Category : Textiles
Date : November 13, 2013

My grandmother and mother worked with their hands and made beautiful embroideries and needlepoint textiles.  When I was a child, they encouraged me to pick up the needle, and for a time, I embroidered on my jeans but always found that the thread became tangled; I quickly became frustrated.  Perhaps I did not ‘love my thread’ enough, as Natalie Chanin instructs one to do.

This weekend, Historic Deerfield embarks on a new program “which connects careful object looking with artistic project making.”  For this, participants will examine linen textiles from the collection, learn about production, and embroider one of their own.

The process of looking at older objects and gaining inspiration from them is not new to Deerfield.  In her book Poetry to the Earth: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield, Suzanne L. Flynt documents the founding of the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework, by Margaret Whiting and Ellen Miller, in 1896.  Whiting and Miller established a village industry and “employed up to thirty local women to stitch embroideries that were inspired by colonial New England embroideries found in the local historical society.”   Patterns from the colonial women flourished on the new textiles—Lucy’s acanthus leaf, Aunt Beck’s fantastical flowers, vines and pears, Polly Wright’s Parrot, and Ruth Culver Coleman’s carnations, for example.  The embroideries produced by Society of Blue and White were prized not only for the materials used (fine linen cloth and hand dyed linen floss) and the interpreted designs, but also for the quality of the stitches executed by the women.

Whiting and Miller also collected stories about the women who made the colonial embroideries and included both the name and a story with each newly embroidered piece.  The bed hangings of Lucy Lane (1752-1803) were the first embroideries to provide inspiration: “Part of a set of linen tent Bed Curtains and Counterpane carded, spun, woven and bleached by Lucy Lane.  She also made and dyed the floss and embroidered the whole in 1760-1765.”

The Society of Blue and White Needlework strikes me as similar to the contemporary cottage industry of Alabama Chanin, previously described in my blog post ‘duds’ of September 19, 2013.

My thanks to the stitchers of the past and present for their continued inspiration to me as I seek to stitch without tangled threads.


Suzanne L. Flynt, foreword by Wendy Kaplan, Poetry to the Earth The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield, (Hard Press Editions, 2012), pgs 11, 85, 84, 90, 88.

Historic Deerfield’s Art and Craft : Embroidered Linen, November 15, 11am-1pm. For information contact their website.

Note:  For an in depth view of the life of Aunt Beck aka Rebecca Dickinson, read the newly published book by  Marla R. Miller , Rebecca Dickinson: independence for a New England woman, Westview Press, 2014.

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