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Threads of History

This past weekend, I was fortunate to spend a beautiful fall day at Winterthur in DE.  If you are anywhere near the region, it is well worth a visit.

If you’ve never heard of it, a brief description from Winterthur’s website:

“Almost 60 years ago, collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969) opened his childhood home, Winterthur, to the public. Today, Winterthur (pronounced “winter-tour”) is the premier museum of American decorative arts, with an unparalleled collection of nearly 90,000 objects made or used in America between about 1640 and 1860. The collection is displayed in the magnificent 175-room house, much as it was when the du Pont family lived here, as well as in permanent and changing exhibition galleries.

“Winterthur is set amidst a 1,000-acre preserve of rolling meadows and woodlands. Designed by du Pont, its 60-acre naturalistic garden is among America’s best, with magnificent specimen plantings and massed displays of color. Graduate programs and a preeminent research library make Winterthur an important center for the study of American art and culture.”

One of the things that I love about Winterthur is that it has an amazing textile collection and there are pieces on display throughout the museum as well as regular (i.e. every 2-3 years) exhibits of needlework.  My visit this past weekend was specifically to see the current needlework exhibit, titled “Embroidery – the Thread of History.”

First thing to share is that this is a small exhibit, as I expected it would be.  In fact, I could capture the entire exhibit space with a few steps and a 360 degree turn in this video:

Given its vast holdings, when Winterthur puts on these exhibits (and I speak from the experience of having seen the needlework exhibits in 2008, 2011, 2014, 2016, and now 2018), they simply dig into their own collection and pull together items that fit the chosen theme.  There are schoolgirl samplers, household textiles, embroidered objects of all kinds.  I love the reflective piece of thinking about “embroidery as historical documents that can deepen our understanding of women’s lives.”  The exhibit truly did make a viewer think about “how needlework has been used to remember the past, document the present, and look forward to the future.”  (These quotes come from the introductory placard as well as the exhibit catalog/booklet, which can be purchased through the Winterthur bookstore here.

My favorite piece in the exhibit was a whitework tablecloth, which you can see as the big white square in the left corner in the video.  Here is a close up of one of the squares of the piece:


I found the stitching beautiful, as I almost always do when it comes to whitework.  But, truly, it was really because of the story that came with it.  The tablecloth was stitched in 1934.  It was known that the needlewoman, Ethel Warren Coolidge, was inspired by the ceramic tile design found on the cover of a magazine.


I loved this.  Just loved this.  This is just how I work very often, seeking inspiration in one medium to reproduce in needlework.  I certainly know that I am not the first to do so – it is just that I so love actually SEEING someone from a previous generation who did something that I love doing.

My last few visits in the last couple of years have inevitably led to pattern/design inspiration, as visiting any place, but particularly one with an artistic focus, certainly does these days.  Here are a couple of pictures I captured this weekend – who knows if future cross stitch patterns may emerge from what you see here:


One of the metal grillwork designs surrounding the reflecting pool


In the sundial garden.

That said, I still haven’t finished working on the designs inspired from my last visit during the summer!

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