I went with a friend to Morven Museum in Princeton on Sunday to see the exhibit of schoolgirl needlework of New Jersey from 1726 to 1860. This exhibit ends on March 29th. If you live near Princeton, it is well worth a visit. The exhibit is divided by counties into several rooms. Although it is poorly lit to protect the fibers, you can get close to most of them. Extra lighting such as a flashlight is not permitted, but magnifiers are. Since I knew very little about schoolgirl samplers, I did not realize that one of the ways that the history of a piece can be determined is by the design. Schoolgirls who learned under the same teacher had certain of the same elements in their pieces. In one room there were often pieces done by girls who studied together where you could see this. Although most of the pieces were the type we expect of samplers of that time with alphabets and pictures of animals, trees, buildings there were two maps of northern New Jersey with a few towns whose names surprised me, such as Hamburg and “Sicckasinny”, or some such spelling! There was also a small globe that was done with ink and some stitches.
Of course, the stitching was most often done on very fine linen, much smaller count than my favorite 28 count! There were many more stitches than the usual cross stitch including Smyrnas, eyelets, and many queen stitches as well as beautiful satin stitches. Do not look for correct sizes of things. One squirrel in a tree looked more leopard like in size! The most common thread that we saw was silk with some wool and some cotton. There was berlin work done in wool to be seen.
There were two difficulties in the exhibit, the low lighting which was needed as well as the pieces hung so high that those of us using bifocals or readers ended the day with a very sore neck! Unfortunately, as there are no chairs or benches on the rooms for resting, you just need to persevere! It is well worth it. There is parking on the premises as well as a gift shop. If you want to go, check out the website for days and times. http://www.morven.org.