I was rooting around in some boxes last weekend as I searched for left-over batting to stuff the chicken hat. I ran across a truly ancient one, full of dawn of time artifacts. Among them was this.
This sad little sampler is the second thing I ever embroidered. It’s a pattern stamped on linen, stitched in whatever leftovers were in my grandmother’s thread basket. I must have been around 5 when I did it because I remember bringing it finished into my first grade class show and tell during the first week of school.
I also remember picking it out. My grandmother and I went to a small, dark shop somewhere in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. It was a hot summer day, and even though the sun was out, the street was heavily shadowed by an elevated subway track. The store specialized in needlework supplies. I remember there being a tabletop display of sorts, one of those elevated shallow wooden bins, slopping over with small squares of this type. Thinking back, most were probably iron-ons that the shop applied to their own yardage, but there were also pre-printed strips for applique onto other items, plus toaster cozies and pillowcases. I remember Sunbonnet Sues and lots of flowers, but not that many with mottoes, and none with alphabets. That last point sticks with me because I wanted to stitch an alphabet sampler. And I remember taking the subway back home, anxious to sit down with my grandmother and start sewing.
The stitches are oddly leggy and none too precise. The inopportune colors have faded (the pale pink now was a very dark carnation when new). Thread coverage is spindly, – a haphazard mix of Perle cotton and stranded floss. The French knots are knobby growths, and the tension on the detached chains makes them look like squinty little eyes. The back is a horror.
But I can see the spots that I did last are neater, and by the end of the project I had learned to make all my top legs lie in the same direction. But most of all – I finished the thing.
It may be an ugly little artifact, but I’m proud of it.