Still Stitching: 19th Century Tapestry

Posted on November 16, 2011


The Stitching Sisters, pictured in Mary Ann's living room with the large 19th century tapestry on a frame. The group meets here twice weekly to work. Photo: Don Dement Photography

The Stitching Sisters, 19th Century Large Tapestry

The second phase of the Annapolis Tapestries was ceremoniously delivered to my home early in November 2010.  The Project Chair, Remy Agee, and her husband, Bob Agee, proudly unrolled the beautifully hand painted canvas and awaited my reaction.  As they had expected, I was shocked and amazed at the overall depiction of 19th Century Annapolis as it appeared during the second one hundred years.  The many more streets, additional buildings and houses were all there, and the difference from the 18th Century tapestry was astounding.  We had completed the stitching on that tapestry just a few weeks before, and it was carefully stored upstairs, awaiting the blocking process.    Our team had put in a total of 3,266 hours on it, and we were very proud and pleased with the results.  Bob and Remy pointed out all of the additional historic buildings and points of interest on the new canvas and the three of us were anxious for the team to see it.  I estimated that it would take longer to stitch this one, but we would begin to work on it immediately.

On November 8, 2010, the team gathered here for “set-up day”.   Some of us pinned and hand stitched the new canvas to the original cloth strips that had been installed on the quilt frame for the first tapestry.  This worked fine and allowed the canvas to be rolled to selected sections, as with 18th Century piece.  Hollis Minor had delivered the wool and the rest of us spent the day sorting and cutting the wool to manageable lengths.  We did not have new color pallets showing all of the wool strands, so we had to use the old ones for reference, which helped most of the time.   There were 40 different colors and shades for this new canvas; so we numbered and named each color.  We then made cardboard holders for each color family, so that all of the blues, greens, browns, etc., were together and at hand. This system has worked much better, but we often wish we had new pallets to refer to instead of the original ones, as some of the colors are not quite the same. 

Hollis did stop by one evening to clear up some of our questions, as several of the colors were not used on the first canvas.  Two days later, most of the team returned to put in the first stitches on this magnificent 19th Century tapestry canvas.   Our team remained the same as before:  Debbie (who had agreed to be our coordinator for the 19th Century panel), Sheryn, Bettie, Eleanor, Sally, Joy, Carol and Linda along with our newest member, Caroline (who lives nearby) and the undersigned.

We resumed our usual schedule of stitching twice weekly and most of the team continued to bring their lunches. Sometimes during the cold winter months, I would make a big pot of soup and there was always iced tea, homemade cookies and snacks. The team often brought extra goodies.   We put in long hours as we became acquainted with the new canvas and all its many details.   We decided at first to roll the canvas to the most complicated section – the center of the town as pictured on the canvas – and we each chose our areas to work.  Even during the busy holiday season, there always were several stitchers here and we had a special Xmas lunch one day.    In January and February when the big snows came,  there were several times  stitchers would grab a shovel to give me a hand clearing a path up the driveway.  I was always very grateful to have their help.  There have been some sad times also and our team – as always – has helped each other.

Spring and summer came and went, we stitched between our team’s travels all over the world to China, Asia, Europe and the USA.  We always enjoyed hearing of their adventures on their return.  We did a special birthday lunch in June, as four of us celebrate our birthdays that month.    We continue to discuss current events, family and good books we are reading and often exchange our favorites.  In July, I closed the house for two weeks and drove the van to Kansas City for a seminar and meetings, so there was no stitching for those two weeks.

Through the summer, we stitched on the same portion of the canvas we had started.  On August 27th, the hurricane came through and we were without power for five days which meant no stitching that week.  By September, we had logged 1,469 stitching hours on the new canvas. We finally rolled the canvas forward, exposing the very top portion.   We have been stitching on that area since then and now have logged a total of 1,738 hours as of this date.  There is still a lot of stitching to go on the top portion and we will probably not roll it back to the middle until the first of the year. That will leave approximately one-third of the canvas not stitched.  Our estimate of finishing the canvas remains at early 2013, barring snow storms, power failures, deaths or illness.

In October, I was pleased to turn over the 18th Century tapestry to Hollis Minor with plans to send it off to Texas for blocking and framing.  The stitchers were pleased to support this phase of the project by pledging and contributing the money to cover the cost of blocking and finishing the large 18th Century Tapestry which they had helped stitch. We look forward to its return and display in Annapolis at the museum exhibit early in 2012.

It has been a busy month so far.  On November 2nd a Maryland chapter of The Questers, Smithson Chapter #1271 (from the Bel Air area), stopped in on a Wednesday morning to see the tapestry in progress.  They were very impressed with it and very complimentary of our dedication to the project.

On November 7th, Remy  and Jane McWilliams, author of the first complete history of the City (see Historians Work Group: Publications), joined us during our lunch break.  We so enjoyed  Jane’s unique insight on the many details of the 19th Century tapestry.  She is one of the historians who met for months and helped determine the contents of the canvases.  It was a real treat  to hear her observations of the history of Annapolis and we hope she will visit us again.   We also hope to welcome other members of the Historians Work Group who have worked on the project.

Meanwhile, we will continue to stitch!

Mary Ann, Host