I returned to needlework from knitting in 2001, when I stumbled onto stitching an entire sampler in miniature by mistake. Looking for a suitable follow-up piece, I was drawn to Darleen O’Steen’s “Cranberry Sampler”, because… well, because it had squirrels on it. I have a bit of a thing for squirrels, which is good for a cross-stitcher since they’re a popular and traditional motif in historic samplers and reproductions. So I bought the chart, pulled the threads, picked a linen and then sat down to start. Oops. I realized instantly I was in way over my head. The design called for a bazillion fancy stitches I hadn’t done before: double cross, long arm cross, detached buttonhole, needle weaving and wrapping, double running, and two that would become my nemeses — Montenegrin and the dreaded trellis.
Somehow I managed to stumble through it (thanks to Boomer’s collection of needlework reference books) and finished it:
The design followed a traditional true sampler style, where the work got harder as you go top to bottom. The first few rows were pretty simple satin stitches (just long, straight, easy-to-count stitches) and reversible cross. The going got tougher with the carnation motifs.
The green vine was done in Montenegrin, an interwoven stitch that manages to squeeze 10 different needle positions in the space of a normal cross stitch. Counting it and going on a diagonal nearly killed me. But it makes for a stunningly intricate, dense finished result. It shows of the richness of a nice silk thread well. The carnation leaves were filled in with my favorite stitch of all time, queen stitch and the petals with long arm cross.
The next fun bit was the boxers:
Boxers (little putti outlined in double-running stitch) are a very traditional motif in 17th century English band samplers. They bring a fun insouciance to the piece, I think, with their jaunty smiles, crazy hair-helmets and detached-buttonhole loin cloths. There’s a matching set on the other end of the band, but those are deliberately left unstitched to mirror authentic antique samplers. I entered this work in the Phoenix Needlework Show in 2002 and was marked down for not finishing it. Morons! That was intentional! Sheesh. Some people!
Things really started to heat up with the two big medallion motifs. The first one was pretty much a repeat of the stuff I learned doing the carnations and it turned out well as a result:
The second one? Not so much:
The green blobs you see pretending to be leaves are supposed to be intricately and evenly filled in with trellis stitch. (Trellis is so evil no one has diagrams of it online!) It was a disaster. A complete and utter disaster. I ended up just sort of randomly weaving and knotting the silk until it sort of filled in the space it was supposed to. Just after finishing the entire work I proudly showed it off to a member of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America. Of course the first thing she did was point to that mess and say, “Oh, that’s an interesting stitch! What is it?” “Trellis,” I sniffed, and walked away. Stupid trellis.
Fortunately whatever self-esteem I may have lost after Trellis-stitch-gate, I gained back with the bottom portion:
This section is all about whitework (stitches done in a thread that closely matches the color of the linen). The first part was mostly satin with some buttonhole bars tossed in; it was fun and easy.
The second part was sheer terror. The technique calls for hem stitching an area and then cutting out every other two threads, making a bigger grid than the linen’s usual weave.
OK, cutting threads out of the middle of a project I’d already spent months working on? NOT FUN. I’m still not entirely convinced, four years later, that the entire thing won’t unravel if I look at it funny. Once I got the threads cut and pulled, I wrapped the threads that remained, making them into a sort of lace-like substance. The design of the squirrels is created with dove’s eyes, the perfect stitch for a perfectionist (which I’m most distinctly not when it comes to stitching, particularly when I’m this close to the end and just want to get it finished and hanging on the wall).
All in all, I’m incredibly proud of my work on this piece. I absolutely adore the design and the bright (but still historic and classy) colors, so I desperately wanted my contribution to the piece to stand up to the designer’s. True samplers like this are a tremendous amount of fun. I may grouse about doing diagonal montenegrin, and I may not be able to do a perfect (or even adequate) trellis, but I tried and mostly succeeded to learn something new.