Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Sampler in Memoriam

A Sampler in Memoriam  

    Did you know that Jane Austen took pride and pleasure in handiwork? In the book, Jane Austen’s World, Maggie Lane says that Jane “applied the same high standards to the production of her needle as to those of her pen.” This is evident in the beauty of the patchwork quilt made by Jane, her mother and her sister Cassandra together. The quilt uses sixty-four different fabrics in diamond shapes on a dotted white background. In 1811, in a letter to Cassandra, Jane asked, “Have you remembered to collect pieces for the patchwork?” The ladies were discriminating collectors of floral chintz in pleasing pinks, red, tan and sky blue. You can see the quilt on the website of Jane Austen’s House museum when taking the virtual tour.


In the center of Jane’s quilt is a large diamond with a basket of flowers. In photographs I’ve seen of antique samplers from the 19th century, the maker of a sampler (usually a young girl acquiring skill) often includes a vase or a basket of flowers, or two baskets because many a sampler is stitched in symmetry.

    The sampler I stitched over the summer has flowers in symmetry and also a larger vase of flowers at its center. It is a reproduction of an antique sampler purchased on e-bay by the ladies of Blackbird Designs. It is featured in their booklet, Honeysuckle Manor. Louisa Bell stitched it in approximately 1804 (Jane’s day) or earlier, judging by the choice of lettering she used.


    As always I began at the top and worked the honeysuckle border down the sides to the bottom. Then I did something unusual. I worked from the bottom up. I wanted the security of knowing the house would be spaced just right. Do you see how the window above the door is off center? This is exactly how Louisa Bell stitched it. Sometimes chart makers preserve irregularities in their reproduction charts. Louisa’s inconsistencies in the honeysuckle border, however, were corrected.  


    Honeysuckle Manor is pretty in soft shades of color. The soft thread colors are meant to simulate a faded antique – the way the sampler looks today. But the book also gives a peek of the back of the sampler. How rich the original colors were - more true to what could be seen on the front when first stitched. I don’t know what came over me. All I know is that eyeing the back of the sampler made me a deserter. I ignored the color list entirely to choose colors closer to Louisa’s. The faintly marbleized linen I chose and the subtle variations of Gentle Art threads (fading red on the house) suggest enough of an antique for me. 

    The chart recommends stitching the name of someone special in place of Louisa Bell. I peeked at one sampler lover’s blog, also an avid reader, and saw that on her Honeysuckle Manor she stitched Jane Austen - 1775. Can you guess the name I chose? 

“I find no adjectives adequate to describe my admiration . . . “ A Charlotte Mason Companion, pg 377

    Honeysuckle Manor is finished. Until it is framed I’ll keep it rolled in a linen towel. 
Do you and your children like making something for the joy it brings or because it is pleasing to the eye? Perhaps you are drawn to making what is useful or needful. At other times the work of your hands may hold an extra special meaning to you.  

    Miss Mason on Handicrafts: 
“The human hand is a wonderful and exquisite instrument to be used in a hundred movements exacting delicacy, direction and force; every such movement is the cause of joy as it leads to the pleasure of execution and the triumph of success.” Phil. of Ed. pg 328.


  1. Karen, your sampler is lovely. I used to do a lot of embroidery and cross-stitch, but as my family grew I found I simply didn't have the time to sit down and do it. I'm ashamed to say that the cross-stitch birth announcement I started for my son remains only about 20% done--and he is now 5 years old! Maybe someday I'll finish it for another baby...I do enjoy needlework and I think I should try to make time for it again. The end results are always pleasing to me.

  2. Oh I forgot to say--that quilt Jane Austen made is absolutely stunning! What a gorgeous combination of colours and patterns.

  3. You know how I love Jane!

    Your samplers are always so beautiful...this one is sweet and special with Charlotte's name added.

  4. That is such a pretty sampler! I am going to go over to the JA website and see her handwork too.

    I enjoy your blog so much. It is just what I need whenever you post it seems. Thanks.

  5. the sampler is beautiful, beautiful blog as well, thanks for sharing......