Puzzling out a Mexican sampler

Back in 2015, I was looking at Mexican samplers online, and saved and printed a picture which showed some cut and pulled openwork in the top left of one example. It’s a late 1800s Mexican sampler, but I don’t know any more than that. I don’t know which exhibition or saleroom or museum collection it came from. (I thought that it was the Cooper Hewitt, but I can’t spot it in their online collection, so I am probably wrong. I have been looking, and I will keep looking, because I really don’t like to put pictures on this blog uncredited. If anyone recognises it, please, please let me know!) This is it:

I came across the print while tidying up, just after the start of the Covid 19 lockdown, and thought it would be a good project while I am spending so much time at home. I really fancied some fiddly whitework after finishing Tom. Trying to figure out the patterns from this rather battered and frayed piece, of work is quite a challenge. I decided to use some 32 count Zweigart écru linen, stitched with a matching Sajou Fil Dentelles au Chinoise (which is a size 80 cotton lacemaking thread). This is a thinner thread in comparison to the weight of the fabric than that used by the long-ago Mexican schoolgirl.

There are eight pattern squares. I have now finished the first four. To give you a taste of the fun I am having,  here is my printout of the first of these squares, which is what I have to work from:

And here it is on my fabric:

They are not all quite as bad as that one, but most are quite a puzzle! I didn’t like the chain-stitch silk edging, which has not really helped preserve the edges of the squares, so I did a narrow padded edging instead. That seemed to take forever, but I eventually got to the fun bit. I suspect that the original is leave 3 cut 2, as it looks about right, but it’s a bit of a guess. Anyway, I settled on that. The “squares” on the original vary from 15 x 11 groups of three to 16 x 16. I have used 16 x 16 throughout, for neatness.

Readers of my Facebook page, or of Mary Corbett’s Needle’n’Thread Facebook group, will have seen this project progressing. I am now working on the remaining four patterns, which I am repeating at both ends of the row, to make a longer, more balanced piece, six squares long and two deep. It might turn into a small table runner, or it may stay as a sampler. I wasn’t really expecting it to work out so well, but so far, so good!

Have you got a Lockdown Project in progress?


18 Responses to “Puzzling out a Mexican sampler”

  1. Very well puzzled out! It’s hard enough to work out something like this from the real thing, but working with a battered old photo makes it ten times harder!

  2. suetortoise Says:

    In a way, I think it has made it all much easier. The real thing often has too many challenges, too many distractions, requires too many decisions about authenticity and interpretation. With just the photo as a guide, I was able to choose the size and scale that best suited me, and have nothing beyond the photo and my hopes to live up to. It’s a breath of freedom. I learnt so much from puzzling over old, fuzzy, black and white photos in books, back when I first started looking at old samplers, and much as I love the rich resources online, it is quite pleasant to come “back home” to that again just now.

  3. Amazing that you could decipher how that stitch was done from a fuzzy photo! An interesting challenge.

    • suetortoise Says:

      The trick is to know what the stitches are most likely to be, and work from there. It’s like reading bad handwriting – easier when you know the writer’s language and the probable subject.

  4. Carol Andre' Says:

    Wow, you are really something being able to decipher that photo for stitches! I would love to know how you pad the edge stitches and why. I’ve tried to find something on that, but all I can find is padded satin stitch which is not quite the same thing. I am on Needle and Thread, would love it if you told us how you do that. Thanks.

    • suetortoise Says:

      This is just satin stitch worked over two rows of staggered running stitch around the edge. I ran mine over six threads and under two, using a single strand of soft cotton thread. (It’s one strand from some stranded knitting cotton I have had in my stash for many years. A strand of floss would do equally well as the knitting cotton, or two on coarser linen.) Then just tightly-worked satin stitch with the Fil Dentelle, across three threads of linen ground fabric and the two cotton padding rows between them, and over one loose extra thread of padding cotton for bulk. That’s all. It is very narrow, and you might find it better to use three rows of padding and satin stitch over four ground threads for security, especially for anything that will get much washing or handling in use.

  5. That is amazing! I’ve been following your progress on Mary Corbett’s Needle’n’Thread Facebook group, it’s gorgeous. You should publish it as a pattern once you are done deciphering the pictures and recreating the squares. Btw, how is it working with the Fil Dentelle? How does it compare with DMC floss?

    • suetortoise Says:

      Thanks! I don’t think I will be publishing the pattern, but I am enjoying the project. Fil à Dentelles is a fine, round lace thread. It’s finer and firmer than floss – more like a very fine crochet or tatting thread, or sewing cotton.

  6. Tony Evans Says:

    Hello Sue, I am writing an article about St Eata’s church for a facebook Group called Shropshire Tales, History and Memories. I have precied the press article which you mention in your Atcham 1879 Blog. I was wondering whether it would be okay to include your photographs of the boots please. I would of course credit you as the photographer and your Blog as the source for the information.

    • suetortoise Says:

      Hi, Tony! Yes, sure, you are welcome to use any of the photos of the boots which are on the blog or on my Flickr site.

  7. Tony Evans Says:

    Thanks Sue, my apologies for commenting on the wrong blog. I just wasn’t sure whether you would see it on the old blog. It is a fascinating story – and yours is the only place that I have seen it mentioned. It would be lost in the mists of time if not for your blog, or maybe a very diligent researcher at the archives.Not quite as dramatic as the murderous vicar of Stanton Lacy though… Thanks again.

    • suetortoise Says:

      I still think it is amazing that I got the chance to see and handle those shattered boots myself, and then to find an odd bound volume of The Strand Magazine that happened to include the article about them!

  8. Julie Santos Villegas Says:

    Hi Sue, I noticed your Mexican Sampler project on Mary Corbett’s Needle’nThread facebook Group and found it really beautiful and interesting. I have been wanting to learn Hardanger and your samplers just brought it back to my memory and attention. Thank you for sharing your talent and creativity. You are an inspiration. Now that I follow your blog, I won’t be missing any of your creations.

    • suetortoise Says:

      Thank you, Julie. I hope you enjoy learning Hardanger. I can particularly recommend Yvette Stanton’s book Early Hardanger.

  9. I’ve been doing blackwork. A pattern of dancing skeletons from the String-or-Nothing blog. I’m finding it soothing, although as I’m doing it in coloured threads and its a thread eater I’m worried that my stash of thread in the requisite colours is running thin!
    Unfortunately doing it on aida as that is what I had on hand. I would much rather do it on linen, but needs must!

    • suetortoise Says:

      Dancing skeletons sound great fun. Colourful dancing skeletons sound even better! I was lucky I had what I needed for this project in my stash. I was worried about running out of thread, but was able to get more from Ewe & Ply online.

  10. Kathryn Says:

    This is fascinating Sue! I am always drawn (no pun intended!) 😀 to white embroidery and love examining old pieces like this. It’s quite an endeavour to recreate the stitching from such difficult source material, but t must feel like a real journey of discovery! I look forward to seeing the remaining patterns as you work them.

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