USA Today bestselling author Lea Wait lives in Maine, where she writes the (so far) 5-book Mainely Needlepoint mystery series and the 8-book Shadows Antique Print series, as well as historical novels for young people. Learn more about Lea and her books at her website where you can find links to a free prequels of her books.
Old Embroidery That Tells Stories
Growing up as a fourth generation antique dealer, and then as a dealer myself for 35+ years, I sometimes saw embroideries that had been treasured not only as decorative works of art, but as illustrations of family stories.
For example, some samplers didn’t just have a verse and several alphabets. Some preserved family records. The stitchers embroidered names of their family on trees or more often (considering the 10-18 children I’ve seen listed), included names and birth (and sometimes death) dates and bordered the names with embroidered flowers.
Mourning embroideries usually picture a tomb shaded by one or more weeping willows, and several people (usually identifiable as family members) grieving next to the tomb, which is engraved with one or more names.
But not all “story” embroideries were sad. Patchwork memory quilts were sometimes given to new mothers, new brides, or young women heading west. Organized by friends of the recipient, the patches were often from garments that had been worn by the stitcher, who also embroidered the patch before the quilt was assembled, often at a quilting bee. Some simple quilts had patches embroidered with the names of those giving it, perhaps women in a church group, or young women who’d gone to school together.
(As a side note, today, at least in Maine, a popular library fundraiser is to cut quilt pieces and send them to authors, who sign and return them. The names are then embroidered over by volunteers, the quilt assembled, and then auctioned off.)
One of the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen was pieced with velvets and silks, and each piece was embroidered by a different person. The skill of the embroiderers varied considerably. I’d guess that some were very young, while others were very accomplished. Although we’ll never know what the exact message of the quilt was, an educated guess was that it was given to a new bride who was leaving the town where she grew up – probably a seaport.
The embroideries of the patches appeared to be memories that the recipient could take with her. A clipper ship. Strawberries. Holly. A pine tree. A dog. A cat. A house. Daffodils. Queen Anne’s Lace. A cardinal. A chickadee. A music note.
The quilt pictured has embroidery on the patches … and the embroidery linking the patches is designed to look like seaweed. (Collecting and preserving seaweed was a popular Victorian pastime for young women. But that’s another subject!)
Another memory quilt I’ve seen was made from the clothing of a union soldier who’d served in the Civil War, and the flag he’d carried. Embroideries on it included his dates of service, the battles he’d fought in, his unit, and the states he’d traveled to. It was pieced and embroidered by his wife, who wrote an explanation for the patches, which was saved with the quilt.
Unfortunately, not all quilts have legends.
But perhaps, the stories we made up about them are almost as interesting.
Tightening the Threads, A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery
n the coastal town of Haven Harbor, blood runs thicker than water—and just as freely…
Antique dealer Sarah Byrne has never unspooled the truth about her past to anyone—not even friend and fellow Mainely Needlepointer Angie Curtis. But the enigmatic Aussie finally has the one thing she’s searched for all her life—family. And now she and long-lost half-brother, Ted Lawrence, a wealthy old artist and gallery owner in town, are ready to reveal their secret connection…
Ted’s adult children are suspicious of their newfound aunt Sarah—especially after Ted, in declining health, announces plans to leave her his museum-worthy heirloom paintings. So when Ted is poisoned to death during a lobster bake, everyone assumes she’s guilty. If Sarah and Angie can’t track down the real murderer in time, Sarah’s bound to learn how delicate—and deadly—family dynamics can truly be…