June 18, 2018
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Factoring an e-reader into learning more about needlework history

By Ardeana Hamlin, BDN Staff

Owning an e-reader had never made it to my meager list of “must-haves,” a list more likely to contain fabric, yarn and antique needlework tools than electronic gadgets.

So recently when I had the opportunity to try out an e-reader thanks to the generosity of a friend, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. First, I thought, I’d better figure out how to turn it on. Once that was accomplished, I figured out how to open the title already on it — “The Thing from the Lake” by Eleanor M. Ingram. And right away, much to my surprise, I was intrigued.

I knew about websites where one can download books for free, and I knew that Project Gutenberg was one of those sites. I spent an hour or so on one of those blizzardy Sundays we had in February searching for — what else — books about needlework. To my surprise, I found quite a few. Suddenly, I wanted to learn how to download some of those books to the e-reader. That required a call to the lender of the device who “walked” me through the process. And there I was on my way to being a tiny bit e-reader literate.

Project Gutenberg, with the help of volunteers, digitizes and archives books in the public domain, the copyrights no longer in force. Project Gutenberg, according to information at its website gutenberg.org, encourages the creation and free distribution of e-books.

The needlework books I found at the website date from the 19th to the early part of the 20th century. Here’s a list of some of the titles I homed in on:

• “The Ladies Workbook” by Unknown.

• “Jacobean Embroidery” by Ada Wentworth Fitzwilliam and A.F. Morris Hands.

• “The Lady’s Album of Fancywork 1850” by Unknown.

• “Handbook of Embroidery” by L. Higgin.

• “Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving” by Grace Christie.

• “Art in Needlework” by Lewis Foreman Day and Mary Buckle.

• “The Ladies’ Work-Table Book” by Anonymous.

• “The Development of Embroidery in America” by Candace Wheeler.

• “Samplers and Tapestry Embroideries” by Marcus Bourne Huish.

• “Beeton’s Book of Needlework” by Mrs. Beeton.

• “Handbook of Wool Knitting and Crochet” by Anonymous.

• “The New Guide to Knitting and Crochet” by Marie Jane Cooper.

• “My Knitting Book” by Frances Lambert.

• “Spool Knitting” by Mary A. McCormack.

• “Exercises in Knitting” by Cornelia Mee.

• “Chats on Old Lace and Needlework” by Emily Leigh Lowes.

• “Needlework as Art” by Viscountess Marianne Margaret Compton Cust Alford.

• “Handicraft for Girls” by Idabelle McGlauflin.

• “Textiles and Clothing” by Kate Heinz Watson.

• “The Invention of the Sewing Machine” by Grace Rogers Cooper.

These books can be downloaded with or without the images they contain.

Since all the books on the list are survivors of time, reading some of them surely will deepen my understanding of the history of needlework, especially the titles by Unknown and Anonymous, who most likely were women.

I’m intrigued by the fact that a British viscountess wrote a needlework book and I love the charm of the word “chats” in the title of the book on vintage lace. I downloaded those.

The viscountess, who died in 1888, and whose book was published in 1886, wrote that some writers regard needlework as a branch of painting, but she agrees with a writer in whose opinion needlework “is the mother-art of sculpture and painting.” She goes on to write, “Embroidery is now essentially ‘decoration’ and nothing more. It is intended to appeal to the sense of beauty of the eye, rather than to the imagination. The designer for needlework should be an artist, but he need not be a poet.” Her book runs to 400 or so pages so I opted not to read it the whole thing in digital format. Instead, I called my local librarian to see if she could get through the interlibrary loan system. She could and she did, and now I have the “real” book to pore over. The viscountess was an accomplished scholar in the field of needlework. She dedicated the book to Her Majesty, the Queen — Victoria, that is.

In her “Chats on Old Lace and Needlework,” published in 1908, Mrs. Emily Leigh Lowes opens with this statement in her preface: “This little book has been compiled to emphasise and accentuate the distinct awakening of English women and Needlecraft Artists to the beauty of ancient laces and embroideries which we own in the magnificent historic collections in our great public museums,” including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She believes there is “nothing more glorious in the Nation’s art records … than the masterpieces of embroidery worked by the great ladies, the abbesses and nuns of the Mediaeval period.” She also is alarmed that much of the “finest embroideries of England and a vast quantity of the ancient laces of Italy, France and Belgium are slowly but surely being carried off to the New World” in hands of the wealthy.

Clearly, I have much to learn from these ladies.


The Maine Tri-County Button Club meets at 10 a.m. March 27, or the last Wednesday of the month March through September, at the fellowship hall of the United Methodist Church, 23 Mill Lane, across from Perry’s Nut House in Belfast. Members and dealers gather to trade, sell, buy and admire vintage and antique buttons. Attendees are asked to bring a bag lunch. Each meeting features a talk on buttons given by members or guests. For information, call Gail Berry at 763-4420 or visit mainetri-countybuttons.com.

Call Ardeana Hamlin at 990-8153 or email ahamlin@bangordailynews.com. Don’t forget to visit her blog at byhand.bangordailynews.com.

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