“Mary Case is my name and with my needle wrought the same in the tenth year of my age Anno Dom 1763” ~ from a sampler produced in Newport, RI
Too often, the only record we have of a female ancestor is an example of her handiwork, whether it is an embroidered sampler, quilt or basket. With a few exceptions, until the 20th century, a woman’s primary choice for her future was to marry, thus giving up her birth name, and to have as many children as possible until she no longer could or, as often happened, died in childbirth. Women were not encouraged, or in some places even allowed, to produce a lasting record of their existence through artwork or literature. However, many women found ways to express themselves artistically while still appearing to fulfill their positions as homemakers through craftwork and luckily for us as genealogists, they often signed their work. Particularly in New England, but also in the Middle Colonies, girls were taught to not only sew, but to also read and write by doing embroidered samplers. Family tree and mourning samplers were popular embroidery styles in the 18th and 19th centuries and are invaluable for genealogists. Quilting was not just a way to produce a warm bedcovering, but was also a community activity. Baskets were the primary carrying and storage items for centuries, but their designs could reflect regional and familial styles passed down from mother to daughter. In addition to these crafts, women were involved in a variety of others, including weaving, ceramics, hair work, and furniture decorating. Many of these crafts have been studied and written about extensively from an art history perspective, but not from a genealogical viewpoint.
This project’s purpose is to bring the wealth of art historical information available about craftswomen into a genealogical setting. The period of the project will be for works produced before 1900, when detailed information about our female ancestors was less available and their crafts pieces were often the only record we have of them. A few women were also fine artists prior to the 20th century and could be included in this project, but the main focus will be upon craftswomen. The project is not regionally or culturally specific and collaborators are encouraged to add profiles, information and resources related to crafts from around the world. Profiles added to the project should include some information in their overviews that relates to the crafts produced and ideally some pictures of the work. An example of a profile can be found here: Ann Matilda Nye
I My Needle Ply With Skill: Maine Schoolgirl Needlework of the Federal Era by Leslie L. Rounds (Saco, ME: Saco Museum, 2013)
Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840 by Susan P. Schoelwer (Hartford, CT: Connecticut Historical Society, 2010)
Girlhood embroidery: American samplers & pictorial needlework, 1650-1850 by Betty Ring (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1993)
No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting (Google eBook). Anne Macdonald. Random House LLC, Nov 17, 2010 - Crafts & Hobbies - 512 pages
Victorian Ideals of Gender: Useful Leisure, Charity & Profit Case 1: Early American Needlework