Needlework in Southern California – A Sampling

On a quick trip to California to see our younger son and his sweet bride, we had great visit to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. All the gardens were open and full of bloom, although there is much construction of a new visitor center.

An exhibition titled “Useful Hours: Needlework and Painted Textiles from Southern California Collections” (up until September 2nd) featured samplers, pictorial or plain, from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, stitched mostly by girls or young women. The exhibit also included examples of elaborate needle skills using wool or embroidery floss on coats of arms, family trees, mourning pictures, and pockets (clothing lacked pockets, making detachable pockets useful).

The gallery guide says: “Because they represent rare examples of work designed and made by women, samplers are also valued today for the extraordinary insight they offer into the early training, daily lives, and social and cultural values of American women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.”

I recognize the historical nature of this exhibition (the pieces were made between 1763 and 1844 – see examples here), but perhaps the curators missed a bet by not flashing forward and including contemporary work.

I am thinking specifically of Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, an artist keeping this medium alive in a particularly So Cal, Hollywood way. After viewing the predictable homilies of the traditional samplers, it would have been fun to see a glimpse of the contemporary and cheeky samplers from Lisa’s show titled “Stitching Up the Noughties.”

Lettered in silk embroidery floss on burlap, the needlework offers her insights into the “daily lives, and social and cultural values of American women” early in this century. She is irreverent and wry and witty. To make it clear these are contemporary samplers, here’s a favorite text from Lisa’s sampler titled “On Being Realistic”:

“In days gone by,

a work like mine

Would have admirers

All in line.

No more are home arts

prized like rubies,

Today we must have

perky boobies.” (Lisa Borgnes Giramonti 2009)

You can see some of her samplers by following the link on her popular design blog “A Bloomsbury Life” or  here and learn about Lisa’s book due in 2014, “A design book about how our favorite novels (by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh and many, many more can help us live a more stylish and meaningful life”).

I’m looking forward to it!

2 thoughts on “Needlework in Southern California – A Sampling

  1. Laughing out loud at the updated sampler! I’ve been doing a bit of embroidery recently for a baby quilt — a crow, a chipmunk, and a cat. Embroidery always makes me feel so lady-like…

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