Friday, May 13, 2016

Stitching Stories: An Interview with Moira Blackburn!

Today we are revisiting our interview with Moira Blackburn and featuring her samplers and designs for our sampler party weekend!  It was Moira’s beautiful samplers that introduced Nicola to the world of stitching and love of samplers.  Moira has graciously given us an inside look on her journey in stitches and to reproducing and creating her very own samplers and company!  She gives us her thoughts on the young girls who stitched samplers hundreds of years ago and tells us about her favorites.  Enjoy! 

Moira, how old were you when you first picked up a needle and who taught you to stitch?  What was the very first sampler that you stitched?

*I learned a can-do attitude from my mother so was knitting and sewing doll clothes around age 8.  I completed my first sampler in 1981 which I wasn't very happy with but I missed stitching so much when it was finished that I went on to stitch large samplers for my 3 children.

When did you start charting reproduction samplers / designing your own samplers?

*When my youngest child started school in 1988 I got the idea that producing sampler kits could be my occupation. I loved stitching, I had worked in design, had a passion for researching samplers and a belief that I could bring more authentic-styled samplers to the market.

What was the first sampler you charted?

*The Time and Season Sampler was one of the first five designs I produced as a kit and has proved to be a best seller for over 25 years.       Charting was done by hand on to graph paper back then, first in pencil and then in pen, any mishaps would involve starting all over again.  Patience became my middle name!

Can you tell us about your creative process of reproducing samplers / designing samplers?   What inspires you?

*Samplers of the 19th century have been my inspiration and my study.  I often would start with a verse that had a special meaning for me and the line lengths would determine the orientation of the design.  Sometimes the design would come first and I would make trouble for myself in finding a suitable verse to fit.  I loved the search for words as much as the search for motifs or borders which I could use from original sources.  My designs developed in the stitching and searching simultaneously, often evenings of no stitching while the choosing and rejecting went on.  Even behind my eyelids before I slept.  

Reproducing an original sampler completely is down to counting through a magnifying glass and transferring what you see.  It always felt like a privilege to be touching close to the work of a child from the distant past.  The true colours can be seen on the reverse of the sampler, which can be surprising. 

What is your favorite time of day to stitch?  Do you sit in a set place and what tools do you like to have on hand?

*During my busiest years producing the kits my children were still young so the school hours were spent filling orders and my stitching and designing hours were confined to the late evenings and into the night and a daylight lamp was my most essential tool.  Since the years and children flew and I have more time and daylight, I have to admit to getting much less done.

Do you use the stick and stab technique, or a sewing stitch?  Do you prefer to stitch in hand, or with a hoop or frame?

*I use the stab method of stitching and always use a frame as I like the fabric to be under tension.  I have a lovely, varied collection of wooden frames but ultimately choose to use the hollow tubular plastic frames as they are light and reliable tight.

Do you have a favorite linen?

*My sampler designs and reproductions reflect the period they were first made so my preference is for unbleached and darker shades of linen.  Belfast 32count and Edinburgh 35c Zweigart linen.

What is your favourite period of sampler-making and why?  Which designs appeal to you the most?

*Elizabeth Oliver's sampler epitomises the type of sampler I like best. I was given permission to reproduce this sampler from the collection in the Castle Museum in York.  Houses, birds and animals and the irregularities in the work of a child's hand all appeal to me.  I have stitched 3 Quaker samplers from other designers just for the pleasure and love the Quaker alphabets. 

Has working with reproduction samplers given you any new insight into the lives of the girls and women in the 17-18-19th centuries that you did not realize before?

*Inevitably the class or wealth into which the stitchers were born does make a difference.  Whether you were the lady of the house stitching for pleasure, or the young woman stitching marking samplers to enable herself to get employment in the houses of the wealthy.    A lot of samplers were made sadly to record multiple deaths of siblings.  Some demonstrate a strict religious discipline.  I think it's clear that many samplers were made under difficult circumstances and that we are very fortunate to be stitching for pleasure.

How do you display your stitched samplers?  Do you frame them?  Hang them singularly or in groupings?  

*I do frame my samplers and have previously hung them in groups however the house I live in now is more suited to hanging samplers singly.  I have shared a lot throughout my family and have a lot of my stitched models in storage.  I have the Time and Season Sampler hung above the bed in my guest room and Rebecca Robinson's sampler above my own.  I find I admire the samplers of another’s hand more than my own.

Do you collect antique samplers?  Or have any other collections special to you?                                                                                                                                                      

*I do have a small collection of Antique Samplers which I love.  I also have quite an assortment of hare ornaments as the hare running through the letter M has been my logo from the beginning.                                                                                                                                      

Do you have other types of hand work that you enjoy?

*Since two hand surgeries I find I don't have the ability for stitching samplers so I have a wonderful stitcher who will work my designs for me.  I do enjoy knitting and machine quilting, curtains, cushions, bags.  I have three dogs to walk and sometimes I practice trying to do nothing and to not feel guilty.  I go to a mat making group when I can and love the companionship of other ladies with busy hands, interesting stories and warm hearts.                                                                                    

What has been your worst needlework disaster?

*A sampler model which I had collected from a stitcher was stolen from my car along with other items.  The worst part was knowing that it would probably have been discarded as unwanted.  I have three excellent linen tea towels which started out as new sampler designs and were abandoned as not working out at early stages.  Waste not want not. 

Are you currently working on a project that you can share with us?

*I don't have a design in progress at the moment as I am planning to retire and pass on the production of my kits and charts to others. When that is accomplished I hope to get back to designing and can feel the little itch of ideas already. I'm so happy that the market place is now rich in designers and wonderful sampler designs.

If you can pick just one, which is your favorite sampler that you stitched?  And why? 
*The Keep Me Sampler.  I have chosen this example as it most closely represents the type of sampler I am most fond of.

Thank you so much, Moira, for sharing your story and your samplers with us!  Seeing your beautiful works will pass your inspiration along to others just as Nicola was inspired years ago.  It is so important to pass along the inspiration and keep the love of stitching alive.  We will all be wanting to pick up our needles today and stitch away.  To learn more about Moira’s collection of samplers and future endeavors please visit her website at Moira Blackburn Samplers

Friday, May 6, 2016

Stitching Stories: An Interview with Erna Hiscock of Hiscock & Shepherd Antiques!

For our May interview we ‘visit’ with Erna Hiscock of Hiscock & Shepherd Antiques in England!  Erna tells us about how she started collecting antique samplers and shares a few of her favourites with us!

Erna, when did you start collecting antique samplers?

*I started collecting antique samplers over 40 years ago, in about 1971. 

Do you remember what antique sampler first caught your eye?  Is it still in your collection?

*Yes!  A miniature memorial sampler commemorating the life of twins.  I do still have them, I consider my samplers as individuals bought for £22.

What special attributes do you look for when choosing antique samplers to add to your collection? 

*My girls are all individuals and so must have a personality. I do particularly love miniature samplers and those associated with school work.

Can you explain how quality, age and origin determine the value of a sampler?

*There are so many aspects of a sampler that determine its value.  Yes, a 1799 sampler is probably more than an identical 1801 but also look for finest, stitch type colour and condition, but also historical significance.

What was the most unlikely place that you found/obtained an antique sampler?

*In a lot of wooden boxes, folded, and probably untouched for 200 years.

How many samplers do you have in your collection? 

*Probably 100!

Can you perhaps share two or three of your favorites and tell us about them? 

*Here are a couple of favourites, it is a bit like asking who is your favourite child!

1803 Heart, was bought for me by John.  It relates to a particular School I’m interested in, the girls were allowed to sell needlework items for pocket money. 

The 1841 sampler is the most perfect miniature of a larger sampler only 9.5 x 12.5 cm and was made in a school in Van-Demon land in Australia.

Mary Catharine Harris 1873 - who couldn't love that Zebra!

What is your favourite period of samplers and why?  Which designs appeal to you the most?

*I do like all samplers so no real period, possibly the late 18th and early pre 1840 School samplers for their historical history in the development of education. The Samplers of Ackworth, Bristol and Cheltenham orphanages.

Has collecting antique samplers given you any new insight into the lives of the girls and women in the 17-18-19th centuries that you did not realize before? 

*Yes, with research now one can rarely connect with my girls and their lives, I find it amazing that these young children long forgotten are now being talked about loved and admired in a way they could just not imagine.

How do you display your collection?  Do you keep the in the original frames?  Hang them singularly or in groupings? 

*We hang them in groups, occasionally a larger one is hung on its own. We do keep their original frames if possible.

Is your collection on display in a gallery?  If so, where… so we may all visit!? 

*Our collection is displayed in our home, and yes, we can arrange visits.

Have any of your samplers been reproduced?

*No, they have not been reproduced.

Apart from antique samplers do you have other special collections? 

*I do love associated sewing items, pin balls, and watch samplers and early needlework.

Thank you so very much, Erna!  It has been an absolute pleasure to hear more about your antique samplers and when you began collecting.  Thank you for sharing your favourites from your collection.  They are quite unique and endearing. 

For those of you with a subscription to Homes & Antiques magazine, take a peek inside to see more of Erna’s collection featured in the May issue.  And, to keep up on fairs and exhibits where you can enjoy seeing their wares in person in the UK please visit her website at!