Maine stitchers write for national magazine

Posted March 08, 2010, at 5 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:25 a.m.

Stitchers and needleworkers Mary Bird of Orono and Robin Hansen of West Bath have something in common beyond the fact they are accomplished knitters. They both have articles in the March-April edition of Piecework magazine, a national publication that focuses on the needle arts, vintage and contemporary.

Bird is program committee chairwoman for the Page Farm and Home Museum at the University of Maine and coordinates weekly meetings of the Friday Fiber Friends at the museum — to name just a few of the many hats she wears to advance interest in fiber arts.

Bird, whose background is in science and environmental education, was working on her dissertation about entomologist Edith Patch, who taught at the University of Maine from 1903 to 1937, when she ran across a reference that the only domestic art Patch practiced was needlework.

“[The reference] might have meant [Patch] sewed her own clothes, because many women of that era did. One day I hope I’ll find something in someone’s attic that [Patch] made,” Bird said.

In the process of pursuing information about Patch and needlework, Bird found at The Creamery in Ellsworth a stack of vintage Home Arts-Needlecraft magazines, published from 1910 to 1935 in Augusta.

“I bought the stack for $10,” Bird said. She didn’t find out anything about Edith Patch and her sewing, but she noticed how articles in the magazines addressed political issues, such as temperance, the suffrage movement and other issues of that time. “That got me interested.”

“Since acquiring that original trove of magazines, I have accumulated others. They tell a wonderful story. The way they got children interested in doing needlework, such as competitions for teenagers, is amazing. I could probably write 10 more articles using the magazines,” she said.

Bird now has 40 or 50 of the magazines in her collection, dating from the 1890s to the 1930s, plus an equal number dating from 1940 to 1960.

Her article in Piecework, “The ‘Pin’ is Mightier than the Sword,” grew out of her study of the magazines and is the first piece relating to the needle arts she has had published.

“I was scholarly in my approach, though I haven’t yet developed scholarship in that arena,” she said.

Bird learned knitting, sewing and embroidery at her mother’s knee. She recalls knitting sweaters at recess on the school playground when she was in junior high school. She also belonged to a Girl Scout troop that emphasized learning needlework skills.

She learned to spin and weave in the 1980s, skills she had always wanted to learn.

Although Bird did not find Patch mentioned in the old magazines, she found another familiar name in the vintage magazines — Cordelia Stanwood, a self-taught ornithologist and photographer, whose homestead is now the Birds Acre Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary in Ellsworth. Stanwood was born in 1865 and died in 1958.

“I would like to look into Cordelia Stanwood. She did hooked and braided rugs, knitting, crochet and other stitchery. She published patterns in Needlework and Home Arts magazines as a means of supporting herself. I’m mining the treasures that are there in those magazines.”

Robin Hansen is well-known to Maine knitters as the author of “Favorite Mittens” and “Knit Mittens.”

Her article in Piecework is “The Very Best Afghans in the World” in which she discusses the blankets members of her family made in the 1940s using a Weave-It hand loom. She talks about the origins of the loom, and the article is illustrated with photographs of Weave-It loom afghans in her collection.

A second article by Hansen in the magazine gives detailed, illustrated instructions on how to make a pillow or chair pad using the hand loom.

The tradition — if it may be termed that — of women in Maine writing for Piecework magazine was established by the late Deborah Pulliam of Castine, who often penned articles about vintage textiles that she had lovingly researched, thereby enriching the historical knowledge of needlework.

It’s good to know that Bird and Hansen are now carrying the torch.

Working with Piecework magazine editor Jeane Hutchins was a wonderful experience, Bird said.

Snippets

— The Bangor Area Sewing Guild will offer the class Four Easy Place Mats from Four Fat Quarters at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 13, at the Hampden Municipal Center. The cost is $10 for guild members, $15 others. Call 941-8815 to register and for a list of supplies needed. Beginners are encouraged to attend.

— Hermon Middle School in Hermon is planning Spring into the Arts 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, March 18. The day will focus on introducing arts of the past to fifth- through eighth-graders. Those interested in sharing a traditional art with the students should e-mail Sheri Severance at severance@hermon.net for information. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

— Volunteers are needed to help plan the Make It with Fiber in Maine contest. E-mail Mary_Bird@umit.maine.edu to learn more.

— Fiber artist Laurie Walton of Glenburn shared news of the 2010 Bookmark Challenge, which is March 18-May 6. The idea is to stitch by hand a bookmark that will be donated to a library or school during Children’s Book Week, May 10-16. Maine shops, guilds and community entities have yet to jump on the bandwagon and sponsor the project, Walton said. Perhaps that will be remedied once the news is out — I’m doing my part. For information, visit http://jenfunkweber.com.

— Maine Fiberarts has on exhibit “Animal Applique: Quilts by Jeanne-Marie Robinson, 1938-2010, A Celebration of her Work” through April 30 at its gallery, 13 Main St., Topsham. Robinson is formerly from Northport. A reception is set for 2-5 p.m. Saturday, April 17, at the gallery. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. Call 721-0678 for information.

— Knitting Out Loud, an audio book business in Stockton Springs, announced the release of “Wild Fibers Magazine: Five Years of Favorites,” written and edited by Linda Cortright, the magazine’s publisher.

— Worldwide Knit in Public Week is June 12-20. Visit www.wwkipday.com to learn how to plan an event in your area and to get it posted on the world calendar.

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