This weekend marked another installment of my foray into the seedy world of competitive cross stitch. Yes, there is such a thing. All over the country local needlework guilds hold annual shows, which are usually then juried. I won a blue ribbon in the first one I entered, several years ago while living in Scottsdale. Buoyed by my blue ribbon finish, I entered 3 more pieces in the following show. That one was far less successful. The pieces that should have been judged highly weren’t, and the ones that shouldn’t have been, were. One judge commented that she gave me a blue ribbon for using a technique that I clearly did not use on the work. I’ll admit that did sour me on the whole scene for a while, but when Boomer and Kate the Great suggested we all enter the Loudon Sampler Guild show outside DC this past week, I thought, “Eh, what the hell!”
We each entered two works, and having had a lot of time and experience to gauge our abilities against other quality needleworkers, we were fairly confident that we’d see blue ribbons all around. (Since none of us do any design work ourselves, there were no delusions of winning Best in Show.) Turns out, though, our confidence was apparently misplaced. Out of the 6 pieces, only one got a blue ribbon! Boomer and I each got reds on one piece and nothing, not even a green honorable mention, on the others! Horrors!
The blue ribbon winner was Kate the Great’s gorgeous Rhode Island sampler.
That ginormous ribbon hanging off it is the award for winning “People’s Choice”, an honor that almost makes up for the other disappointments of the day. “People’s Choice” is determined by votes submitted by everyone who comes to the show. (Boomer missed winning this honor in the Phoenix show by one vote. When she found out that all three of her daughters voted for other pieces, feeling it wasn’t fair to vote for a family member, she gasped, “Snakes in the nest!”) This photo does not do this piece justice. KtG has set a new standard for our own family-wide (and constant) competition to make the most beautiful project. Grrr… I mean, I’m so happy for her!
Boomer submitted this Quaker sampler:
It received a red ribbon, which would be acceptable if her other piece, “Sanctuary” (designed by The Drawn Thread and not pictured here), had received the blue ribbon it deserved.
As for me, I entered “The Oak Tree” (designed by The Sampler Company):
This is the piece that one a blue ribbon in Phoenix. The notable thing about it is that it’s a miniature version of the design. There are two ways to stitch, “over two” or “over one”. In “over two” each leg of the cross stitch goes up and over two threads in the woven linen; it follows that “over one” means each cross is up and over one, making the piece into a miniature. Over one stitching is far, far more difficult. This detail shows how teensy tiny the stitches are.
Someone entered the same design at Loudon, but stitched over two. It won a blue, and mine won a red. Harrumph! Something was definitely wrong with the judges. Kate the Great suggested some crack was imbibed. I’m inclined to agree.
The second piece I entered, which went home empty handed, was “The Willow Tree” (I can’t remember the designer, sorry):
The original design had a verse that basically listed the names and birth years of the stitchers family members. I junked that in favor of a verse I had seen on a sampler in the Victoria and Albert sampler collection:
Return the kindnesses that you receive
As far as your ability gives leave
There is nothing more unmannerly or rude
Than that vile temper of ingratitude
The willow trees and yellow flowers called for some more “over one” stitching, as well as some free-hand stitching, which was a bit of a new challenge for me. But I was very pleased with how it turned out. As I groused after hearing the report of the lack of ribbons, “I don’t regret the time I spent working on them!” Sigh. Next show, mark my words, next show…
My spirits were bucked up a bit when, on Saturday night, I put the last stitch in on “The Rose Garden” (designed by Threads of Gold):
It’s been so long since I started it, I can’t remember how long it’s taken me. I absolutely adore the design of this reproduction (the original is from 1851, I believe). The rose bramble border seems really unique to me, and it contains a variation on my favorite sampler verse. In this case it reads (misspellings were retained from the original):
This work perhaps my friends may have
When I am in my silent grave
And which when ere they chance to see
May kind remembrance picture me
While on the glowing canvass stands
The labour of my youthful hands
Few other cares than this I knew
But perseverance brought me through
What made me happiest about this project, though, was the back. Boomer once attended a stitching class given by the Embroider’s Guild of America. The instructor was a bit strict, demanding each of her students — middle-aged hobbyists, one and all — do “museum quality work”. Boomer used this phrase often when teaching her daughters to stitch, and as a result, I have an unshakable obsession with the reverse of all my pieces. No one will ever see it once it’s framed, but one glance at the back of a piece of needlework will instantly tell you how good or bad the stitcher is. I knew I’d arrived as a stitcher when the snobby framer at the shop in Phoenix started looking at the backs of my pieces before she did the front. In any event, I think this might be the best back-of-a-work I’ve ever done. Here’s a comparison shot of the front and then the same spot on the back.
It might not be museum-quality work, and it might not be worthy of a blue ribbon, but when the day is done, I’m proud of my work, and proud of Boomer’s and proud of Kate the Great’s (even if she won a People’s Choice before I did).