Please note that Miss Lent begins to show hand drawn stitch diagrams in this section of the manuscript. I have chosen to omit those charts, as they represent common stitch techniques readily available in other resources.
Peculiarities of the old Montreal Sampler
After considering some of the characteristics of historic samplers, we may now appreciate the differences to be found in the Montreal sampler we are about to study in detail. In its narrow width and exceptional length, it might be compared with the samplers of the Tudor period, for our sampler was forty-eight feet long and about six inches wide! It incorporated some one hundred and thirty-nine designs—including petit point floral letters of the alphabet, suitable for use as monograms. The remainder of the one hundred and thirteen canvas stitch designs are of practical use to any modern worker.
Most of the designs are of an all-over nature, and might be used for any number of purposes, such as chair seats, stools, bags, cushions, etc. and are suitable for use with contemporary furnishings or period pieces, and their delightfully unusual colourings are desirable for most settings.
The sampler designs reveal clearly the many characteristics of the creator. Obviously she was possessed of infinite patience and excellent technique; as well as an effective, if not often unconventional colour sense. Her work is delightfully imaginative and individual, yet not inconsistent with the tastes of her time.
Before this work of a century ago can be fully comprehended, it is necessary to learn the language of her basic stitches. This proves to be unbelievably simple, for our artist confined herself to a comparatively restricted vocabulary, utilizing only a limited number of canvas stitches in various combinations. They are the basic stitches, such as might have been taught to any private school or convent, or in the home by a cultivated mother or governess.
Such basic stitches should be learned like an alphabet, in order to describe properly either simple or complex patterns, both types being found in this sampler.
Our needle-artist used simple materials—various coloured yarns, including a number of shades in each colour; some metallic thread, some plaited straw braid, black silk twist, and a few beads.
The sampler’s base was a forty-eight feet of strong, single-mesh canvas, such as that on which petit-point is executed. This type of narrow canvas was used for the making of Victorian bell pulls, such as occasionally find their way to antique dealers; and in their day were to be found as an accessory in many fine drawing rooms to summon servants.
On such a long narrow piece of canvas, six inches in width, our Montreal shopkeeper stitched her designs in careful sequence, coiling her work neatly in a roll for convenience, as she continued progressively from one end to the other, and dated it between 1847 and 1849.
The single mesh canvas may be a little confusing to North American Workers, where double-bar canvas, (technically known as Penelope canvas), is more generally procurable. However, anyone inclined to copy any of these designs, like those in the so-called Gobelin upright stitches, may execute them between the double bars of this type of canvas to produce the same effect as that of the original single bar canvas. However, with more imports from Europe since the last war, correct single mesh canvas can be procured readily enough from the needlework departments of large stores and most specialty shops.
The sampler maker’s favourite stitch was the simple and familiar Cross Stitch. With this lovable old stitch, (probably dating from the time when the woof and weft were first covered of the crudest fabrics made on the primitive looms), our worker created unusual effects, peculiarly her own.
As a completely individualistic expression, she sometimes used Cross Stitch on the canvas with fine, tightly twisted black silk thread—the canvas deliberately permitted to show through, to produce an unusually effective, ‘lace-like’ background for her most beautiful designs.
Her Cross Stitch, whether of silk or wool, was always in the best, smooth technique, both on the right side or reverse of her fabric. In some designs large Cross Stitch was used, covering as much as four bars of canvas in this manner————
Chart in original manuscript here
Tent Stitch, or what is familiarly known today as needlepoint, was another favorite stitch. She worked her needlepoint in the correct manner, from right to left, proved by the fact that the reverse side of the canvas is covered completely with long slanting stitches. She never used Half Cross Stitch, which many modern workers use today, as so-called needlepoint, believing they are saving wool. In reality they are creating a weak fabric for the reverse of the canvas is left uncovered, and therefore unprotected, except for line of small darning stitches. Our Montreal worker was wise, for she worked her sampler to be permanent, and she confined herself to the use of correct Tent Stitch for her needlepoint effects. She was actually creating real petit-point, for she usually covered but and single bar of canvas with her Tent Stitch.
Here is a diagram of this stitch, and the way she used it:
Chart in original manuscript here
Another stitch, of which our worker was particularly fond, was the graceful Gobelin Stitch, and its variations. This canvas stitch is not as familiar or as popular today as it deserves to be. She preferred this stitch in its long, up-right form, and sometimes as a long, slanting stitch. Again, in alternating stitches of varied length. There is a form of beautiful old embroidery variously known as Point d’Hongroise, Bargello, Florentine Stitch, or Flame embroidery, which is based solely on the Upright Goleblin Stitch.
Her favorite interpretation of Gobelin Stitch covered four bars of canvas. Here are diagrams of Gobelin Stitch, and some of its variations:
Be careful to cover the exact number of bars as given in the diagram, whether they be over two, three, four, or ever up to eight bars of canvas; for only by following the number of bars exactly will the desired effects be produced. The stitches must be placed neatly, and of even tension, side by side, in the arrangements, simple of complicated, as the charts disclose.
Chart in original manuscript here
A peculiarly individualistic character, evident in her work, was the use of monochromatic rhythms in the colouring, or the use of several tone of one colour—for example a rhythm ranging from softest white-grey to deep smoke-grey, or from palest shell pink to deep wine red, or from the palest off-white to deepest brown. With these suggestions, we introduce you to this new friend, and her intriguing mystery of more than a century ago. She has a wealth to give you in your needlework.
We are delighted to have had the privilege of discovering this interesting, timeless artist, and it is our pleasure to acknowledge our indebtedness for this privilege to MacDonald College, when its Craft Department was under the direction of Dr. Ivan Crowell, and the late Dr. Murray Gibbon, without whose inspiration and help the preparation of this book would not have been possible.