The Humble Sampler: Harriett Turner 1868

An antique adaptation with heart.

Sometimes a little piece of history comes your way and just captures your heart. From the moment I saw Harriett’s needlepoint sampler, I knew she was a kindred soul. While the beautiful, almost abstract flowers first caught my eye, it was the sentiment that really drew me to the piece. To me, it beautifully captured values that are important to me: of being of service to others in need and of humility.

Humility gets a bad rap in contemporary Western culture – and is often misunderstood. It is not the same as being a doormat and this sentiment is not saying to always place everyone else’s needs above your own. Instead, humility is the recognition of living in a community, where one’s own needs must be balanced with the needs of others. I love how Harriett’s sampler reminded me of the beauty of this humility and of the strength and compassion that it demonstrates.

A close-up of the antique original.

The antique original and its reproduction

Harriett’s sampler was a complete joy to reproduce. Originally stitched in wools on a rough and very uneven canvas, I have converted it to cross stitch using the colours from the front. As you can see below, the original colours (which you can see on the back) were a great deal brighter! I am creating a colour conversion for these colours on the back – which I will post here later.

The canvas used to stitch the original demonstrates a feature that is not easy to reproduce now: the width and height of the threads were very unequal. Our fabrics today are woven with equal widths and lengths, so in a reproduction, the shape of the sampler will shift. The original appears wider than my reproduction, although the stitch count is the same.

The back of Harriett’s original sampler: much brighter colours, and who cares about carrying threads?

Being a needlepoint, the background was fully stitched in the antique; in my reproduction, I have chosen not to do this, but to let the beautiful buttery cream colour of the linen stand in for the heavy stitching.

Reproducing antique needlepoint into cross-stitch can require some more adjustments. Typically, needlepoints can use a high number of colours, and uneven fading can result in even more shades becoming visible. In the original, there were four or five extra colours that only had a few stitches each; I decided, for the sake of design cohesion and to make the costs of stitching it more budget-friendly, to forgo these extra colours. In my opinion, the loss of these is barely noticeable, but if you would like information on these changes, just let me know.

As I was making these colour adjustments, and with the shape of the sampler naturally different due to the fabric differences, it was clear that I was creating an adaption of the antique, rather than a strict reproduction. With this, I decided to make a couple of other design changes. The third line of text in the original was stitched with a higher number of stitches than the rest of the sampler (Harriett appeared to use the double threads of the canvas to her benefit). To copy this exactly, I would have had to have partial letters stitched over one, with other parts over two. To me, this appeared clumsy and didn’t reproduce the original well. Instead, I opted to keep it to full crosses over two, adjusting the spacing slightly to make it more legible.

The last change I made was the colour of Harriett’s name and the date. In the original, it was in a different brown to the rest of the text, which was not used elsewhere. I wanted to better differentiate her name from the text, and so charted it in Weeks Dye Works ‘Dove’, which I wanted to highlight in the design. You can, of course, choose to stitch it in your preferred colour from the palette.

The antique piece is unframed and a little rough around the edges. It is fraying on most edges and there is a little stitch loss in the corners; to me, it looks well-loved, and a little humble.

Colours and finishing

My model was stitched on the glowing 36-count ‘Toasted Mallow’ by Number12StitchCo on Etsy: a beautiful, warm cream that is a very good match for the stitched background of the original. It is stitched in full crosses only, and I stitched using 1 strand of floss over 2 threads of linen. Being full crosses, it can be stitched on linen, evenweave or Aida, in your preferred count.

I used a mix of Gentle Arts, Classic Colorworks and Weeks Dye Works overdyed threads to stitch the design, and the chart has a full DMC conversion. As there are quite a few colours, you could very well use a mix of overdyes and DMC and get a similar effect.

To frame the design, I am lucky enough to have a father who is a woodworker. He built the frame for me, which I painted in a beautiful, dusky blue that is close to the Weeks Dye Works ‘Dove’ that I used for Harriett’s name. I often paint frames (both thrifted and standard size ones) to customise them to my preferred palette. I will be creating a post soon about how I do this, but if you want to match my colour, I used a small sample pot of matt interior housepaint by Porter’s Paint called ‘Explorer Blue’. I purchased it from a local hardware store (if you’re in Australia). If you’re overseas, I’m sure you have similar paints that you can use.

Last thoughts and a stitching variation

I loved every stitch of this ‘humble sampler’ – and I hope you do too. In fact, I plan to return to it and stitch the lower section on its own: I think the stunning, almost abstract flowerpot would look fabulous stitched on its own and framed in a square frame, or perhaps stitched on a very high-count fabric for a little pin pillow.

The chart is available to order from your local needlework store now, and the hard-copy chart and PDF will be up in my Etsy store in a few weeks. If you would like a kit, visit the lovely Nicola at Number12StitchCo on Etsy – she has some very special kits with her beautiful linen and the threads ready to go.

I hope stitching this sampler reminds you of the strength of your humble heart. Happy stitching…