Above is a half-hour lecture on Civic virtue in Early America, by Dr. Saul Cornell, the Paul and Diane Guenther Chair, American History, Fordham University. Dr. Cornell explains the vital role of Civic virtue in the thinking of our Founding Fathers and also in Early American society.
At minute 26:56 Dr. Cornell discusses how after the American Revolution women in America started including elements of American civic values into their needlework samplers, which strikes a chord with me. As an avid needlewoman, I’ve done a great deal of reading about needlework and samplers are my favorite needlework design, actually. A sampler was a personal stitch guide that young girls sewed, as they mastered new stitches. They would use it later as a guide to help them remember the various stitches, which was extremely useful in an era before printed references and literacy were widespread.
Even among educated women, a sampler provided a very useful reference, where you could look at the actual stitch on fabric and see how a stitch was worked. Although samplers served a utilitarian purpose, as with needlewomen for millennia, women add their own personal flourishes and artistic elements to turn the prosaic into something pretty. It is most definitely a “female thing”.
I posted this photo of one of my samplers a while back. Sorry the lighting was bad, but here is one of my samplers with American motifs awaiting pressing and framing. This one was a pattern designed by a modern-day needlework designer:
In previous posts I’ve mentioned Rose Wilder Lane, who besides being a famous early 20th century journalist, novelist and political theorist, was an accomplished needlewoman.
In 1961, Woman’s Day magazine invited Rose Wilder Lane to write the story and history of the development of the needlework arts in America. Just as the spirit of individual liberty invigorated American political and commercial life, it invigorated American women and their needlework. Lane writes:
“The first thing that American needlework tells you is that Americans live in the only classless society. This republic is the only country that has no peasant needlework. Everywhere else, peasant women work their crude, naive, gay patterns, suited to their humble class and frugal lives, while ladies work their rich and formal designs proper to higher birth and breeding.
American needlework is not peasant’s work or aristocrat’s. It is not crude and it is not formal. It is needlework expressing a new and unique spirit, more American than American sculpture, painting, literature or classical music.”
p.10, Woman’s Day Book of American Needlework, , by Rose Wilder Lane, Copyright 1963
Here are a few more of my other samplers needing some pressing to block the designs (make sure there’s no stretching out) and then framing. Part of the distortion is my poor photography;-)
Although modern day feminists scoff at needlework, personally I think needlework teaches many lessons way more useful than droning about the evil male patriarchy. It teaches patience, self-discipline and perseverance;-)