Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reminiscing About Linn Ruth Skinner

This last week I was at the Embroiderers Guild of America (EGA) Region Seminar for the Greater Pacific Region (GPR) in Tacoma Washington when I received the news of Linn's passing. She was my mentor, teacher and friend. I would not have come so far in my career in embroidery if not for her. I know that there are many of us who would say the same thing - thank-you Linn.

In my quest during the early 1990's to learn embroidery, I took many classes. By 1997/8 I was frustrated with my work and began looking outside of my historic and costume circles for sources. I ran across Linn's Blackwork Samplers on ebay. We began corresponding and when I was in the Los Angeles area visiting my inlaws in 1998, Linn came to visit me.

I showed her my work and we chatted. Her response to one goldwork piece was priceless "oh dear, you did a lovely job, better than I could have done considering they gave you all the wrong materials." I was so relieved -- it was not me. There in started our friendship. She taught me that well done needlework of any kind, or any fiber art for that matter, was about learning and controlling the tension in the materials used.  

I took a lot of classes from Linn through CATS and visited when we could get some time together. She encouraged me to teach in my historical and costuming circles. She was patient with me, gave me charts of embroidered bands and stitch diagrams, and didn't grimace too much when I parroted her words. Soon with her support and encouragement my teaching took wing.

Linn was a frequent guest in my house as I hosted classes with her as teacher. Her research at key places in England, that we could only envy, was shared liberally with us. She taught us that needlework designs and materials did not evolve in a vacuum, but were integral parts of the flow of history. Her personal research focused on Model Books - those early needlework and design books that were first printed in the 16th C. She was in the process of tracking down all the known examples and had found even a few that Lotz had not identified.

Her love of needlework and of teaching needlework led her to focus on collecting examples of very basic simple school girl samplers and projects, teaching books, and their related ephemera. For Linn it was the simplest stitch done well, that was a joy.

Linn was one of the most generous people I know. Generous with her time, knowledge, resources, and herself. She was an enthusiastic supporter of any and all needlework groups. She taught for EGA on the local level in a number of different regions. She taught at Spirit of Cross Stitch and CATS. She taught for the Pomegranate Guild and my historical needlework guild. For many of these she designed special programs to focus on their interests and help them take a step into the next level of embroidery.

Linn blogged about her variety of interests. Her insight on many topics, her thoughtful comments on many of our blogs, and her dry sense of humor made reading anything she wrote a delight. She even got me blogging in 2003.

There were few things that got Linn more riled up than copyright infringement in the needlework circles. Here is the quintessential Linn. In 2003 she testified before a House Committee. You can find her testimony here. I encourage everyone who loves needlework to read her testimony - it is eye opening!

Linn was a fabulous mentor to many of the ladies, and men, I have come to know in a variety of needlework and its supporting forums. She helped promote beginning designers. She helped many of us to begin teaching or broaden our focus. She taught us all to question, learn and grow with the historical foundations of our work. Those of us fortunate enough to have spent a little or a lot of time with her will miss her.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More on Books

Since I like to do historical embroidery, some of you have asked me about the 2 books put out by Jacqui Carey. What follows is MY personal observations. In short - if you do Elizabethan Embroidery you need these books.

In 2007, Phillipa Turnbull ( put together a dream embroidery event with Jane Lemon and Jacqui Carey. During the week of instruction we walked through all the steps to make an Elizabethan Sweetbag.  Jacqui shared some of her research with us during the week and we visited some of her haunts during a couple weeks of travel. We encouraged her to publish her photos -- the detail is amazing -- and her insights. While I don't always agree with her conclusions, the opportunity to see the items in such high resolution photos is not an opportunity to be missed.

Her first book in 2009 Sweet Bags: an Investigation into 16th and 17th Century needlework is filled with photos of the 35 bags she surveyed. Many of the bags are not in great shape which helps us understand the underlying structure, stitches, and materials of the bags. She was able to photograph insides of bags as well. The cover of the book is the sweet bag which looks modern due to the modern materials, but don't let this keep you from the content of the book. All the elements in the bag are found on various bags including one from the Burrell collection that she shows in the book.

Jacqui's second book Elizabethan Stitches A Guide to Historic English Needlework again gives us wonderful detailed photographs to study. Unfortunately not all the items she mentions as case studies are included. Much of this book is like reverse engineering - you start with what exists and then try to figure out how it was made to happen. Some of this is deduced from holes in the fabric. Some is from the detailed photos front and back which allowed her to trace the lines. Jacqui has a perfect background for doing this reverse braid engineering and we can all be thankful that she brought out this book to give us insight into stitches that were not documented in either Victorian or modern embroidery books. I look forward to playing with the stitches.

At the beginning, I mentioned that I don't always agree with her conclusions. For me, some of her diagrams are reversed or upside down to the way I tend to work some of the better known stitches. I would suggest trying the stitches her way and then experiment to determine which works best for you.