Perhaps Suzane Herget said it best when asked about the lost art of tatting, the lace-making skill that took her 250 hours to create the 1:12-scale coverlet shown at your right. “When a piece the size of the coverlet is finished and sold, tatters often feel they are giving a big piece of themselves away.”
I understand how she feels. As a lover of miniature needlework, I have learned to make French knot rugs (which look like miniature versions of hooked rugs) from Pat Hartman and Teresa Layman, learned weaving from Bonni Backe, and taken petit-point classes from Annelle Ferguson. I am in awe of their skills and totally mystified by their process of charting a rug pattern and stitching on 42- to 112-gauge silk canvases. So you can imagine my wonder at an artisan who has perfected the art of creating lace in miniature!
Whether the pieces are hung as a display, arranged perfectly over a bed or positioned on the floor in the form of a beautiful rug, the art of making textiles in miniature is a sight to behold. In fact, these pieces are often the ones which bring exclamations of disbelief to those who visit the gallery. Many of the awestruck make the full-size articles so they are intricately aware of what goes into the work and totally mesmerized by the scale. (Be sure to click these images to see the work upclose.)
I admire these pieces for many reasons: the art, the skill, and the nostalgic feel they add to a scene. Take the tapestries and samplers, for instance. Not only are they charming, but they evoke memories of watching loved ones creating the same types of pieces. I remember watching my late cousin, Luellen Pyles, as she lovingly crocheted Christmas gifts for her friends and family. From snowflake and angel tree ornaments to bedspreads and tablecloths, each stitch seemed to be shouting her joy for making these works of art in full size.
I’ve seen the same joyful harmony as I’ve watched textile artisans crafting in miniature, their fingers moving as one with their tools and thread, in sync in body and mind with each fine stitch. The textile cases hold many of my favorite items—examples of quilting, rug making, tatting, crocheting, and needlework by artisans like Pat Richards, Jo Berbiglia, Tracy Balanski, Bonni Backe and the late Ruth (Dodie) Nalven. Dodie was a dear friend and huge loss to the world of miniatures. She made the majority of rugs in my collection by replicating ones that Lou and I have in our home. Others were copies of those from her great library of books on Oriental carpets, and several were a collaborative effort by the two of us to find the perfect rug to fit into a particular setting. She was in the midst of making a William Morris design rug for Spencer House when she passed away.
Also special is knowing that many of the artisans like Annelle began their work in miniature to decorate their own children’s dollhouses. Annelle learned needlepoint to create rugs for the rooms and then began researching antique needlework. Today she is well known for her miniature versions of 18th century samplers and seat covers. Scotland’s Sue Bakker started her career in much the same way. She was already noted for her real-size creative embroidery talents and offered to make a carpet for her sister-in-law’s dollhouse. She could only locate one book with embroidery charts for carpets at the time (the ’80s) and by 1989 found herself invited to the Kensington Dolls House Show where she has since shown carpets, cushions, fire screens, and her own embroidery sets and patterns for other artisans. Much of her work is done is 60-count silk gauze, which is 60 stitches to the inch. She did the petit-point on the chair at your right.
And of course, we all remember patchwork quilts. There is an exceptional example by Kate Adams in the collection and she did the sweet patchwork pillow pictured. The colorful crazy quilt versions are by Pat Richards. All these pieces would have all looked incredible in a room box, but ultimately I decided to exhibit them in the textile display of the fine arts rotunda so visitors could see the stitches up close. While the textile category also includes clothing, I think I’ll have to save those items for a separate blog. All this reflection of needlework is putting me in the mood to create a few things myself … or maybe I’ll simply stroll through the gallery and take another look at these true labors of love that require the skill, time, and patience that I know firsthand.