier crewel and later muslin embroidery of the New
England states. The pieces were seldom larger than eighteen or twenty
inches square, the size probably governed by the width of the superb
satin which was so often used as a background. Not invariably, however,
for I have seen one or two pieces worked upon gray linen where the
surface was entirely covered by stitchery, landscape, trees, and sky
showing an unbroken surface of satiny texture. Pictures from Bible
subjects are frequent, and these have the air of having been copied from
prints; in fact, I have seen some where the print appears underneath the
stitches, showing that it was used as a design. These Scripture pieces
seem to have employed a lower degree of talent than those having
original design, and were probably the somewhat perfunctory work of
young girls whose interests were elsewhere. One picture which I have
seen was treasured as a record of a very romantic elopement--the lover
in the case, riding gayly away with his beloved sitting on a pillion
behind him, and no witnesses to the deed but a small sister, standing at
the gate of the homestead with outstretched hands and staring eyes.

[Illustration: _Left_--"THE MEETING OF ISAAC AND REBECCA"--Moravian
embroidered picture, an heirloom in the Reichel family of Bethlehem, Pa.
Worked by Sarah Kummer about 1790.

_Courtesy of Elizabeth Lehman Myers_

_Right_--"SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME UNTO ME"--Cross-stitch picture
made about 1825, now in the possession of the Beckel family, Bethlehem,

_Courtesy of Elizabeth Lehman Myers_]

The most important picture which I have seen in portrait needlework came
to light at the Baltimore Exhibition, and was a piazza group of five
figures, a burly sea-captain seated in a rocking chair in a nautical
dress and his own grayish hair embroidered above his ruddy face, his
wife in a white satin gown seated beside him, and his three daughters of
appropriately different ages grouped around, while the ship _Constance_
was tied closely to the edge of the blue water which bordered the
foreground of the picture. The composition of this picture was evidently
the work of some experienced artist, for its incongruous elements kept
their places and did not greatly clash. Taken as a whole it was an
astonishing performance, quite too ambitious in its grasp for the novel
art of needlework, and yet a thing to delight the hearts of the
descendants, or even casual possessors.

The Moravian teaching and practice spread the principles of needlework
art so widely that it developed in many different directions. The
wonderful silk embroidery applied to flowers was, like the arts of
drawing and painting, capable of being used in copying all forms of
beauty. It was sometimes, not always, successfully applied to landscape
representation, and grew at last into a scheme of needlework
portraiture, in this form perpetuating family history. It was sometimes
used in conjunction with painting, the faces of a family group being
done in water color upon cardboard by professional painters who were
members of the art guild, who wandered from one social circle to
another, supplying the wants of embroideresses ambitious of distinction
in their accomplishments. The small painted faces were cut from the
cardboard upon which they had been painted and worked around, often with
the actual hair of the original of the portrait. I have seen one picture
of a Southern beauty, where the golden hair had been wound into tiny
curls, and sewn into place, and the lace of the neckwear was so
cleverly simulated as to look almost detachable. Of course such pictures
were the result of individual experiment on the part of some very able
and ambitious needlewoman.

[Illustration: ABRAHAM AND ISAAC. Kensington embroidery by Mary Winifred
Hoskins of Edenton, N. C., while attending an English finishing school
in Baltimore in 1814.

_Courtesy of Mrs. R. B. Mitchell, Madison, N. J._]

One can imagine that the effect of them in social life was to add
greatly to the vogue of the art of needlework. The most numerous of
these relics were called "mourning pieces"--bits of memorial
embroidery--the subject of the picture being generally a monument
surmounted by an urn, overhung with the sweeping branches of a willow,
while standing beside the monument is a weeping female figure, the face
discreetly hidden in a pocket handkerchief. The inscriptions, "Sacred to
the memory," etc., were written or printed upon the satin in India ink,
and often the letters of the name were worked with the hair of the
subject of the memorial.

In these pieces it is rather noticeable that the mourning figure is
always draped in white, which leads to the conclusion that it is a
purely emblematic figure of an emotion, rather than a real mourner. The
shading of the monument was generally done in India ink, so that the
actual embroidery was confined to the trunk and long branches of
weeping willow, and the dress of the figure, and the ground upon which
willow and monument and figure stand. The faces being always hidden by
the handkerchief, and a tinted satin serving for the sky, the execution
of these memorial pictures was comparatively simple. They certainly bear
an undue proportion to those happy family portraits where mother and
children, or husband and wife, sit in love and simplicity before the
pillared magnificence of the family mansion.

[Illustration: _Left_--FIRE SCREEN embroidered in cross-stitch worsted.
_From the McMullan family of Salem._

_Courtesy Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._

_Right_--FIRE SCREEN, design, "The Scottish Chieftain," embroidered in
cross-stitch by Mrs. Mary H. Cleveland Allen.

_Courtesy Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._]

[Illustration: FIRE SCREEN worked about 1850 by Miss C. A. Granger, of
Canandaigua, N. Y.]

Perhaps the greater simplicity and ease of execution of the mourning
pieces had something to do with their greater number. They may have been
the first spelling of the difficult art of pictorial embroidery. The
best of these picture embroideries were certainly wonderful creations as
far as the use of the needle was concerned, and I fancy were done in the
large leisure of some colonial home where early distinction in the art
of needlework must have gone hand in hand with the skill of the
traveling portrait painter. These dainty productions, with their
delicately painted faces and hands, are far more often found than those
with embroidered flesh. In some of these, faces painted with real
miniature skill upon bits of parchment have been inserted or
superimposed upon the satin, the edges, as I have said, carefully
covered by embroidery, done with single hair threaded into the needle
instead of silk. In one case which I remember, the yellow hair of a
child was knotted into a bunch of solid looking curls covering the head
of a small figure, while the face of the mother was surmounted by bands
of a reddish brown. This little touch of realism gave a curious note of
pathos to the picture of a life separated from the present by time and
outgrown habits, but linked to it by this one tangible proof of actual

The drawing or plan of these pictures was evidently done directly upon
the satin ground, as one often finds the outlines showing at the edge of
the stitches; but in the few specimens I have found where they were
worked upon linen it had been covered with a tracing on strong thin
paper, and the entire design worked through and over both paper and
canvas. Those which were done upon linen seemed to belong to an earlier
period than those worked on satin, which was perhaps an American
adaptation of the earlier method. Certainly the soft thick India satin,
which was the ground of so many of them, made a delightful surface for
embroidery, and blended with its colors into a silvery mass where work
and background were equally effective. Two of these have survived the
century or more of careful seclusion which followed the proud éclat of
their production. One of the fortunate heirs to many of these exhibited
treasures told me of a package or book containing heads in water color,
evidently to be used as copies for the faces which might be found
necessary for efforts in embroidery. The painting of these was perhaps a
part of the education or accomplishment considered necessary to girls of
prominent and successful families of the day.

Under favorable circumstances, such as a convenient relation between
artist and needlework, this art would have developed into needlework
tapestry. The groups would have outgrown their frames, and left their
picture spaces on the walls, and, stretching into life-size figures,
have become hangings of silken broidery, such as we find in Spain and
Italy, from the hands of nuns or noble ladies.

[Illustration: EMBROIDERED PICTURE in silks, with a painted sky.

_Courtesy of Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._]

[Illustration: CORNELIA AND THE GRACCHI. Embroidered picture in silks,
with velvet inlaid, worked by Mrs. Lydia Very of Salem at the age of
sixteen while at Mrs. Peabody's school.

_Courtesy of Essex Institute, Salem, Mass._]

The influence of the Bethlehem teaching lasted long enough to build up a
very fine and critical standard of embroidery in America. It would be
difficult to overestimate the importance of the influence of this school
of embroidery upon the needlework practice of a growing country. Its
qualities of sincerity, earnestness, and respect for the art of
needlework gave importance to the work of hands other than that of
necessary labor, and these qualities influenced all the various forms of
work which followed it. The first divergence from the original work was
in its application, rather than its method, for instead of having a
strictly decorative purpose its application became almost exclusively
personal. Flower embroidery of surpassing excellence was its general
feature. The materials for the development of this form of art were
usually satin, or the flexible undressed India silk which lent itself so
perfectly to ornamentation. Breadths of cream-white satin, of a
thickness and softness almost unknown in the present day, were stretched
in Chippendale embroidery frames, and loops and garlands of flowers of
every shape and hue were embroidered upon them. They were often done for
skirts and sleeves of gowns of ceremony, giving a distinction even
beyond the flowered brocades so much coveted by colonial belles.

This beautiful flower embroidery was, like its predecessor, the rare
picture embroidery, too exacting in its character to be universal. It
needed money without stint for its materials, and luxurious surroundings
for its practice. Some of the beautiful old gowns wrought in that day
are still to be seen in colonial exhibitions, and are even occasionally
worn by great-great-granddaughters at important mimic colonial

Floss embroidery upon silk and satin was not entirely confined to
apparel, for we find an occasional piece as the front panel of one of
the large, carved fire screens, which at that date were universally used
in drawing-rooms as a shelter from the glare and heat of the great open
fires which were the only method of heating. As the back of the screen
was turned to the fire and the embroidered face to the room, its
decoration was shown to admirable advantage, and one can hardly account
for the rarity of the specimens of these antique screens, except upon
the supposition that the roses, carnations, and forget-me-nots were
still more effective when wrought upon the scant skirt of a colonial
gown, instead of being shrouded in their careful coverings in the
deserted drawing-room, and my lady of the embroidery might more
effectively exhibit them in the lights of a ballroom. In recording the
changes in the style and purposes of embroidery, from the days of
homespun and home-dyed crewel to the almost living flowers wrought with
lustrous flosses upon breadths of satin which were the best of the
world's manufacture, one unconsciously traverses the ground of domestic
and political history, from the days of the Pilgrims to the pomp of
colonial courts.

French Embroidery

The character and purposes of the art varied with every political and
national change. In the middle of the eighteenth century, a demand had
gone out from the new and growing America, and wandering over the seas
had asked for something fine and airy with which to occupy delicate
hands, unoccupied with household toil. The carefully acquired skill of
the earlier periods of our history became in succeeding generations
almost an inheritance of facility, and easily merged into the elaborate
stitchery called French embroidery. I can find no trace of its having
been _taught_, but plenty of proofs of its existence are to be seen on
the needlework pictures under glass still hanging in many an
old-fashioned parlor, or relegated to the curiosity corner of modern
drawing-rooms. It is possible that the close intimacy existing between
France and England at that period may have influenced this art. Many
French families of high degree were seeking safety or profit in this
country, and the convent-bred ladies of such families would naturally
have shared their acquirements with those whose favor and interest were
important to them as strangers. There was another form of this French
embroidery, the materials used being cambrics, linens, and muslins of
all kinds, the most precious of which were the linen-cambrics and India
mulls. The use of the former still survives in the finest of French
embroidered pocket handkerchiefs, but the latter is seldom seen except
in the veils and vests of Oriental women, or in the studio draperies of
all countries.

[Illustration: CAPE of white lawn embroidered. Nineteenth century

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York_]

[Illustration: COLLARS of white muslin embroidered. Nineteenth century

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York_]

The threads used were flosses of linen or cotton, preferably the
latter, which were almost entirely imported. With these restricted
materials, wonders of ornamentation were performed. The stitch, quite
different from that of crewelwork or picture embroidery of the preceding
period, was the simple over and over stitch we find in French embroidery
of the present day. The leaves of the design or pattern were frequently
brought into relief by a stuffing of under threads.

Everything was embroidered; gowns, from the belt to lower hem, finished
with scalloped and sprigged ruffles in the same delicate workmanship,
were everyday summer wear. Slips and sacques, which were not quite as
much of an undertaking as an entire gown, were bordered and ruffled with
the same embroidery. The amount and beauty of specimens which still
exist after the lapse of nearly a century is quite wonderful. Small
articles, like collars, capes and pelerines, were almost entirely
covered with the most exquisite tracery of leaf and flower, a perfect
frostwork of delicate stitchery, with patches of lacework introduced in
spaces of the design.

The designs were seldom, almost never, original, being nearly always
copied directly from what was called "boughten work," to distinguish it
from that which was produced at home.

Many beautiful and skillful stitches were used in this form of work.
Lace stitches, made with bodkins or "piercers," or darning needles of
sufficient size to make perforations, were skillfully rimmed and joined
together in patterns by finer stitches, and open borders, and
hemstitching, and dainty inventions of all kinds, for the embellishment
of the fabrics upon which they were wrought.

With these materials and these methods most of the women of the
different sections of the country busied themselves from a period
beginning probably about 1710 and extending to 1840, and it is safe to
say, notwithstanding the apparent simplicity of life between those
dates, that at no period in the history of woman was as much time and
consummate skill bestowed upon wearing apparel. Many a young girl of the
day embroidered her own wedding dress, and during the months or years of
its preparation suffered and enjoyed the same ambition which goes on in
the present, to the acquirement of some wonder of French composition, or
costly ornament of point lace and pearls.

[Illustration: _Left_--BABY'S CAP White mull, with eyelet embroidery.
Nineteenth century American.

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_

_Right_--BABY'S CAP Embroidered mull. 1825.

_Courtesy Mrs. Isaac Pierson, Canandaigua, N. Y._]

[Illustration: COLLAR of white embroidered muslin. Nineteenth century

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_]

Everything was embroidered. The tender, downy head of the newly born
baby was covered with a cap of delicatest material incrusted to hardness
with needlework. The baby's caps of the period are a perfect chapter of
human emotions; mother-love, emulation, pride, and declaration of family
or personal position are skillfully expressed in a multiplicity of
decorative stitches. A six-foot length of baptismal robe carried for
half its length the same elaborate stitchery. Long delicate ruffles were
edged with double rows of scallops. Double and triple collars and
"pelerines" of muslin were to be found in the hands of all women of high
or low degree. Articles of wearing apparel were done upon a soft fine
muslin called mull, breadths of which were embroidered for skirts,
lengths of it were scalloped and embroidered for flounces, and
hand-lengths of it were done for the short waists and sleeves of the
pretty Colonial gowns worn by our delicate ancestresses. One of these
gowns, stretched to its widest, would hardly cover a front breadth of
the habit of one of our well-nurtured athletic girls of the present, and
the athletic girl can show no such handiwork as this.

Beautiful embroidery it was that was lavished upon muslin gowns, baby's
caps and long, long robes, and upon aprons, pelerines and capes. Over
stitch instead of tent stitch was the order of the day. "Tent stitch and
the use of the globes" was no longer advertised as a part of school
routine. Instead of this, there were the most delicate overstitches and
multitudinous lace-stitches which we nowhere else find, unless in the
finest of Asian embroidery.

A large part of the eighteenth and the first quarter of the nineteenth
century was a period of remarkable skill in all kinds of stitchery. It
was not confined to embroidery, but was also applied to all varieties of
domestic needlework. Hemstitched ruffles were a part of masculine as
well as feminine wear, and finely stitched and ruffled shirts for the
head of the household were quite as necessary to the family dignity as
embroidered gowns and caps for its feminine members.

It would be difficult to enumerate all the uses to which the national
perfection of needle dexterity was put. It was, indeed, a national
dexterity, for although its application was widely different in the
eastern and southern states, the two schools of needlework, as we may
term them, met and mingled to a common practice of both methods in the
middle states.

Westervelt collection.

_Courtesy of Bergen County Historical Society, Hackensack, N. J._]

[Illustration: EMBROIDERED WAIST OF A BABY DRESS. 1850. From the
collection of Mrs. George Coe.

_Courtesy of Bergen County Historical Society, Hackensack, N. J._]

Perhaps one may account for the prevalence of this kind of work, as it
existed at a period of very limited education or literary pursuits among
women. Domestic life was woman's kingdom, and needlework was one of its
chief conditions. But whatever cause or causes stimulated the vogue of
this variety of embroidery, we find it was universal among rich and
poor, in city and country, for nearly three-quarters of a century. The
narrow roll of muslin, for scalloped flounces and ruffling, and the
skeins of French cotton went everywhere with girls and women, except to
church and to ceremonious functions where men were included. Needlework
was far more than an interest, it was an occupation.

The varieties of tambour work and open stitchery of various ornamental
kinds were possible for all capacities. It was a general form of fine
needlework, happily available to women of the farmhouse, as well as of
the mansion, and its exceeding precision and beauty gave a character to
the purely utilitarian stitchery of the day which has made a high
standard for succeeding generations. The hemstitched ruffles of shirts,
the stitched plaits of simpler ones, the buttonholed triangles at the
intersection of seams--all these practically unknown to modern
construction--were probably the result of the skillful and careful
needlework ornamentation of simple fabrics.

As an occupation, French embroidery practically displaced the making of
cabinet pictures of graceful ladies in scant satin gowns which had
occupied the embroidery frame, or decorated drawing-room walls. Flowers
ceased to blossom upon pincushions, and the engrossing and prevalent
occupation of needlework was entirely devoted to personal wear.

[Illustration: EMBROIDERY ON NET. Border for the front of a cap made
about 1820.

_Courtesy of Mrs. A. S. Hewitt_]

[Illustration: VEIL (unfinished) hand run on machine-made net. American
nineteenth century.

_Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York_]

At this period, however, ships were coming into Boston and other eastern
ports almost daily or weekly, instead of at intervals of weary months.
Ships were going to and returning from China and the Indies and the
islands of the sea, laden on their return voyages not only with spices
and liquors and sweets of the southern world, but with satins and
velvets and silks and prints, and delicately printed muslins and
cambrics; and the fair linen and cotton flosses disappeared from the
hands of needlewomen. Manufacturers had brought their looms to weave
designs into the fabrics they produced and to simulate the work of the
needle in a way which made one feel that the very spindles thought and
wrought with conscious love of beauty.

The larger demands of luxurious living increased also the necessary work
of the needle, and while the looms of France and Switzerland were busy
weaving broidered stuffs, the needles of sewing women were kept at work
fashioning the necessary garments of the millions of playing and working
human beings. It was the era which gave birth to the "Song of the
Shirt," a day of personal and exacting practice.


The disappearance of the practice of French embroidery was as sudden as
the dropping of a theater curtain, but a coexistent art called Spanish
lacework lingered long after muslin embroidery had ceased to be. It was
chiefly used in the elaboration of shawls, and large lace veils, which
were a very graceful addition to Colonial and early American costume.
There is no difficulty in tracing this kind of decorative needlework. It
came from Mexico into New Orleans, and from there, by various secrets of
locomotion, spread along the southern states.

The veils were yard squares of delicate white or black lace, heavily
bordered and lightly spotted with flowers, while the shawls were
sometimes nearly double that size, and of much heavier lace, as they had
need to be, to carry the wealth of decorative darning lavished upon

The design was always a foliated one, generally proceeding from a common
center, representing a basket or a knot of ribbon, which confined the
branching forms to the point of departure. The edges were heavily
scalloped, with an extension of the ornamentation which included a rose
or leaf for the filling of every scallop. The centers of flowers, and
even of leaves, were often filled with beautiful variations of lace
stitches worked into the meshes of the ground, and were very curious and

[Illustration: LACE WEDDING VEIL, 36 × 40 inches, used in 1806. From the
collection of Mrs. Charles H. Lozier.

_Courtesy of Bergen County Historical Society, Hackensack, N. J._]

[Illustration: HOMESPUN LINEN NEEDLEWORK called "Benewacka" by the
Dutch. The threads were drawn and then whipped into a net on which the
design was darned with linen. Made about 1800 and used in the end of
linen pillow cases.

_Courtesy of Bergen County Historical Society, Hackensack, N. J._]

Darning with flosses upon both white and black bobbinet, or silk net,
was a very common form of the art, and veils of white with seed or
all-over designs darned in white silk floss, may be called the "personal
needlework" of the period, and some of the shawls were superb stretches
of design and stitching. This art, although so beautiful in effect,
demanded very little of the skill necessary to the preceding methods of
embroidery. The lace was simply stretched or basted over paper or white
cloth, upon which the design was heavily traced in ink; the spaces which
were to be solidly filled were sometimes covered with a shading of red
chalk, and when this was done, it was a matter of simple running over
and under the meshes of the net, in directions indicated by the shape of
the leaf or flower. The work could be heavier or lighter, according to
the design and size or weight of the flosses used. I have seen a wedding
veil worked upon a beautiful white silk net, carrying a sprinkling of
orange flowers, darned with white silk flosses, and a heavy wreath
around the border. Certainly no veil of priceless point lace could be so
etherially beautiful as was this relic of the past, and certainly no
commercial product, however costly, could carry in its transparent folds
the sentiment of such a bridal veil, wrought in love by the bride who
was to wear it.

I have seen one beautiful shawl, where the entire design was done in
shining silver-white flosses, upon a ground of black net, with the
effect of a disappearance of the background, the wreaths and groups of
flowers seeming to float around the figure of the wearer.

In one or two instances, also, I have seen shawls in varicolored flosses
producing a silvery mass of ornamentation which was most effective, but
they were experiments which evidently did not commend themselves to
North American taste.

The same method of darning was used upon what was then called, "bobbinet
footing," narrow lengths of bobbinet lace which were extensively used as
ruffles for caps and trimming and garniture of capes and various
articles of personal wear.

Cap bodies were also worked in this method; in fact, the decorative
treatment of caps must have been a trying question. The dignity of the
married woman depended somewhat upon the size of the cap she wore, and
it was as necessary to convention that the crow-black locks of the
matron of twenty-five should be hidden, as that the scant locks of sixty
should be decently shrouded.

Insertings of darned footing, alternating with bands of muslin, were
largely used in the construction of gowns, and, in short, this style of
needlework, while not as universal or absorbing as French embroidery,
continued longer in vogue and perhaps amused or solaced some who had
little skill or time for the more exacting methods of embroidery.


It surprises us in these latter days of demand for the best conditions
in the prosecution of decorative work, that it should have lived at all
through the days of existence in one-roomed log cabins of early settlers
and the conflicting demands of pioneer life. It survived them all, and
the little, fast-arriving Puritan children were taught their stitches as
religiously as their commandments; and so American embroidery grew to be
an art which has enriched the past and future of its executants.

After the two periods of French and Spanish needlework passed by, there
appeared what was known as Berlin woolwork. Those who in earlier times
were devoted to fine embroidery solaced their idleness with this new
work--certainly a poor substitute for the beautiful embroidery of the
preceding generation, but answering the purpose of traditional
employment for the leisure class. This came into vogue and was rather
extensively used for coverings of screens, chairs, sofas, footstools and
the various specimens of household furniture made by workmen who had
served with Adam, Chippendale and Sheraton, and who had brought books of
patterns with them to the prosperous, growing market of the New World.
Berlin woolwork was a method of cross-stitch upon canvas in colored
wools or silks--in fact, an extension of sampler methods into pictures
and screens, or the more utilitarian chair and sofa covers. It was
sometimes varied by using broadcloth or velvet as a foundation, the
canvas threads being drawn out after the picture was complete. We
occasionally find entire sets of beautiful old mahogany chairs, with
cushions of cross-stitch embroidery, the subjects ranging over
everything in the animal or vegetable world, so that one might sit in
turn upon horses, bead-eyed and curled lap dogs, or wreaths of lilies
and roses.

Occasionally, also, a glassed and framed picture of elaborate design and
beautiful workmanship is seen, but as a rule it must be confessed that
in America this method of embroidery, as an art, failed to achieve
dignity. This was not in the least owing to the actual technique of the
process, since beautiful tapestries have been accomplished, taking
canvas as a medium and foundation for a dexterous use of design and

The square blocks of the canvas stitch are no more objectionable in an
art process than the block of enamel of which priceless mosaics are
made, but one can easily see that if every design for mosaic work could
be indefinitely reproduced and sold by the thousands, with numbered and
colored blocks of glass, something--we hardly know what--would be lost
in even the most exact reproductions.

Original design, however simple, is the expression of a thought, and
passes directly from the mind of the originator to the material upon
which it is expressed; but when the design becomes an article of
commercial supply it loses in interest, and if the process of production
is simple, requiring little thought and skill, the work also fails to
call out in us the reverence we willingly accord to skillful and
painstaking embroidery.

[Illustration: BED HANGING of polychrome cross-stitch appliquéd on blue
woolen ground.

_Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum_]

[Illustration: NEEDLEPOINT SCREEN made in fine and coarse point. Single

_Courtesy of the Edgewater Tapestry Looms_]

Yet we must acknowledge there are many examples of Berlin woolwork which
possess the merits of beautiful color and exact and even workmanship.
Some of them are done upon the finest of canvas with silks of exquisite
shadings, and where figures are represented the faces are worked with
silk in "single stitch," which means one crossing of the canvas instead
of two, as in ordinary cross-stitch. The latter was of course better
suited for furniture coverings, both in strength and quality of surface,
while the method of single stitch succeeded in presenting a smooth and
well-shaded surface, sufficiently like a painted one to stand for a
picture. Indeed, veritable pictures were produced in this method and
were effective and interesting. In these specimens the faces and hands,
while worked in the same cross-stitch, were varied by being done on a
single crossing of the canvas with one stitch, while the costumes and
accessories of the picture were done over the larger square of two
threads of the canvas, with the double crossing of the stitch.

The faces were, in some cases, still further differentiated by being
wrought in silk instead of wool threads.

The embroidered chair and sofa covers had quite the effect of
tapestries, and were far better than a not uncommon variation of the
same needlework, where the broadcloth or velvet background held the

The designs were copied from patterns printed in color upon cross-ruled
paper, and consisted of bunches of flowers of various sorts, or pictures
of dogs, and horses, and birds. A white lap dog worked upon a dark
background was the favorite design for a footstool, and this small
object tapered out the existence of decorative cross-stitch, until it
grew to be in use only as a decoration for toilet slippers. The final
end of this style of work was long deferred on account of the fact that
a pair of cloth slippers, embroidered by the hands of some affectionate
girl or doting woman, was a token which was not too unusual to carry
inconvenient significance. It might mean much or little, much tenderness
or affection, or a work of idleness tinctured with sentiment.

[Illustration: _Left_--HAND-WOVEN TAPESTRY of fine and coarse

_Courtesy of the Edgewater Tapestry Looms_

_Right_--TAPESTRY woven on a hand loom. The design worked in fine point
and the background coarse point. A new effect in hand weave originated
at the Edgewater Tapestry Looms.

_Courtesy of the Edgewater Tapestry Looms_]

The mechanical and commercial effect of this stitchery discouraged its
use; its printed patterns and the regularity of its counted stitches
giving neither provocation nor scope to originality of thought or
design. This was not the fault of the stitch itself, since
"cross-stitch" was the first form of needle decoration. It is, in fact,
the A B C of all decorative stitchery, the method evolved by all
primitive races except the American Indian. It followed, more or less
closely, the development of the art of weaving. When this had passed
from the weaving together of osiers into mats or baskets, and had
reached the stage of the weaving of hair and vegetable fiber into cloth,
the decoration of such cloth with independent colored fiber was the next
step in the creation of values, and, naturally, the form of decorative
stitches followed the lines of weaving. Simple as was its evolution, and
its preliminary use, cross-stitch has a past which entitles it to
reverence. With many races it has remained a habitual form of
expression, and, as in Moorish and Algerian work, is carried to a
refinement of beauty which would seem beyond so simple a method. It has
given form to a lasting style of design, to geometrical borders, which
have survived races and periods of history, and still remain an
underlying part of the world of decorative linens.

It is interesting to note that it had no place in aboriginal embroidery,
and marks its creation as following the art of weaving. It is a long
step from this traditional past of its origin to the short past of the
stitchery of America, where the little fingers of small Puritan maids
followed the lines evolved by the generations of the earlier world.


When French needlework had had its day, and the evanescent life of
Berlin woolwork had passed, for a period of half a century needlework
ceased to flourish in America. Indeed, the art seemed to have died out
root and branch, and only necessary and utilitarian needlework was
practiced. It seems strange, after all the wonderful triumphs of the
needle in earlier years, that for the succeeding half or three-quarters
of a century needlework as an art should actually have ceased to be. It
had died, branch and stem and root, vanished as if it had never been.
During at least half a century we were a people without decorative
needlework art in any form. The eyes and thoughts of women were turned
in other directions.

Of course there is always a reason for a change in public taste,
something in the development of the time leads and governs every trend
of popular thought. It may be the attraction of new inventions, or the
perfection of new processes, or even, and this is not uncommon, the
charm and fascination of some rare personality, whose ruling is absolute
in its own immediate vicinity, and whose example spreads like circles in
water far and far beyond the immediate personal influence. We cannot
trace this apparent dearth of the art to one particular cause, we only
know that in America the practice and study of music succeeded to its
place in almost every household. The needle, that honored implement of
woman, bade fair to be a thing almost of tradition, something which
would be in time relegated to museums and collections, to be studied
historically, as we study the implements of the Stone Age, and other
prehistoric periods.

I remember an amusing story told by a Baltimore friend, not given to the
manufacture of instances, that during those years of dearth soon after
the Civil War she was visiting a lovely southern family who had lived
through the days of privation. One day there arose a great cry and
disturbance in the house, which turned out to be a quest for _the_
needle, where was _the_ needle. Nobody could find it, although it could
be proved that at a certain date it had been quilted into its accustomed
place on the edge of the drawing-room curtain of the east window.
Finally it was found on the wrong curtain, minus the point, and this
disability gave rise to a discussion. Should it be taken to town, and
have the point renewed by the watchmaker? This decision was discouraged
by the daughter of the house, who related that the last time she had
taken it for the same purpose, the watchmaker had said to her, "Miss
Cassy, I have put a point on that needle three times, and I would
seriously advise you to buy a new one."

It was only in America that the needle had ceased to be an active
implement. In England it had never been so constantly or feverishly
employed. For the second time in its long history, its work became
purely personal. The same necessity which impressed itself upon the poor
little mother of mankind, when she sought among the fig leaves for
wherewithal to clothe herself, was upon the domestic woman, who sewed
cloth into skirts instead of vegetable fiber into aprons.

[Illustration: _Left_--EMBROIDERED MITS

_Right_--WHITE COTTON VEST embroidered in colors. Eighteenth-nineteenth
century American.

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_]

[Illustration: WHITE MULL embroidered in colors. Eighteenth-nineteenth
century American.

_Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art_]

[Illustration: EMBROIDERED VALANCE, part of set and spread for high-post
bedstead, 1788. Worked in crewels on India cotton, by Mrs. Gideon
Granger, Canandaigua, New York.]

It is curious to contrast the effect of this loss of embroidery in
the two countries, England and America. Doubtless there were other
reasons than the lost popularity of needlework as an art, that in
England it should have resulted in the life or death practice of
necessary needlework, and in America, that the facile fingers of woman
simply turned to the ivory keys of the piano for occupation. But the
fact remains that starvation threatened the woman of one country, while
in the other they were practicing scales. In England it was a period of
stress and strain, of veritable "work for a living," the period of "The
Song of the Shirt." Happily, in this blessed land, where hunger was
unknown, we were not conscious of its terrors, and perhaps hardly knew
why the "cambric needle" and the darning needle were the only ones in
the market. Embroidery needles had "gone out." Then came the relief of
the sewing machine, born in America, where it was scarcely needed, but
speedily flying across the ocean to its life-saving work in England,
where the tragedy of the poor seamstress was on the stage of life. Like
many another form of relief, it was not entirely adequate to the
situation. Its first effect was to create a need of remunerative work.
The sewing machine took upon itself the toil of the seamstress, but it
left the seamstress idle and hungry. This was a new and even darker
situation than the last, but Englishwomen came to the rescue with a
resuscitated form of needlework and embroidery tiptoed upon the empty
stage, new garments covering her ancient form, and was welcomed with
universal acclaim.

Most cultivated and fortunate Englishwomen had a certain knowledge of
art and were eager to put all of their uncoined effort at the service of
that body of unhappy women, who, without money, had the culture which
goes with the use and possession of money. These unfortunate sisters,
who were rather malodorously called decayed gentlewomen, became eager
and petted pupils of a new and popular organization called the South
Kensington School. Its peculiar claims upon English society gave it from
the first the help of the most advanced and intelligent artistic
assistance. The result of this was not only a resuscitation of old
methods of embroidery, but the great gain to the school, or society, of
design and criticism of such men as Burne-Jones, Walter Crane, and
William Morris.

It was with this vogue that it appeared in America, and attracted the
attention of those who were afterward to be interested in the formation
of a society which was founded for almost identical purposes. Not indeed
to prevent starvation of body, but to comfort the souls of women who
pined for independence, who did not care to indulge in luxuries which
fathers and brothers and husbands found it hard to supply. So, from what
was perhaps a social and mental, rather than a physical, want, grew the
great remedy of a resuscitation of one of the valuable arts of the
world, a woman's art, hers by right of inheritance as well as peculiar

With true business enterprise, the new English Society prepared an
important exhibit for our memorial fair, the Centennial, held in
Philadelphia to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of national
independence. This exhibit of Kensington Embroidery all unwittingly
sowed the seed not only of great results, but in decorative art worked
in many other directions. The exhibits of art needlework from the New
Kensington School of Art in London, their beauty, novelty and easy
adaptiveness, exactly fitted it to experiment by all the dreaming
forces of the American woman. They were good needlewomen by inheritance
and sensitive to art influences by nature, and the initiative capacity
which belongs to power and feeling enabled them at once to seize upon
this mode of expression and make it their own. It was the means of
inaugurating another era of true decorative needlework, perfectly
adapted to the capacity of all women, and destined to be developed on
lines peculiarly national in character. The effect of this exhibit was
not exactly what was expected in the sale of its works, and long
afterward, when discussing this apparent failure, in the face of an
immediate adoption in America of the Society's methods and productions,
I explained it to myself and an English friend, by the national
difference in the race feeling for art, and especially for color.

[Illustration: DETAIL of linen coverlet worked in colored wool.

_Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum_]

[Illustration: LINEN COVERLET embroidered in Kensington stitch with
colored wool.

_Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum_]

It seems to me, after the observation and intimacy of years with the
growing art of decoration in this country, that the color gift is a race
gift with us. English art-work is nearly always characterized by subdued
and modified harmony, while that of America has vivid and striking notes
which play upon a higher key, and still melt as softly into each
other as the perfect modulations of the best English art. I was very
conscious of this during the year of my directorship of the Woman's
Building and exhibits in the World's Columbian Fair at Chicago, that
place of wonderful comparisons of the art-work of the world. I could
nearly always recognize work of American origin by its singing
color-quality, as different from the sharp semibarbaric notes of
Oriental art as from the minor cadences of English decorative work. But
to return to the effect of the English exhibit at the Philadelphia
Centennial: it was followed by the immediate formation of the Society of
Decorative Art in New York City, which became the parent of like
societies in every considerable city or town in the United States. By
its good fortune in having a president who belonged by right of birth,
and certainly of ability and achievement, to the best of New York
society, the movement enlisted the sympathy and interest of the
influential class of New York women, while there was waiting in the
shadow a troop of able women who were shut out from the costly gayeties
of society by comparative poverty, but connected with it by friendships
and associations, often, indeed, by ties of blood.

Embroidery became once more the most facile and successful of pursuits.
Graduates from the Kensington School were employed as teachers in nearly
all of the different societies, and in this way every city became the
center of this new-old form of embroidery, for what is called
"Kensington Embroidery" is in fact a far-away repetition of old triumphs
of the British needle. I use the word "British" advisedly, for it was
when England was known as Britain among the nations that her embroidery
was a thing of almost priceless value. In modern English embroidery, the
days of Queen Anne have been the limit of backward imitation; and, in
fact, ancient English embroidery was a process of long and assiduous
labor, as well as of knowledge and inspiration. Our hurried modern
conditions would not encourage the repetition of the hand-breadth
pictures in embroidery of the earliest specimens, where countless
numbers of stitches were lavished upon a single production. The
embroidered picture of The Garden of Eden described in chapter four is a
specimen of the minute representation. These specimens are, to the art
of needlework, what the Dutch school of painting is to the great mural
canvases of the present day.

The development of the nineteenth century in America was only at first
an exact reflection of English methods. The first thing which marked the
influence of national character and taste was, that English models and
designs almost immediately disappeared, only a few such, consisting of
those which had been given to the art by masters of design like Morris
and Marcus Ward, were retained, and American needlewomen boldly took to
the representation of vivid and graceful groups of natural flowers,
following the lead of Moravian practice and of flower painting, rather
than that of decorative design.

As a natural result, crewels were soon discarded in favor of silks, and
natural extravagance, or national influence, led to the use of costly
materials instead of the linens of English choice and preference. So the
old flower embroidery of Bethlehem had a second birth. American girl
art-students soon found their opportunity in the creation of applied
design, and before embroidery had ceased to be a matter of
representation of flowers in colored silks, the flowers grew into
restrained and appropriate borders, or proper and correct space
decoration, and the day of women designers for manufacturers had come.

The circulars of the first Society of Decorative Art were not only
comprehensive, but were ambitious. Its objects were set forth as

     1. To encourage profitable industries among women who possess
     artistic talent, and to furnish a standard of excellence and a
     market for their work.

     2. To accumulate and distribute information concerning the various
     art industries which have been found remunerative in other
     countries, and to form classes in Art Needlework.

     3. To establish rooms for the exhibition and sale of Sculptures,
     Paintings, Wood Carvings, Paintings upon Slate, Porcelain and
     Pottery, Lacework, Art and Ecclesiastical Needlework, Tapestries
     and Hangings, and, in short, decorative work of any description,
     done by women, and of sufficient excellence to meet the recently
     stimulated demand for such work.

     4. To form Auxiliary Committees in other cities and towns of the
     United States, which committees shall receive and pronounce upon
     work produced in, or in the vicinity of, such places, and which, if
     approved by them, may be consigned to the salesrooms in New York.

     5. To make connections with potteries, by which desirable forms for
     decoration, or original designs for special orders, may be
     procured, and with manufacturers and importers of the various
     materials used in art work, by which artists may profit.

     6. To endeavor to obtain orders from dealers in China, Cabinet
     Work, or articles belonging to Household Art throughout the United

     7. To induce each worker thoroughly to master the details of one
     variety of decoration, and endeavor to make for her work a
     reputation of commercial value.

     The Society meets an actual want in the community by furnishing a
     place where orders can be given directly to the artist for any kind
     of art or decorative work on exhibition.

     It is believed that, by the encouragement of this Society, the
     large amount of work done by those who do not make it a profession
     will be brought to the notice of buyers outside a limited circle of
     friends. The aggregate of this work is large, and when directed
     into remunerative channels will prove a very important department
     of industry.

     The necessary expenses of the Society for the first, and possibly
     the second, year will be defrayed by a membership fee of Five
     Dollars, as well as by donations; but after that time it is
     expected that all expenses will be met by commissions upon the sale
     of articles consigned to it.

     The contributions of all women artists of acknowledged ability are
     earnestly requested. By their co-operation it is intended that a
     high standard of excellence shall be established in what is offered
     to the public, and, by seeing truly artistic decorative work, it is
     hoped many women who have found the painting of pictures
     unremunerative may turn their efforts in more practical directions.

     All work approved by the Committee of Examination will be
     attractively exhibited without expense to the artist, but in case
     of sale a commission of 10 per cent will be charged upon the price

There was good teaching from the first, but very independent judgment,
and it was not long before the more liberal and less chastened American
mind followed national impulses. Why, said the practical American, shall
we spend time and effort in doing things which are not adequate in final
effect to the labor and cost we bestow upon them, and which do not
really accord with costly surroundings, and, in addition to these
detriments, can and probably will be eaten by moths when all is done?
The result of this interrogative reasoning was an immediate resort to
satins and silks and flosses, wherewith larger and more important things
than tidies were created--lambrequins, hangings, bedspreads, screens,
and many other furnishings, all wrought in exquisite flosses, and more
or less beautiful in color.

The institution of this Society of Decorative Art was in every respect a
timely and popular movement. It followed the example of the English
Society in making needlework the chief object of instruction. Our
artists became interested in the matter of design, as the English
artists had been, and under their influence the scope of embroidery was
much enlarged. I remember the first contribution which indicated
original talent was a piece of needlework by Mrs. W. S. Hoyt of Pelham,
which was peculiarly ingenious, making a curious link between the
cross-stitch tapestries of the German school and the woven tapestries of
France. This needlework was done upon a fabric which imitated the corded
texture of tapestries, and was stamped in a design which carried the
color and idea of a tapestry background. Upon this surface Mrs. Hoyt had
drawn a group of figures in mediæval costumes, afterward working them in
single cross-stitch over the ribs produced by the filling threads of the
fabric. The figures and costumes were done in faded tints which
harmonized with the background, the stitches keeping the general effect
of surface in the fabric. It will be seen that the result was extremely
like that of a tapestry of the fifteenth century. This was followed by
an exhibit of various landscape pictures of Mrs. Holmes of Boston, a
daughter-in-law of the poet and writer. Mrs. Holmes had chosen silks and
bits of weavings for her medium, using them as a painter uses colors
upon his palette. A stretch of pale blue silk, with outlined hills lying
against it, made for her a sky and background, while a middle distance
of flossy white stitches, advancing into well-defined daisies, brought
the foreground to one's very feet. Flower-laden apple branches against
the sky were lightly sketched in embroidery stitches, like the daisies.
It was a delicious bit of color and so well managed as to be as
efficient a wall decoration as a water color picture.

In what may be called pictorial art in textiles Mrs. Holmes was not
alone, although her work probably incited to the same sort of
experiment. Miss Weld of Boston sent a picture made up in the same way,
of a background of material which lent itself to the representation of a
field of swampy ground where the spotted leaves of the adder's tongue,
the yellow water-lily, with its compact balls, and the flaming cardinal
flower are growing, while swamp grasses are nodding above. This was as
good in its way as any sketch of them could be, and affected one with
the _sentiment_ of the scene, as it is the mission of art to do. Miss
Weld, Miss Carolina Townshend of Albany, Mrs. William Hoyt of Pelham and
Mrs. Dewey of New York, each contributed very largely to the formation
of characteristic and progressive needlework art in America. There were
other individuals whose work was inciting many, who have also, perhaps
unknown to themselves, helped in this progress. Indeed, I remember many
pieces of embroidery, loaned for the Bartholdi Exhibition of 1883, which
would have done credit to any period of the art, and each piece
undoubtedly had its influence.

The work of schools or societies had been much less marked by original
development. During the ten years of their existence the four largest
societies, those of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, have
been under the direction of English teachers, and have followed more or
less closely the excellencies of the English School. Even in Boston,
where, owing to the decided cultivation of art and the early
introduction of drawing in the public schools, one would have looked
for a rather characteristic development, English designs and English
methods have been somewhat closely followed.

In attempting to account for this fact one must remember that it is
against the nature of associated authority to follow individual or
original suggestions. There must be a broad and well-trodden path for
committees to walk together in, and the track of the Kensington School
is broad and authoritative enough for such following. The example and
incitement of the various societies were the seed of much good and
progressive art in America. In saying this I do not by any means confine
the credit of the growth or development of needlework to this society
alone, for there have been other influences at work. What I mean to say
is this, that the other kindred societies, like the Woman's Exchange,
the Needlework Societies, the Household Art Societies, and the
Blue-and-White Industries started from this one root, and are as much
indebted to the original society as things must always be to the central
thought which inspired them. Compared with English work of the same
period, they were distinguished by a certain spontaneity of motive
and a luxuriance of effect, which has made these specimens more valuable
to present possessors, and will make them far more precious as
heirlooms. This sudden efflorescence of the art was, however, almost in
the hands of amateurs, except for the occasional effort by some of the
advanced contributors of the New York and Boston societies.

[Illustration: QUILTED COVERLET worked entirely by hand.

_Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum_]

[Illustration: DETAIL of above coverlet.

_Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum_]

The commercial development of embroidery in this country has been in the
direction of embroidery upon linen, and in this line each and every
society of decorative art has been a center of valuable teaching. At the
Columbian Exposition, to which all prominent societies contributed, the
perfection of design, color and method, the general level of excellence,
was on the highest possible plane. In its line nothing could be better,
and it was encouraging to see that it was _not_ amateur work, _not_ a
thing to be taken up and laid down according to moods and circumstances,
but an educated profession or occupation for women, the acquirement of a
knowledge which might develop indefinitely.

Of course the trend of the decorative needlework was almost entirely in
the direction of stitchery pure and simple, devoted to table linen and
luxurious household uses, and this grew to a point of absolute
perfection. Table-centers and doilies embroidered in colors on pure
white linen reached a point of beauty which was amazing. When I saw, at
the World's Columbian Exposition, the napery of the world, wrought by
all races of women, I was delighted to see that the line of linen
embroidery which was the direction of the common effort did not in the
least surpass the work sent by the Decorative Art societies of most of
our American cities.


The Society of Decorative Art, has proved itself a means for the
accomplishment of the two ends for which it was founded--namely, the
fostering and incitement of good taste in needlework and artistic
production, and the encouragement of talent in women, as well as
providing a means of remunerative employment for their gifts in this

While the success of this Society was a source of great satisfaction to
me, I had in my mind larger ambitions, which, by its very philanthropic
purposes, could not be satisfied, ambitions toward a truly great
American effort in a lasting direction.

I therefore allied myself with a newly formed group of men, all
well-known in their own lines of art, Louis Tiffany, famed for his
Stained Glass, Mr. Coleman for color decoration and the use of textiles,
and Mr. De Forest for carved and ornamental woodwork. My interests lay
in the direction and execution of embroideries. I can speak
authoritatively as to the effect upon it of the other arts, and I can
hardly imagine better conditions for its development. The kindred arts
of weaving and embroidery were carried on with those of stained glass,
mural painting, illustration, and the other expressions of art peculiar
to the different members. The association of different forms of art
stimulated and developed and was the means of producing very important
examples both in embroidery, needle-woven tapestries and loom weaving.

As I was the woman member of this association of artists, it rested with
me to adapt the feminine art, which was a part of its activities, to the
requirements of the association. This was no small task. It meant the
fitting of any and every textile used in the furnishing of a house to
its use and place, whether it might be curtains, portieres, or wall
coverings. I drew designs which would give my draperies a framing which
carried out the woodwork, and served as backgrounds for the desired
wreaths and garlands of embroidered flowers. I learned many valuable
lessons of adaptation for the beautiful embroideries we produced. The
net holding roses was a triumph of picturesque stitchery, and most
acceptable as placed in the house of the man whose fortunes depended
upon fish, and many another of like character.

[Illustration: THE WINGED MOON

Designed by Dora Wheeler and executed in needle-woven tapestry by The
Associated Artists, 1883.]

Then one day appeared Mrs. Langtry in her then radiance of beauty,
insisting upon a conference with me upon the production of a set of
bed-hangings which were intended for the astonishment of the London
world and to overshadow all the modest and schooled productions of the
Kensington, when she herself should be the proud exhibitor. She looked
at all the beautiful things we had done and were doing, and admired and
approved, but still she wanted "something different, something unusual."
I suggested a canopy of our strong, gauze-like, creamy silk
bolting-cloth, the tissue used in flour mills for sifting the superfine
flour. I explained that the canopy could be crosses on the under side
with loops of full-blown, sunset-colored roses, and the hanging border
heaped with them. That there might be a coverlet of bolting-cloth lined
with the delicatest shade of rose-pink satin, sprinkled plentifully with
rose petals fallen from the wreaths above. This idea satisfied the
pretty lady, who seemed to find great pleasure in the range of our
exhibits, our designs and our workrooms, and when her order was
completed, she was triumphantly satisfied with its beauty and
unusualness. The scattered petals were true portraits done from nature,
and looked as though they could be shaken off at any minute. I came to
see much of this beautiful specimen of womanhood, who played her part in
the eyes of the world; and of things of more lasting importance than her
somewhat ephemeral career, I should be tempted to tell amusing
conclusions. She was an Oriental butterfly, which flitted along our
sober, serious by-path of business and labor, looking for honey of any
sort to be gathered on its sober track.

When Mr. Tiffany came to me with an order for the drop-curtain of a
theater, I did not trouble myself about a scheme for it, knowing that it
had probably taken exact and interesting form in his own mind. It was a
beautiful lesson to me, this largeness of purpose in needlework. The
design for this curtain turned out to be a very realistic view of a
vista in the woods, which gave opportunity for wonderful studies of
color, from clear sun-lit foregrounds to tangles of misty green, melting
into blue perspectives of distance. It was really a daring experiment in
methods of appliqué, for no stitchery pure and simple was in place in
the wide reaches of the picture. So we went on painting a woods interior
in materials of all sorts, from tenuous crêpes to solid velvets and
plushes. It was one of Mrs. Holmes' silk pictures on a large scale, and
was perhaps more than reasonably successful. I remember the great
delight in marking the difference between oak and birch trees and
fitting each with its appropriate effect of color and texture of leaf;
and the building of a tall gray-green yucca, with its thick satin leaves
and tall white pyramidal groups of velvet blossoms, standing in the very
foreground, was as exciting as if it were standing posed for its
portrait, and being painted in oils.

The variety of our work was a good influence for progress. We were
constantly reaching out to fill the various demands, and, beyond them,
to materialize our ideals. As far as art was concerned in our work, what
we tried to do was not to repeat the triumphs of past needlework, but to
see how far the best which had been done was applicable to the present.

If tapestries had been the highest mark of the past, to see whether and
how their use could be fitted to the circumstances of today, and, if we
found a fit place for them in modern decoration, to see that their
production took account of the methods and materials which belonged to
present periods, and adapted the production to modern demands.


_Courtesy of the Edgewater Tapestry Looms_]

We soon came to the ideal of tapestries which loomed above and beyond us
and had been reached by every nation in turn which had applied art to
textiles, but in all except very early work the accomplishment had been
more of the loom than of hand work. My dream was of American Tapestries,
made by embroidery alone, carrying personal thought into method. We
decided that there was no reason for the limitation of the beautiful art
of needlework to personal use, or even to its numerous domestic
purposes. This most intimate of the arts of decoration has been in the
form of wall hangings for the bare wall spaces of architecture from the
time when dwellings passed their first limited use of protection and
defense. After this first use of houses came the instinct and longing
for beauty, and the feeling which prompts us in these wider days of
achievement to cover our wall spaces with pictures, moved our far-off
forefathers and mothers to offer their skill in spinning, and weaving,
and picturing with the needle hangings to cover the bareness of the
home. This impulse grew with the centuries, until tapestries were a
natural art expression of different races of men, so that we have
Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch and English tapestries, each with
national tastes and characteristics of production. As time went on,
inevitable machinery undertook the task of making wall hangings, with
the whole-hearted help of all who had given their lives to art, and
tapestries had become a part of the riches of the world. When the
greater part of the world's wealth was in the possession of Popes and
Princes, it was usual to expend a goodly portion of it in works of art.
Pictures and tapestries and exquisitely wrought metal work, weavings and
embroideries, made priceless by costly materials and the thoughts and
labor of artists, were reckoned not as a sign of wealth but as actual
wealth. They were really riches, as much as stocks and bonds are riches
today. Such things were accumulated as anxiously and persistently as one
accumulates land or houses, or railroad bonds or stocks, and the buyer
was not poorer; but in fact he was richer for money expended in this
fashion. This everyday financial fact lay underneath and supported the
beautiful pageant of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, gilding them
with a radiance which has attracted the admiration and excited the
wonder of all succeeding years.

That flower and culmination of labor which we call art was the capital
of those early centuries, and took the place of the Bank, the Bourse,
and the Exchange which later financial ideas have created.

It is in a great measure to this fact, as well as to the intense love
for, and appreciation of, art which distinguished this period, that we
owe the wonderful treasures which have enriched the later world. They
belong no longer to princes and prelates, but to governments and
museums, and are object lessons to the student and the artisan, and an
inheritance for both rich and poor of all mankind.

Except in the light of these treasures of art, it would be difficult to
understand how far-reaching and comprehensive was the greed of beauty
which possessed and distinguished the centers of tapestry production.
The museums of the world are made up of what remains of them. The
pictures and tapestries, the weavings and embroideries, the carvings and
metal work which the world is studying, belonged to the daily life of
those past centuries. The stamp of thought and the seal of art were set
upon the simplest conveniences of life. The very keys of the locks and
hinges of the doors were designed, not by mere workers in metal, but by
sculptors and artists who were pre-eminent for genius. It was in the
spirit of this period that Benvenuto Cellini modeled saltcellars as well
as statues, and his compeers designed carvings and gildings for state
carriages, and painted pictures upon the panels. Painters of divine
pictures designed cartoons and borders for tapestries, and wreaths and
garlands for ceiling pilasters.

Among the names of painters who designed cartoons for tapestries, we
find those of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Guido and Giulio
Romano, Albert Dürer, Rubens and Van Dyck. Indeed, there is hardly a
great name among the painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
which has not contributed to the value of the tapestries dating from
those times. Among them all none have a greater share of glory than the
series known as "The Acts of the Apostles," designed by Raphael for Pope
Leo X, in the year 1515. The history of these cartoons is full of
interest. After the weaving of the first set of these tapestries, which
was hung in the Sistine Chapel and regarded as among the greatest
treasures of the world, the cartoons remained for more than a hundred
years in the manufactory at Brussels. During this period one or more
sets must have been woven from them, but in 1630 seven were transferred
to the Mortlake Tapestry works near London, having been purchased by
Charles I, who was advised of their existence by Rubens. The Mortlake
tapestry had been established by James I, who was greatly aided by the
interest of the then Prince of Wales, and the Duke of Buckingham. It is
charming to think of "Baby Charles" and "Steenie" busying themselves
with the encouragement of art in the way of the production of tapestry
pictures, and after the accession of the Prince, to follow the progress
of this taste in the purchase of the famous cartoons, and the employment
of no less a genius than Van Dyck in the composition of new and more
elaborate borders for them. It was probably during the reign of Charles
that these glorious compositions went into use as illustrations of
Biblical text, for we find "Paul preaching at Athens," "Peter and Paul
at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple," and "The Miraculous Draught of
Fishes" figuring as full-page frontispieces to many old copies of King
James' Bible. After the tragic close of the reign of King Charles, the
treasures of tapestries he had accumulated were dispersed and sold by
order of Cromwell; but the cartoons remained the property of the nation
and, though lost to sight for another hundred years or so, finally
reappeared from their obscurity, at Hampton Court, and in these later
years, at the Kensington Museum, have again taken their place as one of
the most valuable lessons of earlier centuries. It was probably the
story of these cartoons which inspired the determination which had taken
possession of us, to do a real tapestry, something greatly worthy of


Arranged (from photographs made in London of the original cartoon by
Raphael, in the Kensington Museum) by Candace Wheeler and executed in
needle-woven tapestry by the Associated Artists.]

When we came to the decision to create tapestries, the actual substance
of them, as well as the art, was a thing to be considered. The wool
fiber upon which they were usually based was a prey to many enemies.
Dust may corrupt and moths utterly destroy fiber of wool, but dust does
not accumulate on threads of silk, neither are they quite acceptable to
the appetite of moths. Therefore, we reasoned, if we did work which was
worthy of comparative immortality, it must be done with comparatively
imperishable material. Fiber of flax and fiber of silk shared this
advantage, and the silk was tenacious of color, which was not the case
with flax; therefore we chose silk and went bravely to our task of
creating American tapestries.

Having decided upon our material, we consulted with our friendly and
interested manufacturers, and finally ordered a broad, heavily marked,
loosely woven fabric which would hold our precious stitches safely and
show them to advantage. The woof of the canvas upon which we were to
experiment was also of silk, not fine and twisted like the warp, but
soft and full enough to hold silk stitchery. In this way the face of the
canvas, or ground, could be quite covered by a full thread of embroidery
silk passed under the slender warp and actually sewn into the woof.


Drawn by Dora Wheeler and executed in needle-woven tapestry by The
Associated Artists, 1884.]

Being thus fully equipped for the production of real tapestries, well
adapted to the processes of what I called "needle weaving," since the
needle was really used as a shuttle to carry threads over and under the
already fixed warp, the next decision rested upon the subject of this
new application of the art and the knowledge we had gained by study and
practice and love of textile art. With a courage which we now wonder at,
we selected perhaps the most difficult, as it certainly is the most
beautiful, of surviving tapestries, "The Miraculous Draught of Fishes,"
the cartoon of which, designed by Raphael, is at present to be seen and
studied at the Kensington Museum in London. The decision to copy this
was perhaps influenced by the fact that it was the only original cartoon
of which I had knowledge, and my summer holiday in London was spent in
its study, and schemes for its exact reproduction. As it was spread upon
a wall in museum fashion, a drawing could not be actually verified by
measurements, but an expedient came to me which proved to be
satisfactory. I had two photographs, as large as possible, made from
the cartoon, and one of them, being very faintly printed, copied exactly
in color; the other was ruled and cut into squares, and was again
photographed and enlarged to a size which would bring them, when joined,
to the same measurements as the original cartoon. These, very carefully
put together, made a working drawing for my tapestry copy, and the
lighter photograph, which had been most carefully water-colored, gave
the color guide for the copy.

It was interesting to find the perforations along the lines of the
composition still showing in the photographed cartoon, and we made use
of them by going over them with pin pricks, fastening the cartoon over
the sheet of silk canvas woven for the background, so that there was no
possibility of shifting. Prepared powder was sifted through the lines of
perforation and fixed by the application of heat, and we then had the
entire composition exactly outlined upon the ground. After that the work
of superimposing color and shading by needle weaving was a labor of love
and diligent fingers during many months. Every inch of stitchery was
carefully criticized and constantly compared with the colored copy,
and at last it was a finished tapestry and was hung in a north light on
one of the great spaces of the studio, where it was an object of expert
examination and general admiration.

[Illustration: APHRODITE

Designed by Dora Wheeler for needle-woven tapestry worked by The
Associated Artists, 1883.]

It is by far the most important work accomplished by needle weaving
which has ever been made in America, and is as veritable a copy of the
original as if it were painted with brush and pigment, instead of being
woven with threads of silk. The low lights of the evening sky, the
reflections of the boats, and the stooping figures of the fishermen, the
perspective of the distant shore, and the wonderful grouping in the
foreground, keep their charm in the tapestry as they do in the picture.
Even the mystery of the twilight is rendered, with the subtle effect we
feel, but can scarcely define, in the original drawing.

It has been a curiously direct process from the hand of the great
master, to this new reproduction, although it stands so far from his
time and life. His very thought was painted by his very hand upon the
paper of the cartoon, and this painted thought has been photographed
upon another paper which has served as a guide to the copy.

It makes us sharers in the art riches of Raphael's own time, to see a
new embodiment of his thought appearing as a part of the nineteenth
century's accomplishments and possessions.

After this achievement we naturally began to look for appropriate use
for the small tapestries, but here came our stumbling block. The breed
of princes, who had been the former patrons of such works of art, were
all asleep in their graves, and knew not America, or its ambitions, and
our native breed was not an hereditary one, building galleries in
palaces, and collecting there the largest of precious accomplishments in
artistic skill in order to perpetuate their own memories, as well as to
enrich their descendants. Our princes were perhaps as rich as they, and
possibly as powerful, but their ambitions did not usually extend to a
line of posterity. Their palaces were contracted to a "three score and
ten" size; for each of them, no matter how wide his capability of
enjoyment, knew that it was personal and ended when his little spark of
life should be extinguished. I gladly record, however, that in these
later days some of them have made the American world their heirs, and
are building and enriching museums and colleges, making them palaces of
growth and enlightenment, and so giving to the many what an older race
of princes built and enriched and guarded for the few.

But in the meantime what were we to do about our tapestries? They were
costly, very costly to produce, and although we took account of the
delight of their creation and put it on the credit side of our books,
along with the fact that the weekly pay roll of the tapestry room went
for the comfort and maintenance of the students whom we loved and
cherished, I soon realized the fact that a commercial firm could not be
burdened with the fads of any one member. Before I had carried this
conclusion to its logical end, we had opportunities of using our skill
worthily in several of the new great houses of the time. When the
Cornelius Vanderbilt house was erected on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh
Street we received an order for a set of tapestries for the drawing-room
walls. These were executed from ideal subjects and of single figures. I
remember the "Winged Moon" among them, which was an ideal figure of the
new moon lying in a cradle of her own wings. This was but one of the
set, one or two of which we afterward made in replica for an exhibit in
London. There was no lack of subjects in our background of American
history. The legends and beliefs of our North American Indians were full
of them, and one of the first we selected was the lovely story of
"Minnehaha, Laughing Water," from Longfellow's "Hiawatha." The sketch
had been sent to us by Miss Dora Wheeler, as the prize composition of
the Saturday Composition Class at Julien's Studio in Paris.

The literary past of the country furnished subjects enough and to spare,
and if we wished to walk into the shadowy realms of legend and fiction,
there were the picturesque legends of the American Indian from which to
choose. Our subjects were often one-figure designs, as such pieces were
suitable in size to wall spaces and door openings. Of course commercial
considerations could not be lost sight of in our enthusiasm for progress
in textile art. Potter Palmer, the multimillionaire of Chicago, was
building at the time a palace home on the Lake Shore, and one auspicious
day Mrs. Palmer bestowed her beautiful presence upon us, and was
mightily taken with our tapestries. Her clever mind was attracted by the
"bookishness" of some of the panels of incidents from American
literature, and several of them went to beautify the great house on the
Lake Shore, in the form of several panels of portraits. Mrs. Palmer was
a delightful patron, her own enjoyment of art, in any of its forms,
amounted to enthusiasm, and her great physical beauty, to a beauty
lover, made every visit from her an epoch. I have never seen the face of
an adult woman who has had the experience of wifehood and motherhood
which retained so perfectly the flawless beauty of childhood. I have
often gazed at the angelic face of some child, and wondered why each
year of life should wipe out some exquisite line of drawing, or absorb
the entrancing shadows which rest upon the face of childhood. It was a
great satisfaction to personally assist in the furnishing of the home of
this beautiful aristocrat, whose own law allowed of no infringement by
our mighty three, having been shaped in a mind enriched by much
classical study and constant acquaintance with the beautiful.

When our embroideries and needlework had taken their place in this
country, we were asked to make part of an Exhibition of American Art in
London. This we were very glad to do, for the artistic gratification of
being able to measure what we were doing with the best art of the kind
abroad. It was also pleasant to be considered worthy company with the
best in our own land, to rub shoulders with our best painters, our great
makers of stained glass, leaders who take genuine pleasure in ideal
work. Of course this applies to amateur work only, as professional
decoration must accord with the general plan which has been selected.


Drawn by Candace Wheeler and embroidered by The Associated Artists,

I had reason to think that the Exhibition made by the Associated Artists
at Chicago was of lasting use to all lovers of needlework, the world
over, since so many other races came there to get their world lessons. I
learned much that was of value to me from familiar study of the exhibits
from different countries, from their excellencies and differences and
the reasons why such wide divergences existed, and from observation of
the people themselves who produced them--for many of the exhibits were
in charge of practical needleworkers who knew the history of their art
from its very beginning. I found more of interest in Oriental art
from seeing that it was not merely a perfunctory repetition of stitches
and patterns, but that there was a stanch, almost a religious, integrity
in doing the thing exactly as it had been done by generations of
forefathers, and that the silks and tissues and flosses and threads of
gold were the best the world produced. In the presence of such fidelity,
what mattered it that the borders and blocks were formed of angles, or
zigzags, or squares, or any other fixed and mechanical shapes? The
spirit of it was true to its race and traditions. In the face of it, all
our beautiful copies of flowers, and growths, and gracious forms of
nature seemed almost experimental--the art of growing and changing

But as we do not make the early art of long existent races models upon
which to shape our search for the most beautiful, the persistence of
Eastern form in embroidery need not prevent our progress in design. I
made an interesting note of this persistence of Eastern design, when,
many years ago, I had an opportunity of examining some mummy wrappings
from a burial ground at Lima, Peru. They were wonderful weavings of
aboriginal cloth, bordered with embroidery done in dyed or colored
threads of flax, in designs as purely Eastern as can be found in any
ancient or modern Eastern embroidery. How could it happen that the
ornamental designs of the Far East and the Far West should touch each
other? Was it similarity of thought knowledge, the kinship of the human
mind, or some long-forgotten means of transmission of the material and
actual, of which we all-knowing moderns do not even dream? This
wonderful South American embroidery of past ages antedated many antique
remains of the art of stitchery which we treasure with as wide a margin
of time as lies between their day and ours.

Embroidery has become a dependence and a business for thousands of
women, and it is this which secures its permanence. We may trust
skillful executants who live by its practice to keep ahead of the
changing fancies of society and invent for it new wants and new
fashions. And this, because their chance of living depends upon it, and
it promises to be a permanent and growing art. It may, and will,
undoubtedly, take on new directions, but it is no longer a lost art. On
the contrary, it is one where practice has attained such perfection that
it is fully equal to any new demands and quite competent to answer any
of the higher calls of art.


While a description of this most important work of women's hands may
seem somewhat irrelevant in a book devoted to the development of the art
of embroidery in America, it is so important a link in the subject of
stitchery, executed as it was in the eleventh century, that a short
chapter on this most interesting and vital subject may not come amiss.

Among all our present possessions of early skill, perhaps nothing is
more widely known than what is called the Bayeux Tapestry. This much
venerated work is not tapestry at all, but a pictorial record in
outline, done with a needle, as simply as though written in ink, at
least according to our present understanding of what is known as

We read of the subject, and the name of William the Conqueror looms
large in the imagination. We think of the tapestry as a great
illustrated page of history, large in proportion not alone to the deeds
it chronicles, but to their importance in the story of one of the
greatest, perhaps, of the modern races; and across this illustrated page
we fancy the prancing of war horses and the prowess of the knight, the
passing of seas and the march of armies, with all the attendant tragedy
of circumstance.

But this is only in one's mind. The reality is a more or less tattered
strip of grayish-white linen, two feet in width and two hundred and
thirty feet long, and along this frail bridge between the past and
present march the actors in the great conquest. It seems but an
inadequate pathway, but it has borne its phalanxes of men, its two
hundred horses, its five hundred and fifty-five dogs and other animals,
its forty-one ships, its numberless castles and trees, its roads and
farms safely through all the intervening years from 1066 to 1919, and it
still holds them.

In truth, we wonder much over this production of the past, and not alone
over the heroes who career so mildly in their armor of colored crewels
on the linen background. We wonder, in the first place, how a continuous
web of over two hundred feet in length could have been woven. Then, we
know that lengths of woven stuffs are limited only by the requirements
of commerce, and that Matilda was of Flanders, and her father had
learned the princely trick of loving and encouraging manufactures, and
had, indeed, taught it to his daughter, and that Flanders was a noted
center of manufacture. Then we decide that if Matilda had called for a
strip of linen two thousand feet long, whereon to write the warlike
history of a spouse who began his gentle part toward her (for so history
avers) by pulling her from her horse and rolling her in the mud because
she refused to marry him, it would have been forthcoming as easily as
two hundred. Should the Queen of England require a stretch of linen as
long as from England to America, whereon to record the successes of her
reign, who doubts that it would be supplied her?


So, when the question of this web is disposed of, we wonder who drew all
these figures of men and horses, for Queen Matilda and her ladies to
overlay with stitchery, and why his name has not come down to us. We
decide within our minds, for it never occurs to us to impute such
ability in drawing to the Queen or her ladies, that it was the work of
some monkish brother who varied his illuminating labor upon missals
and copies of the Scripture by doing these worldly and interesting

We think of the never to be forgotten Gerard in _The Cloister and the
Hearth_, and wonder if it was some monastery-trained youth like him who
rested from the creation of saints and angels upon vellum, to draw
fighting knights upon linen, and whether, perchance, his hushed heart
burned within him at the stir and valor of the deeds he portrayed. And
then some one, better informed than we, points out the figure of a
dwarf, nicely labeled as Turold--for many of the actors in this
embroidered story are labeled in delicate stitches--and tells us that
his was the hand that set the copy for all the happy and beloved maids
of the Queen, and the hapless and perhaps equally beloved Saxon maids.
We wonder, again, how these skillful and noble Saxons like to find
themselves thus writing their own infelicities and humiliations for all
the world to see, and then--for so does the human mind go groping into
motives and springs of action--we wonder if their famous skill in
needlework, of which the wide-awake Matilda must surely have known, put
it into her head to make this curious life-record of her great lord,
and we reflect that if it were so, it would only be another facet of her
many-sided ability.

But that was underneath the surface. Outside was the queenly
magnificence and wifely glorification of her lot, a smooth current of
irresistible prosperity. Underneath was the whirling and buzzing of the
wheels of thought, the springs of motion which governed the great

In truth, two such clever thought centers as William of Normandy and
Matilda of Flanders seldom in the world have made a conjunction, or we
would have had more great conquests to record. We may fancy what we will
in the far background which this slender length of linen reaches, all
the byplay which accompanied the guarded life of the castle, the
religious life of the cathedral and monastery, the colored and bannered
pomp of duke and noble.

It was all mightily picturesque, with its contrasts of gorgeousness and
privation, but probably Matilda the dexterous thought that times were
good enough when she could sit in safety, surrounded by her maids and
priests, and write her royal journal as she pleased, with a threaded
stylus; and well for us that she elected to do this, although her
records are written in so quaint a fashion that amusement and interest
are twin spectators of the result.

Two borders, upper and lower, remind one irresistibly of a child's
processional picture on a slate. The figures are done in outline only,
colors corresponding to those used in the body of the work. Each border
is some six inches wide, and has the air of a little running commentary
or enlargement of the main story. There are variations and incidents
which could not perhaps be put down in the main body, where all the
figures are worked solidly in the stitch which has been rechristened
"Kensington stitch." The horses are worked in red-brown and gray
crewels, some of them duly spotted and dappled, the banners and
gonfalons carefully wrought in the colors and devices belonging to them.
The whole work follows scrupulously the scenes of the Conquest, giving
the lives of the actors both in Normandy and England, as well as the
transit from one country to the other.

The first scene evidently represents Edward the Confessor giving
audience to Harold, the last of the Saxon kings. The next gives the
embarkation of Harold, and the third his capture in France.

Then comes the death of Edward, and the tapestry story struggles
ineffectually with the incidents of his death and funeral; and the
election of Harold as King of England, showing him seated crowned and in
royal robes under a very primitive canopy. After this, the scene shifts
again to France, and portrays the preparations for invasion made by the
Duke of Normandy, who was called by the people of the country he invaded
"William the Conqueror," and who have continued to know him only by that
name through all succeeding centuries, the shame and sorrow of
vanquishment quite buried under the glory of the performance, Saxon and
Norman uniting in esteem of the successful result.

All this history is duly set forth in archaic simplicity by the stitches
of Queen Matilda, who, in preserving the record of the deeds of her
doughty lord, has set down also a record of herself as the ideal wife,
who glorifies her husband, and merges all she is of woman into that
condition--and still it is only a strip of linen worked in crewels. All
the triumphs of the great Conqueror are written upon it, but none of the
disappointments. The needlework story does not relate (how could it when
Matilda's active, trained and industrious fingers had been stilled by
death?) the sorrows which overcame even her fortunate hero--that his
body was robbed of its clothing, and lay naked and dishonored beside a
disputed grave, where even the solemn claim of death to burial was
resisted until an old wrong "done in the body" was righted. And though
his son reigned after him, and he founded a royal line, perhaps one of
the greatest enjoyments of his successful life consisted in watching the
fingers of his well-beloved Matilda as they worked this linen record.

Of course it is the great events it portrays and the human interest it
holds which make this tapestry exceedingly valuable, for, artistically,
it is of no more value than a child's sampler. But, simple as it is,
volumes have been written about it. Scholars and historians have pored
over its pictured history, money without stint has been spent in paper
reproductions of it, and, finally, the whole important embroidery
society of Leeds, England, spent two industrious years in copying it,
and earned fame and envy thereby.

The wonderful remains of the work of skilled fingers serve to dignify
the art of which it is capable, and to sing a varied song in the ears of
the modern embroiderer, who follows her own will in spite of
time-hallowed examples. The women of today, 1920, have been called to
work that is widely different from that of the ages when embroidery was
a natural recourse and almost universal practice, but it is an art which
has done too much for the progress of the world, in all its different
phases, to die, or to cease to progress. There will always be quiet
souls, whose lives have been made so by circumstances, who will find
solace in the practice of needlework, so we may safely leave with them
an art which has done so much for mankind.

                    THE END

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note:

The following corrections have been applied to the text:

Porcupine quill work seems to have
been no longer practiced,
    'no' is missing in the original text

which were novelties to the imported artisan.
    corrected from 'novelites'

Miss Mather or Miss Coffin or Miss Hooker
    'of' corrected to 'or'

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