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The development of embroidery in America online

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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



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




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


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




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

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Online LibraryCandace WheelerThe development of embroidery in America → online text (page 1 of 8)