Their Story: 18th Century Large Tapestry Stitchers

Posted on November 12, 2011


Mary Ann, Stitching Host, 18th Century Large Tapestry

The first phase of the 300 Tapestry Project had finally been painted  by a very talented specialist in canvas painting and now was housed in the home of the Lees, ready  for the volunteer stitchers in the Fall of 2008.  I had seen an article in the Capital announcing that a historic  tapestry was being created to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the City of Annapolis charter in the 1700’s.

I had been in touch with Hollis Minor several times over the past year, and she had put me in touch with Sheryn, who was acting as the coordinator for the stitching of the first large canvas depicting a bird’s eye view of 18th Century Annapolis.  We met in the mornings at the Lee’s home several times a week during that Fall and the Lees made us feel welcome and were  very accommodating to our needs.  I did not know any of the volunteers, but we soon became well acquainted.  Some were more skilled in needlepoint than others, but we all could handle a needle and were very proficient in many other forms of needlework.

We quickly acquired the ancient art of tapestry work  and became accustomed to working on the piece which was tightly attached to a very large quilt frame.  Although there was room for four chairs on both sides, we soon discovered that in order to have sufficient elbow room,  it was better to have only three stitchers on each side.

At first, there were numerous volunteers who appeared and tried their hand at the intricate work. Gradually, we evolved to seldom more than five working on the canvas at one time.  By the end of that year, we decided to keep a daily time sheet and the mounting stitching hours showed our slow progress on the canvas.  By this time the “regulars” had become good friends and we were mildly encouraged by our progress.  We soon realized it would take patience and many hours to complete this project.  The stitchers set their own pace, choosing their own small sections to work on.  Some tackled the complicated small buildings and intricate crowded streets of the town. Others preferred  the larger, more open areas that required fewer changes of needle and wool colors.  Where possible, we used the basket weave style of stitching.  We often brought in and shared  our favorite tools, trading special stitching tips with each other.  We were becoming a team.

We continued to work through the spring of 2009 at the Lee’s.  Knowing that they  were planning a long trip and their house would be closed, it was decided to move the canvas and materials to my living room in early June 2009.  Because I was able to be home most of the time, we set a firm schedule of  stitching twice weekly, On those days, they could stitch as long as they wished.    There was always a pitcher of iced tea and snacks on the kitchen counter. The “regulars” soon discovered it was fun to bring along a sandwich and take a break at lunchtime.    We looked forward to our short session around the family room table, where we solved the problems of the world. Then, it was back to the living room and more stitching.

Gradually that summer we could see real progress, partly because we were becoming truly proficient at our task and also because the ladies were inclined to stay on into the afternoon, thus more stitching was done.   We all had our busy schedules  to work around,  but were united  in a common goal to complete the canvas – and at a high standard!  There were several times when the stitching quality didn’t suit us or there were slight mistakes; we took the time to laboriously remove the stitching and redo it.

Everyone had their own schedule – Debbie could only come one day a week, but when she sat down to the canvas, her stitching was always fast and perfect, so we were always glad to see her.  Sally, our effervescent family counselor, would breeze in and out (sometimes in between appointments). She always brought a breath of fresh air with her and sometimes some useful advice.  Joy, our expert needlepointer (she has taught the craft), is always here first, ready for her iced tea.  Joy always would tackle the most difficult of the objects on the canvas.  The Liberty Tree took her many hours of tedious work.    Bettie,  also an expert stitcher, was willing and able to work anywhere and everywhere on the canvas. We call her our “floater”.   Eleanor, who travels a lot with her husband, was able to come and go and we are always glad to see her.    She too is a wonderful “floater” and will take any empty seat and start in where someone left off.  That in itself is a real talent.  Last but not least, there was  our diplomatic  coordinator, Sheryn,  who had put in many unseen hours on the computer keeping us all informed and in the loop, all the while devoting many hours on the stitching as well and always with a careful  eye on our common goal.

The ladies listed above are what we called the “regulars”, but there have been others over the last two years who did contribute as well and are still coming occasionally to stitch. Kathy was not able to join us for a while, but has again returned.   There was Katie who helped us get started and gave us expert advice on the tapestry techniques.  Others included Lynn, VirginiaJean, Ellen, Pamela, Julia and Gen who stitched earlier.  And there were some house guests who came with the stitchers,  Louise from Florida  and Nancy from  South Korea. Finally, two  new stitchers joined the group as regulars, Carol and Linda.

As for me, I too was a “regular” and have thoroughly enjoyed the association with these generous, talented ladies.  I have been amazed at their dedication and willingness to come and stitch in blizzards and rainstorms.  It has been a particular pleasure for me to welcome them into my home.  My goal has been to make  this experience fun for everyone.  We have shared in the birth of a new granddaughter; listened to the step-by-step transformation of a new home; the readying for sale of another older home in Southern Maryland; heard about the travels of some to Europe, Colorado, California and Florida and mine to Natchez, Mississippi.  We’ve given advice, shared recipes and listened to other points of view.     Throughout the long hours of stitching,  our unique camaraderie has grown.  We are a team.

Stitching on the large 18th Century Tapestry was completed in October 2010 with  3,266 hours logged in stitching. We all  look forward to stitching the next phase of the project, the 19th Century canvas.

October 2010

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