Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
“Why is that called a Sampler?” I pointed to a framed hand-stitched picture with words under a designed basket of fruit.
The small museum room with a musty smell reminded me of my elementary school tour of a 17th century place; I liked the aged Weeping Beach tree outside rather than the physical dwelling.
“Want to learn to do that?” My mother could do anything with a needle.
I said I could draw a ‘Sampler’ and hand-paint scenes with words rather than sew it, but wanted to know why there many on these walls. An exhibition-guide, dressed in period costume, informed me that young girls learned necessary needle skills while showing they had patience and talent working elaborate images. And did I know Loara Standish is recorded to be the first woman who made one in America, around 1645; she was the daughter of Miles Standish, a Mayflower passenger. Of course I didn’t know that as I didn’t even learn the man had children!
“Teach me cross-stitch and I can decorate my pillow cases!”
A wood hoop held the cotton in place. My mother showed me yarn, insertion of thread into an eye of a metal needle, and a personal handwork-journey was starting. With tiny ‘x’s’‘ on linen, I went from bedding to table and I was shown how to make even the back of a cloth look pleasing and not a jumble of threads. Ironing the linen was okay with a card-table size, but when I moved into dining room length I gave my mother the ironing chore.
Never without a project in her hands during the hours she sat listening to her daughter’s piano and singing lesson practice, or family time around the radio programs, I wanted to learn everything she did. I hand sewed an apron. The stitches to hold the seams were different from the hem, and I learned to make hem ones so tiny that they were almost invisible. Skirts with gathered waistbands were different from pleated ones, and we sewed together often. I began to design my own creations, and she taught me how to make a pattern; the mahogany dining room table became a tabloid in Braille as my marks were made from shears and such that recorded life.
By high school, I’d created special half-aprons as was the custom for women to wear such when entertaining. Satin formed the waistband and bottom, and I’d sew tiny beads on sections. I created eyeglass cases from pieces of wool-felt, then adorned with accents of glitter.
Knitting came next. Sharing was part of the pleasure. I had trouble with the grosgrain ribbon needed as a backing for a cardigan sweater’s buttons, and said that was her job. We laughed.
She was doing needlepoint for a chair. Heavy wool yarn was used to go through a grid-like large piece that did not need more than repetition of a stroke, but I just had to learn that and started with the canvas for a footstool. Once completed, we bought an oak footrest. My mother taught me to stretch my completed needlepoint canvas, and to mount it on top of the fabric that was already on the stool. Basic thumb tacks adhered my work to the stool’s top. She always had, with what was on-hand, a solution to any problem!
She crocheted. I just seemed to have trouble with just one little metal item the size of a pencil, so I decided I’d learn crewel embroidery by myself and tell her about it. She’d have one needlework I couldn’t do and I’d have one she preferred not to do but, of course, could!
In college, as I knit argyle socks for male friends, she crocheted afghans, and knit hats/ mittens/ sweaters for me using bright colors to compensate for the often sunless days as I walked to classes in the cold.
I recently saw a Sampler in an inn that was once a stop on the Erie Canal; a historic-preservation structure, it made me smile with remembrance of the first Sampler I’d ever seen in a building similar to this one.
A granddaughter asked for a tablecloth I’d embellished with cross-stitch during elementary school; I was showing her items I’d made and used over the decades. I mentioned that linen would need starch to look crisp; she wanted it. Her sister noticed my two of my framed crewel-embroidered pictures showing vases of flowers; I loosened them from their hooks. She wondered about a large needlepoint I’d made; I had considered using for a chair but, at the time, with then three small children, I decided to frame and work on other needle-projects smaller to handle. These belong to her now.
I designed the dresses I wore for each of my three children’s weddings, and hand-work has been satisfying and fulfilling all of my life. One of my great-grandchildren has the crib-size afghan my mother’s fingers so long-ago crocheted; her afghans continue to be the warm blankets on her unseen descendants’ beds.
Isn’t family history often written in needle and thread than in pen and ink?