Two Book Reviews on Historical Needlework: Embroidery and Quilts

Discover two fabulous books on historical needlework, which appeared in the September/October 2009 issue of PieceWork. The first explores eighteenth- and nineteenth-century embroidery samplers made in Maryland. The second records the history of quilting in Massachusetts.

historical needlework

A Maryland Sampling: Girlhood Embroidery 1738–1860
By Gloria Seaman Allen
Baltimore, Maryland: Maryland Historical Society, 2007. Hardbound, 384 pages, $75. ISBN 978-0-938420-98-9.

Needlework scholar Gloria Seaman Allen opens this gloriously illustrated and meticulously researched book with an overview of needlework instruction in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Maryland. From advertisements, school and public records, diaries, portraits, and more than 130 samplers, she has compiled detailed information on Maryland needleworkers and teachers spanning both social and racial spectrums. As an example of Seaman’s attention to detail are three samplers and a portrait, all relating to the Hopper family: the samplers were completed by Elizabeth in 1752, when she was thirteen; by her sister, Mary, in 1772, when Mary was thirty-eight, and by Elizabeth’s granddaughter Elizabeth Nicholson Noel at the age of nine in 1805; the portrait, showing Elizabeth holding her granddaughter, was painted by an unknown artist circa 1800.

An appendix lists more than 500 samplers and pictorial embroideries, giving each maker’s name, home town, birth date, and age and date of completion, together with type of embroidery, place where it was made, and where it is now. Another appendix gives locations and dates for more than fifty schools and two hundred teachers along with quotations from period advertisements. For example, Baltimore instructor Miss Brenton advertised in 1817 that she would teach “composition embroidery, Print-work, Net work, Lace work, Filigree . . . fine Needle work, marking, fringing, plain sewing.”

Whether you are a needleworker or not, this marvelous book will help you gain insight into the world that was Maryland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

—Lexi Smithson

historical needlework

Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth
Lynne Zacek Bassett, ed.
Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2009. Hardbound, 336 pages, $60. ISBN 978-1-58465-745-3.

Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth documents the results of the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project, one of many statewide efforts to record the history of quilting. Each of the three sections in the book—History, Community, and Memory—explores individual makers and quilted objects in depth, from an imported silk whole-cloth crib quilt dated circa 1744 to a variety of pieced quilt tops made in the 1930s and 1940s. The stories of the makers of more than 100 quilts, quilted petticoats, pieced hand-screens, and a quilted coat are brought to life through probate inventories, period advertisements, diaries, portraits, photographs, and museum accession records. Lynne Zacek Bassett and ten other quilt scholars and historians and museum curators provide the historical, social, and geographic context for quiltmaking in Massachusetts. Each object, selected from the nearly 6,000 documented in the project, is shown in color; detail photographs of many of them allow close examination of the work. Anyone with an appreciation of quilts and quilted objects will revel in the rich detail found in this book.

—Jane Morrow

Read another informative book review on historical needlework in our blog post “Album Quilts.”


Learn more about historical needlework in PieceWork!

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