Washtenaw County Historical Society :: Sewing Arts
The Sewing Arts
Our exhibit, on display from October 26 through January 18, highlights a variety of historical
needlework. In earlier eras, when women were by and large voiceless in society, sewing offered one means
of making a personal statement, one that could be handed down through generations. The needlework
examples on display, which range from children's samplers and applique to lacemaking and embroidery,
document the painstaking, meticulous, and exquisitely beautiful results of that effort.
(Click on a picture for a larger image).
Lydia Shaw's 1829 sampler evokes the image of a young girl bending over her cloth throughout a long
winter, carefully counting threads and stitching her ABCs. In contrast to this tiny project, an enormous
embroidery hoop used for shawls and other large work stands next to a display of dainty
Two pillow covers catch the eye. One is a souvenir graduation pillow commemorating the 1899 Ann Arbor
High School graduating class. The signatures of each graduate, reproducing his or her distinctive
handwriting, are stitched in a sunburst pattern on one side of the pillow. The other pillow cover is an
expertly embroidered WW I commemorative item, lush with silky fringe.
One blue and one pink baby blanket are each embroidered with birds. The blue blanket shows gamboling
white chicks. The pink blanket is decorated with a variety of birds that includes the somewhat
incongruous ostrich (picture 2) and an unidentifiable bird (picture 3). What is this mysterious bird? A
penguin-rooster hybrid? A peacock with male pattern baldness? Can you identify it? If you'd like to send
us your guess using this email link, we'll post it at the bottom
of this page.
Among the exhibit's clothing items are an elegant, entirely handmade black lace jacket and a sepia linen
dress made for Mrs. Filibert Roth, wife of the founder of the UM School of Forestry.
You are invited to stop by the Museum and see the exhibit for yourself. We are open Wednesdays,
Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. There is no charge to view the exhibit, though donations are
gratefully accepted. We hope you enjoy examining these examples of historic needlework.