|The Loara Standish Sampler|
Lea Wait is the author of the Mainely Needlepoint series (Twisted Threads, Threads of Evidence and, coming in December, Thread and Gone.) She also writes the Shadows Antique Print mystery series and historical novels for ages 8 and up. Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine is her series of essays on the writer’s life. Learn more about Lea and her books at her website.
Being able to sew a fine seam and embroider were for centuries considered basic skills for women. In the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries needlepoint, the most decorative of these arts, was done primarily by wealthy women and the men hired by them to create tapestries, bed hangings, and elaborately stitched clothing.
In seventeenth through nineteenth century North America, tapestries were not common, but before central heating, bed hangings were common in wealthier households. And as in Europe, girls were expected to demonstrate their dexterity with needles at an early age, and often did this by stitching a sampler using various embroidery stitches, often including an alphabet, a scene, and, almost always, a devout verse.
Possibly the first sampler stitched in the New World was done by Loara Standish (pictured above,) daughter of Miles Standish, in 1640. It is now displayed in Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
By the nineteenth century, embroidery skills were taught in girls’ schools on the east coast, and teachers designed elaborate samplers for their students to stitch, frame, and give to their parents to thank them for the gift of an education.
One of my favorite sampler verses was stitched in 1827 by Mary Chase, age eleven, in Augusta, Maine: “Let virtue prove your never fading bloom, For mental beauty will survive the tomb.”
Girls like Mary Chase inspired my Mainely Needlepoint mystery series. (Twisted Threads, the first in the series, was published in January, 2015.)
In an unexpected twist for a craft mystery series, my protagonist, Angie Curtis, is just learning to do needlepoint. But her grandmother is a master, and has started Mainely Needlepoint, a business that employs a variety of men and women in Haven Harbor, Maine, to do custom needlepoint and identify and restore antique needlepoint. (In Threads of Evidence, the second in the series, clues in needlepoint they are restoring give clues to a mysterious death in 1970.)
I love the (often depressing) verses on samplers, so I’ve included a verse, or a quotation about needlepoint, at the beginning of every chapter in this series.
For example, this verse was embroidered by Lydia Draper, age thirteen, in 1742:
Nothing is so sure as Death and
Nothing is so uncertain as the
Time when I may be too old to Live,
But I can never be too young to Die.
I will live every hour as if I was to die the next.
What better sentiment for a mystery series?
Threads of Evidence
It's hard to imagine anything bad ever happening in picturesque Haven Harbor, Maine--until a famous face rolls into town and unthreads some very dark secrets. . .
Angie Curtis and the Mainely Needlepointers are all too familiar with the Gardener estate. The crumbling Victorian mansion, known as "Aurora," has been sitting vacant for nearly twenty-five years--and some say it's haunted by the ghost of Jasmine Gardener, the teenage girl who died there in 1970 under mysterious circumstances...
Harbor Haven is abuzz with excitement when Hollywood actress Skye West decides to buy Aurora and sell off its furnishings. And Angie is intrigued when Skye asks her to appraise the estate's sizable collection of needlepoint pictures. But the more she examines the pieces, the more they seem to point toward Jasmine's murder--and the murderer--and it's up to her to stitch the clues together. . .