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Stitched Stories Women's Narratives in Regional Textiles

Stitched Stories reexamines textiles found in the Phillips Museum of Art's permanent collection, crafted by women living in this region from the 19th and 20th centuries. By analyzing the narratives told through fabrics, we can witness the women's efforts to document their lives, be an agent of social change, and build community through their handicraft. Understanding the crucial role that women had in the realm of creativity with textiles, Stitched Stories redefines what is considered a work of art.

Curated by Lindsay Marino, Assistant Director and Collections Manager of the Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College.

Susanna S. Haigh Hardy (Pennsylvania, 1893–1956). Needlework Rug, c. 1930s. Wool, 10' x 9' 6". Gift of Margaret Leech Pulitzer, #2014.00.471.

An extraordinary example of craft, this hand-embroidered carpet was pieced together by Susanna S. Haigh Hardy in the 1930s. Based off of the patterns seen in the 1835 Caswell Carpet (currently in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), this carpet would have taken years to complete. Hardy, a psychoanalyst, was one of the first women to graduate from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1917.

Most certainly a project of passion for the craft, the rug was made for her cabin in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania and given to the College in 1958, shortly after her death. The recreation of the 100-year-old patterns helps carry on the importance of these handcrafted stories. Also of note, are the squares that Hardy added to reflect her own life, seen below. The blue cat seen in Hardy’s carpet is part of the original Caswell Carpet patterning and later inspired a children’s book that won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1950.

Attributed to Miriam Sterner (Lancaster County, 20th C). Log Cabin Quilt, Barn Raising Variation, c. 1890s. Cotton and wool, 76 1/2 x 75". Gift of Robert L. Schaeffer, Jr., Ph.D., #2015.00.1706.

Log cabin quilts were extremely popular during the second half of the 19th century, mainly beginning around the Civil War. These quilts symbolized American values like self reliance, home, and family. Each square represents a cabin and, in this version, shows a lighter and darker side as if the sun was rising and left one side in shadows. At the center of each “cabin” is a red patch symbolizing a glowing hearth. The visual impact of the contrasting diamond rings are reminiscent of the framing timbers of a barn. The fabrics used in this quilt may have been scraps of worn-out clothing or bedding, showcasing this woman’s ability to reuse household textiles.

Unidentified maker (Pennsylvania, 20th C). Child’s Bedcover, c. 1900. Wool, silks, velvet, and knits, 64 x 59". Gift of Robert L. Schaeffer, Jr., Ph.D., #2015.00.1637.

This bed covering was pieced together using several different types of fabric, including silk, velvet, and wool. An extraordinary example of a figurative quilt, it tells a story of childhood, weaving together different scenes and adventures, presumably for Sam and Amelia, the two names stitched in the center. It is possible that this was a child’s project that was worked on with her mother, learning different stitches and applique techniques. In some areas the stitches are quite haphazard, while other stitches convey more complicated concepts like a bird’s wings in flight.

Unidentified weaver (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Coverlet, c. 1820. Wool and cotton, 78 x 71 1/2". Gift of Robert L. Schaeffer, Jr., Ph.D., #2015.00.1682.

This snowball and pine tree patterned coverlet is made using a technique that includes two intercrossed plain weave structures to give it extra weight and a pattern on both sides. To weave a coverlet with strong graphic motifs like those found here would require a large loom with up to 20 shafts, which hold the threads. Geometric patterning was predominantly found on coverlets from this period. Coverlets such as these would have been made by both women and men specializing in weaving as there wasn’t always space to keep the looms on the homestead. Women were usually responsible for the raw products included in the quilt, which would have required hours of processing the wool for the thread.

“When I am dead and in my grave and all my bones are rotten, when this you see remember me, or else I shall be forgotten.” Stitched on sampler by Mary Nissly, 1840

Traditionally, samplers used by Pennsylvania German women in this region were kept folded in a sewing basket and not intended for display. They were for reference when making household textiles. With the influence of English neighbors who had long practiced the art of needlework, samplers and show towels became showpieces.

Young girls were sent to schools around the region to learn how to do this complex needlework that showcased their knowledge of writing, types of stitches, and patience; these lessons reinforced the ideals of femininity at the time, with the ultimate goal of finding a suitable husband.

Mary Nissly (Lancaster County, 19th C). Sampler, 1837–1840. Linen and cotton, 19 x 17 1/2" (framed). Phillips Museum of Art Collection, #4197.

This example of a Mennonite sampler closely resembles that of “show towels,”a type of display work created by young girls. This sampler was not necessarily created for decoration, but for the more practical purpose of having a pattern for letters and motifs. Fascinatingly, these patterns can be traced back to embroidery examples from Germany in the 1500s. Little had changed regarding the combination of patterns, as most young girls learned them from the women in their family, passed down through generations with minimal modification.

Unidentified maker (Lititz, 19th C). Palemon and Lavinia Needlework, c. 1815–1825. Silk, chenille, metallic threads, and paint on silk with metallic spangles, 24 x 24" (framed). Bequest of Ida K. Hostetter, #4869.

This needlework is an example of the incredible work that young girls were completing at the Linden Hall girls’ seminary based in Lititz, Pennsylvania. This particular silk embroidery depicts “Palemon and Lavinia” from the poem “The Seasons” by James Thompson. There are only a few of these examples known, and this one remained unsigned by the young artist. The painting of the background and faces of the central figures was probably done by Samuel Reinke, a Moravian minister. Schools such as Linden Hall taught young women about fine needlepoint, music, writing, and reading. The establishments assisted wealthy families in educating their daughters in the aspects they believed would serve them well in married life and society.

Sarah D. Watson (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Sampler, 1832. Linen and silk, 19 1/2 x 19 3/4" (framed). Bequest of Serena Mayer North Hutchinson Estate, #2824.

This lovely example of a school girl’s sampler demonstrated Sarah Watson’s abilities to create even stitches with a pleasing, symmetrical design and a rather morbid poem by 21st-century standards. On close examination, it is evident that she was only a few stitches off from finishing this work of art, and one must wonder what prevented her from completing it.

S.A. Maul (American, 19th C). Mourning Sampler, 1837. Linen and silk, 20 1/4 x 20 1/4" (framed). Phillips Museum of Art Collection, #2021.

This heartbreaking example of grief was made by a mother, using her needle to help cope with the loss of her child. A carefully chosen poem was selected and a memory was stitched into the simple linen homespun fabric. Intended to be hung on the wall, this work would have been a daily tribute to the child.

A. Elizabeth Landau Hoeltzel (Lancaster County, 1870–1953). Grandmother’s Garden Quilt, 1940. Cotton, 96 x 76 x 1/4". Gift of George H. Hoeltzel ‘56, #TC2016.55.01.

Made especially for her grandson, George, Elizabeth Landau Hoeltzel painstakingly stitched this colorful and labor intensive quilt. The Hoeltzel family was established in Lancaster city, and built their homestead in 1892 in a field that is now South Lime Street. The fabric for this quilt was purchased at M.T. Garvin & Co. Department Store, also located downtown. This textile tells a larger story of the fabric and pattern trends of the time and provides a snapshot into the Lancaster lifestyle in 1940. The grandmother’s garden quilt pattern was popular in the Depression-era of the 1920s and 30s, as used scraps of textiles would be pieced together to create a practical piece of art.

Unidentified maker (Lancaster County, 20th C). Sunshine and Shadow Quilt, c. 1940. Wool and rayon, 78 x 79 1/2". Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Christian H. Shenk, #2015.00.1711.

A classic 20th-century pattern, this Sunshine and Shadow quilt was expertly crafted by an Amish woman in Lancaster County. The blocks along the outer edge of the bedcover are a hallmark of quiltmaking in Lancaster. Quilting has thrived among the Amish since the 1800s as it served as an outlet for creativity in a modest, restrained, and practical lifestyle.

Unidentified maker (American, 18th C). Hetchel, 1803. Iron, wood, and tin, 15 x 4.5 x 7". Gift of W.P. Martzall, #2015.00.86.

D.B. Klein (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Flax Spinning Wheel, c. 1830. Oak, maple, and iron fittings, 36 x 38 x 6 1/2". Gift of Robert L. Schaeffer Jr. Ph.D., #4414.

These tools were essential in 19th-century daily life. Flax would have been combed through the heavy hetchel to achieve the smooth texture seen here. The bundle would then be placed in the distaff and spun on the spinning wheel. It was a laborious process for women that would take hours to complete. The spun flax is used to weave linen cloth. The spinning wheel is most likely from the early 19th century based on the leg turnings and the chip carving. The incised name “D.B. Klein” on the front denotes a craftsman probably skilled in cabinet making and other woodworking products.

Unidentified weaver (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Homespun Yardage, c. 1860. Linen, variable dimensions. Gift of Robert L. Schaeffer, Jr., Ph.D., #2015.00.1420, 2015.00.1427, 2015.00.1431, 2015.00.1419.

This type of fabric was a mainstay textile on a homestead. Homespun was used for clothing, bedding, and tablecloths. Women were responsible for the raw product that was used in the production of the homespun linen fabric, which took endless hours to process and spin into a usable material. The vast majority of the textiles were produced by a local weaver, as the looms were too large to keep in most homes.

(left) Catharine Meck (Pennsylvania, late 18th and 19th C). Hand Towel, 1811. Homespun linen and cotton, 63 x 16 3/4". Gift of Agnes Shand Hostetter, #6023.

(center) Anna Eberly (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Hand Towel, 1838. Homespun linen and cotton, 68 x 17 1/4". Gift of Agnes Shand Hostetter, #5016.

(right) Lidia Funck (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Hand Towel, 1828. Homespun linen and cotton, 61 x 16 3/4". Gift of Agnes Shand Hostetter, #5312.

Hand towels were most frequently made by Pennsylvania German settlers, who brought European traditions to the region. They were especially popular in Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River. The practice of displaying decorative embroidered panels gave evidence of a well-kept home and of the housewife’s deftness with the flax wheel and the needle. They usually were examples of the very finest stitches a young lady could produce. The production of these towels fell off greatly after 1860, influenced by industrialization and the decline of home-spinning.

Lace is an ornamental openwork fabric created by looping, twisting, braiding, or knotting threads either by hand or by machine. The main categories of handmade lace are needle lace, bobbin lace, and decorated nets. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the handmade lace industry played an important part in the economies of many European countries. Seen as a way of protesting British imports, women made their own lace in the 18th century for detailing on dresses, hats, and other decorative items. Lacemaking in America started with European immigrants, who practiced their craft in communities all over the country.

Unidentified craftswoman (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Half Mitts, c. 1860. Knotted silk on net, 7 x 2 1/2 x 1/16". Gift of Mrs. George Ross Eshleman, #2014.00.42.A, .B.

Gloves were an important part of a lady’s wardrobe and were always worn in church or in a theater and in most social situations outside the home. Gloves could be removed when inside the home with close friends or family, and were never worn during meals. Black mitts were commonly paired with evening wear. Simultaneously revealing and concealing, mitts were most likely a nod to propriety while allowing for greater freedom of movement. The black mitts were probably hand crafted and made with silk netting and silk embroidery.

Unidentified seamstress (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Bonnet, c. 1800. Cotton and ink, 9 x 14 x 1" (ties are 14" long). Gift of Mrs. George Ross Eshleman, #2014.00.39.

A simple cotton bonnet was a typical accessory for most women during the late colonial period through the 19th century. This one, ornamented with smocking and embroidery lace, was believed to have belonged to the granddaughter of George Ross, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The beautiful hand detailing on this bonnet would have been special, and most likely produced by a professional seamstress. Seamstresses provided textiles for families who were unable or unwilling to create their own. Often though, clothing and needlework instruction was taught to young girls by women in their family. It was an important part of the transfer of folklife textile traditions in the region.

Mrs. M. J. Cogley (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Bonnet, c. 1876. Lace, velvet, cotton, and satin, 5 x 6.5 x 7". Gift of Mrs. George Ross Eshleman, #2013.00.292.

Beginning in the late 18th century, the millinery trade, along with dressmaking and other sewing industries, provided women with an acceptable occupation at a time when few women worked outside the home. Women would run shops where they created inventory, processed accounts, and imported goods for sale. By the mid-19th century, women took their place as business owners providing an important service for the community. This bonnet was created by Mrs. M. J. Cogley, a Philadelphia milliner who is listed in an 1876 Philadelphia directory for women-owned businesses.

Bass Otis (Pennsylvania, 1784–1861). Jacob Eichholtz (Pennsylvania, 1776–1842). Martha Jenkins Nevin, before 1835, and 1841. Oil on canvas, 43 x 38" (framed). Gift of Rev. John Nevin Sayre, #4699.

This portrait of Martha Jenkins Nevin, the creator of the ivory knit socks, was painted by noted Philadelphia artist Bass Otis before her marriage to Dr. Nevin in 1835. Six years later, Jacob Eichholtz, another regional artist, was hired to paint her husband’s official portrait and “modify” the Otis Bass portrait by painting long sleeves over Mrs. Nevin’s exposed arms. Her original short-sleeved dress was considered inappropriate attire for a pastor’s wife.

Martha Jenkins Nevin (Pennsylvania, 1805–1890). Child’s Knit Socks, c. 1880. Wool and cotton, 15 x 4 x 1/8". Gift of Mrs. Glenn C. Heller, #2533.

These socks were knit by Martha Jenkins Nevin for Mary Belle (Stahr) Heller when she was a child. Mrs. Nevin was the wife of Dr. John Nevin, one of the early presidents of Franklin & Marshall College. These socks demonstrate knit and purl stitches and a combination of techniques such as yarn over and pass over slip stitch. Heirloom items such as these socks were treasured and were a tangible way to demonstrate affection and the skills women learned as children.

Doll and Kuder families (Lehigh County, 19th C). Friendship Chain Quilt, c. 1880. Cotton and ink, 96 x 81 3/4". Gift of Robert L. Schaeffer, Jr. Ph.D., #2015.00.1582.

Quilts are used as a way of remembering, whether it was by using scraps of clothing from a loved one, piecing together patterns passed through family lines, or cementing friendships. This Friendship Chain quilt helped to solidify community bonds. Friendship quilts and signature quilts bear the names of friends and family, seen written in the squares. These quilts were usually made by women for other women to commemorate special events or to serve as a memento when long separations were imminent, as a way of remembering the community.

Unidentified photographer (American, 19th C). Ambrotype, c. 1850s. Leather, velvet, glass, and metal, 3 x 2.5". Phillips Museum of Art Collection, #2012.00.135.

Unidentified craftsperson (American, 19th C). Half Boots, 1860. Silk, leather, and cotton, 5 x 9 x 3". Phillips Museum of Art Collection, #2013.00.263.

Half boots such as these were first introduced to England during the 1830s as a way to modestly cover a woman’s foot and ankle. The more delicate fabrics like silk tended to be reserved for indoor wear while those made of leather would be used in the muddy streets. There was however a hybrid style, like this pair, which boasted the daintiness of an indoor shoe with a reinforced toe and heel made of leather. Close examination of the interior shows the name of the owner and date that the boots were made.

Unidentified maker (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Day Dress, c. 1860. Silk and cotton, 59.25" long, 19" across shoulders, and 12" wide waist. Phillips Museum of Art Collection, #2015.00.1719.

This is a sophisticated silk dress with handmade tassel ornamentation and wide, conical “pagoda” sleeves typical of the 1860s. The female silhouette during the middle of the 19th century consisted of a fitted corseted bodice and wide full skirts. The fabric would have probably been imported to Philadelphia, before being made by a seamstress in the region. Seamstresses often worked out of their own homes, contributing to their family’s income. The hemline is all hand stitched and a pin used in the addition of a water-resistant band along the hem is still present. It is possible that sleeves were worn under this dress, as well as a decorative collar, as can be seen in the ambrotype above of a regional woman wearing a very similar dress.

Unidentified maker (Pennsylvania, 19th C). Child’s outfit, c. 1850. Silk, 19.25" long blouse, 17.25" long skirt, 11" across shoulders, and 10" wide waist. Phillips Museum of Art Collection, #2015.00.1366.

It would have been a family of means that could afford a silk suit such as this for their child. It appears to be in unused condition and was made with a combination of both hand and machine stitching. It’s very possible that this was made for a young boy to wear, as they frequently were clothed in dresses with knickers until they were 5 or 6 years old. The suit was probably made by a local seamstress, who would have taken on jobs to support her family or, if unmarried, to support herself.

During the colonial period of the United States, shoemaking was exclusively done by men. In the first half of the 19th century, prior to industrialization, women completed the sewing and binding of the upper part of shoes manufactured in the United States. This also included trimmings and ornamentation for fancier shoes. Women frequently did the sewing in their homes in the early 1800s and eventually would have to move the work to factory centers like that in Lynn, Massachusetts. This shoe manufacturing center employed women from small villages and fishing towns surrounding the city; these women earned less than a dime a day on average.

Unidentified craftsperson (American, early 20th C). Boots, c. 1900. Canvas, leather, and milk glass, 6 x 9 x 3". Phillips Museum of Art Collection, #2013.00.256.

These Edwardian era shoes were studier and more practical than their dressier silk counterparts. Sewn out of thick canvas with a leather sole, the delicate row of buttons are made out of milk glass. Probably intended for a young adult, these boots barely look worn. Although shoes were gradually gaining acceptance for street wear by the turn of the 20th century, boots remained the dominant daywear style until the 1920s.

Mennonite Community Members (Manheim, 19th C). Fundraiser Quilt, 1882. Cotton and ink, 90 x 91 1/2". Gift of Henry W. Wiggins, Jr. ‘55, #2015.00.1710.

As with the Friendship Chain patterned quilt, this Fundraiser Quilt could have been made by the members of a church in Manheim, Pennsylvania. These types of quilts would have raised money for the church or one of the congregation members by auctioning off a section of the quilt where one’s name would be added. Also on this quilt is the place and year it was made: Manheim 1882. These textiles cemented a sense of community; the quilts both helped a family monetarily, but also helped wrap them in the warmth of their friends.

Serena Mayer North Hutchinson (Lancaster County, 19th and 20th C). Unknown craftsman (American, early 20th C). Fire Screen, early 20th C. Embroidery panel and mahogany frame, 53 x 21 x 20". Held in Trust for the Hugh McAllister North, Jr. Estate, #HN4.

This two part fire screen, or pole screen, was designed to protect users from the heat of an open fire. This type was initially used in upper-class homes and became very common in the 18th and 19th centuries. This particular piece was thought to have been created by Serena Mayer North Hutchinson (1888–1960) for her mother.

Serena Mayer North Hutchinson (Lancaster County, 19th and 20th C). Unknown craftsman (American, 19th C). Embroidered Chair, c. 1860s and 1900. Wood and wool, 41 1/8 x 19 x 17". Bequest of Serena Mayer North Hutchinson Estate, #2015.00.178.

Hutchinson was an accomplished needleworker, creating elaborate embroidery for chairs as seen with the slipper chair’s cat design. This was a typical activity for young women from affluent families during this time period. Many Victorian era women passed the time creating parlor crafts, including needlework, wax floral arrangements, and other decorative accessories for their homes.

Thank you! We hope you enjoyed this exhibition!

Photographs by Deb Grove, F&M College Staff Photographer; Lexi Breinich '13, Art Museum Assistant; and Gina Erdyneeva '20, Museum Social Media Aide. Design by Janie Kreines, Curator of Academic Affairs & Community Engagement, and Lexi Breinich '13.