The Diligent Needle: Instrument of Profit, Pleasure, and Ornament

A Winterthur Needlework Conference

October 24–25, 2014

For centuries, instruction in needlework was an important part of women’s education. Afterwards they might use their skill to generate income, to give pleasure to friends and family through their artistry, or to embellish textiles and clothing in their home.

Please join us for this unique offering of lectures, workshops, and tours.  View the conference brochure for more information on lecture times, workshops, and registration.

Call 800.448.3883 for more information or to register. Registration opens June 19, 2014.


Friday, October 24

Rescuing Domestic Crafts from the Condescension of Posterity
Amanda Vickery, Historian, Writer, and Broadcaster, Professor in Early Modern History, Queen Mary, University of London
The domestic context of female decorative work has ensured its low prestige. “Fashionable accomplishment” became a shorthand for meretricious show, a veneer that pretended to complete an education that did not exist. History has been unimpressed by women’s decorative efforts. They are a source of puzzlement and disappointment—neither useful nor truly art. But in the 18th century, Horace Walpole celebrated 30 ladies of his personal acquaintance for their artistic skills, from modelling in wax, terracotta, marble, and amber to copying paintings in silk, watercolors, oil, and in miniature. This lecture aims to restore English women’s craftwork in the 18th century to the broader context of polite natural science, art, and design while recreating the interlinked artistic, aristocratic, and scientific networks that defined their social world.

The Workers Behind the Work: 17th-Century Caskets and the People Who Made Them
Tricia Wilson Nguyen, Owner of Thistle Threads, Arlington, Massachusetts
Embroidered cabinets are magical objects that capture the imagination, from their three-dimensional stories on the outside to the secret drawers on the inside. While the pieces rarely have the rich biographical information on them that samplers do, making them relatively anonymous, they hold other clues to their origin and manufacture. Samplers required just the embroiderer and her teacher, but caskets needed a large number of merchants, artists, and workers to take the embroidery and fabricate it into a three-dimensional object. While these workers are still nameless, this survey of the genre will show that there was a tight network of designers, draftspersons, teachers, cabinetmakers, bottlemakers, and others who fed the craze for these enigmatic cabinets between 1650 and 1700. Lessons from mass-producing these cabinets again will be contrasted with the evidence seen on the originals to draw conclusions about the way in which the process worked in the 17th century.

The Mystery of Rebecca Dickinson: A Puzzle at the Intersection of Gownmaking, Crewel Embroidery, and the Biographical Imagination
Marla Miller, Professor and Director of Public History Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Hatfield, Massachusetts, gownmaker Rebecca Dickinson (1738–1815) was an established craftswoman when the mid-18th-century boycotts in protest of British tax policy threatened her livelihood—events all the more consequential because Dickinson, unlike the vast majority of her counterparts, had never married. In a talk based on Dickinson’s powerful diary and surviving embroidery, Marla Miller will consider Dickinson’s life as a woman alone during these turbulent times and suggest ways that independence and artisanal skill were entwined. In particular, she will contemplate a piece of crewelwork embroidery, dated 1765—which, in its unusual imagery and coded inscriptions, presents a nearly 250-year-old puzzle that has yet to be solved.

Threads of Time: The Needlework Samplers of Aging Women, 1820–60
Aimee Newell, Director of Collections, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts
While needlework samplers by girls and young women have long attracted scholarly attention, the impulse to stitch was not bounded by age. Using examples of needlework completed between 1820 and 1860 by women aged 40 and over, Aimee Newell will explore the meaning that the act and product of stitching held for its makers and their families. Physical changes and technological improvements affected the kind of needlework that aging women made and used. These “threads of time” provide a valuable and revealing source for the lives of mature women during the antebellum years.

Saturday, October 25

Geography in Silk and Wool: Embroidered Maps and Globes
Judith Tyner, Professor Emerita of Geography, California State University, Long Beach
Map samplers and embroidered globes were made during a brief period in the late 18th and early 19th century; they are among the rarest of needlework artifacts. Most museums have only one or two, so understandably, there has been comparatively little research on these until recent years. This presentation will look at the various types of map samplers (including the unique Westtown globes), compare English and American samplers, explore the variations discovered, and discuss some of the challenges in the research.

Records of Purpose and Pleasure: Quilts and Needlework from the Early South
Kimberly Smith Ivey, Curator of Textiles and Historic Interiors, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
The quilts and needlework created in the antebellum South are not a homogeneous body of material produced by one social, economic, religious, or ethnic group. They are as diverse as the southern geography itself, reflecting the different cultures, religions, and education of the immigrants—both free and enslaved—who settled the South during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Southerners embellished bedcovers and home furnishing textiles, as well as produced embroidered pictures and samplers in a variety of styles and techniques. The reasons for creating needlework varied with the makers. Some were made as artistic outlets or as gifts for their loved ones, while others were made out of necessity to keep their families warm. Still other pieces of needlework were made as schoolgirl projects or as a means to support oneself. This lecture discusses these themes in an overview of Chesapeake, Back Country, and Low Country needlework.

The Duke of Westminster’s “Umpire-in-Chief”: Gertrude Jekyll and the Embroidered Furnishings for Eaton Hall, Cheshire
Lynn Hulse, Textile Historian, London
Gertrude Jekyll is remembered today chiefly for her contribution to gardening history, yet during her own lifetime her skills as an interior designer were much sought after by the Victorian elite. Among her clients was Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, 1st Duke of Westminster, one of the wealthiest landowners in England. Following the rebuilding of his country seat at Eaton Hall in Cheshire, the Duke commissioned the Royal School of Needlework (RSN), of which he and his wife were patrons, to decorate part of the interior. The School enlisted the services of Gertrude Jekyll, whose work made such an impression on the Duke that she was offered the position of “umpire-in-chief” of all the furnishings. This paper explores Jekyll’s relationship with the RSN and her work for Eaton Hall between 1874 and 1882, in particular the magnificent set of embroidered panels for the great drawing room, which have recently come to light.

“…To Give It Room Enough to Grow”: Erica Wilson’s Career as Twentieth-Century Needlework Entrepreneur
Anne Hilker Sack, Ph.D. Candidate, Bard Graduate Center, New York
When she died in 2011, Erica Wilson left behind an international following of embroiderers. She also left behind a pioneering model of entrepreneurship: in a career that spanned the last half of the 20th century, she continually invented or adopted new platforms for reaching, and teaching, her pupils. This paper will place an overview of her most popular—and profitable—designs alongside her innovations in instruction, book publishing, and brand alliances, showing how her work allowed a new generation access to hand embroidery without the need for specialized training or tools. Using analysis of historical and biographical documents, as well as interviews with her family members, it will document the remarkable growth and durability of her needlework business.




Ann Almy Sampler Workshop


Ann Almy sampler (Colonial Williamsburg)
Joanne Harvey, Owner of the Examplarery
Wrought in the “English style,” the elegant band format found on the needlework sampler embroidered by Ann Almy belongs to the earliest group of Newport samplers worked between the 1720s thru the late 1740s. The bold central floral motif, decorative bands, numerals, dividing bands, and verses are repeated on other examples during this time frame. This important early design was worked under a still un-identified instructress. The Ann Almy sampler is in the textile collection at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The sampler will be worked on 35 count linen using D.M.C. floss and measures approximately 7" X 17 1/2". We will also view the development of Newport and other Rhode Island samplers. Kit price: $74.00. 25-person limit

Patterns on Paper: Embroidery Design Sources from the Winterthur Library

Emily Guthrie, NEH Librarian and Jeanne Solensky, Librarian, Winterthur
The Winterthur Library has a vast abundance of printed and manuscript embroidery patterns, sewing notions, thread sample books, and more—from the 17th century into the 20th century. Rarely seen, these materials are truly hidden treasures. On display for the first time will be a rare, hand-colored knitting pattern book published in Germany in 1804. Come glean insight and inspiration from the library’s amazing collections! 10-person limit

Behind the Glass: An Exploration of Needlework Mounts, Traditional and Contemporary, from a Conservation Perspective
Joy Gardiner, Assistant Director of Conservation and Senior Textile Conservator, Winterthur
How a framed needlework piece is mounted for framing can be an important part of its history and can also affect its longevity. This workshop will examine examples the types of period mounts found when needlework is unframed, discuss methods for keeping needlework on its original mount, and consider the best options for safely supporting a piece of needlework, be it historic or contemporary, for framing and display. Also, there will be discussion of the conservation considerations in choosing the best options for supporting a piece of needlework, be it historic or a new creation. 10-person limit

Poesy Toy Casket Workshop
Mary Wright Alsop Pocketbook Workshop
Catherine Rihl Respectfully Presents Her Sampler Workshop

A Poesy Casket Toy
Tricia Wilson Nguyen, Owner of Thistle Threads, Arlington, Massachusetts
There are about a dozen known small poesies made from wire and silk braid found in embroidered caskets of the 17th century. These ‘toys’ may have been little trinkets of affection or fun projects taught by teachers to students. It may be coincidence, but a common conceit of the time was being painted with a small sprig in one’s hand. Were these stitched flowers made for such occasions? During this workshop we will examine the techniques used to join the braids to make petals and leaves and make a pink flower to place in a secret drawer of a casket.
Kit price: $168.00. 20-person limit

Mary Wright Alsop Pocketbook (Winterthur)
Joanne Harvey, Owner of the Examplarery, Dearborn, Michigan
Over a period of more than 60 years, Mary Wright Alsop (1740–1829) created one of the most unique groupings of needlework by the hand of one woman that is known. Winterthur’s collection includes pocketbooks, fine knitted silk purses and reticules, as well as an embroidered sleeve and the cap she wore when she was married. This project will reproduce the small and vibrant queen stitch pocketbook dated 1774. Our piece measures approximately the same size as the original, which is 5 1/2" x 3 1/2". The pocketbook will be worked on 32 count linen with an array of 21 silk colors. Included will be the finishing linings and bindings along with detailed instructions. Our class will also have an opportunity to view a selection of the other worked pocketbooks, reticules, and needlework accessories in the Winterthur collection.
Kit price: $120.00. 25-person limit

Catherine Rihl Respectfully Presents Her Sampler (Winterthur)
Margriet Hogue, Owner of the Essamplaire, Alberta, Canada
Catherine Rihl’s sampler is one of approximately 15 known and similar samplers referred to as presentation samplers. They were stitched as a gift to their parents in the Philadelphia area. Almost all have the basket with strawberries, grape clusters, and flowers contained within a lovely border. The sampler is worked on 35 count linen using cross stitch, queen stitch, cross over one thread, and freehand embroidery. Kit price: $190.00. 25-person limit


Forget-me-not Pincushion Workshop
Little Reticule Workshop

Forget-Me-Not Pincushion
Wendy White, Needlework Designer, Teacher, and Independent Historian, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Adored by needlework tool collectors and needleworkers themselves, pincushions are not only decorative but useful. This little cushion features small forget-me-not flowers made using needlelace and embroidery techniques stitched in silk and attached to a linen ground. One of these flowers is a treat for stumpwork enthusiasts! Kit price: $102.00. 25-person limit

Little Reticule
Wendy White, Needlework Designer, Teacher, and Independent Historian, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book,
The Delineator, and various small publications were filled with a variety of projects for
the needleworker to make for herself, charity bazaars, and to give as gifts. Inspired by
some of those projects, this little reticule features silk stitching, beads, and vintage ribbon
as well as hand sewing for the construction. Kit price: $112.00. 25-person limit

‘Religion is Our Guide and Industry Our Support’: Orphanage, Asylum, and Charity School Samplers of the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Rebecca Scott, Witney Antiques, Oxfordshire, England
The samplers, workbooks, pockets, and pincushions, worked by the poor, whether at orphanages, asylums, or in one of many charity schools founded from the early years of the 18 century, provide us today with some of the finest examples of childhood needlework to survive. The level of skill that is displayed in many of these objects and the sentiment that can be read in their verses, provides a unique glimpse into the lives of the children of the poor. 25-person limit

The Essentials: Needlework Tools at Winterthur
Roberta Weisberg, Cataloguer, Museum Collections, Winterthur
From clamps to needle cases and pincushions to sewing boxes, sewing essentials can be decorative and beautiful. Winterthur was recently given an exciting, new collection of needlework tools. Examine up close examples from this new collection as well as some other stunning, rarely seen pieces at Winterthur. 10-person limit

Behind the Scenes of Costumes of Downton Abbey
Maggie Lidz, Estate Historian, and Jeff Groff, Director of Public Programs
Join Maggie Lidz and Jeff Groff, co-curators of the exhibition, who will discuss bringing Downton Abbey to Winterthur and procuring the costumes. 60-person limit

Needlework at Winterthur
Join some of Winterthur’s specialist guides for a focused tour of needlework in the collection.
25-person limit


*Image at top: Table cover, 1850. Gift of Joan S. Betty 2010.0049

Close Window

Send Me A Reminder
days before
[ Set Reminder ] [ Cancel ]