The recent exhibition and auction of Betty Ring’s needlework collection inspired me to try working a sampler in miniature. I had found myself attracted to a particular sampler that was identified as coming from the Canterbury area of New Hampshire. The ‘Canterbury’ samplers are characterized by the use of several similar motifs, birds, large baskets with flowers and by the fact that most of the larger motifs are outlined in black. They tend to be fairly busy pieces, the birds and flowers filling the areas surrounding the lettering blocks.
As I wanted to be able to include as much detail as possible, I decided to work on 72 ct silk gauze, that being the finest scale I could expect to see easily (with considerable magnification) and have a wide range of colored thread with which to work. Keeping to the same proportions, that gave me a workable area of 84 X 103 stitches, only about a third as many as the original. Obviously some detail was going to be lost in the translation, but I set out creating a chart, breaking the original into halves and quarters and transferring the elements to graph paper.
The first detail to go was the outlining-with only a few stitches with which to define a motif, there were none to spare for a black outline. You could expect to use a dark brown or black for some details, but an outline around each motif, was out of the question. Fairly happy with the amount of detail I was able to capture in the chart, I picked out some colors and started stitching the green hillocky area that goes across the bottom. Coming to the first fine details in that grassy area, I began to realize just how difficult defining them was going to be. With 72 stitches equalling an inch, how big is a leaf or flower that is only 3 or 4 stitches wide? About the size of a pinhead. Subtle color changes are not at all visible to the naked eye when comprised of stitches the size of pinholes. Color changes were going to have to be large and dramatic to read in such small scale.
As I proceeded on, I came to another realization, just as a matter of course, when stitching you are totally focused on one tiny area at a time, then the magnification comes off and you evaluate the overall appearance and realize, the eye needs space to move around in even such a tiny composition. I could put in all the little details I had sketched in my chart, but they were going to make the sampler terribly busy and you would not see the individual elements. Other little details fell by the wayside leaving space between and around motifs that would enable the eye to move.
This is not my first time to this dance, but it seems if I do not work on my miniature stitching continuously, I must rediscover these ‘facts’ over and over again. I do feel that it ‘reads’ as a Canterbury sampler, but in future versions refinements may make it even more successful.