The Needle’s I: Stitching Identity


Ann Plato, needlework picture (detail), Hartford, Conn., ca. 1824. 
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle 2018.0029 A

October 6–7, 2022

Needleworkers have always used needle and thread to tell stories of family, memory, and tradition as they stitched samplers or clothing. Join Winterthur staff, visiting scholars, designers, and artists for a series of talks, workshops, and discussions that will explore the ways stitchers past and present have employed their craft to express a sense of self. Please note: masks are required in Copeland Lecture Hall, in workshops, and on tours.


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Schedule of Events

Thursday, October 6

Copeland Lecture Hall

8:30 am
Registration and coffee, Visitor Center

9:00 am
Laura Johnson, Linda Eaton Associate Curator of Textiles, Winterthur

9:15 am
Keynote Presentation

Marla Miller, Distinguished Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

For more than twenty years, Miller’s scholarship has explored early American women’s work in clothing and textiles, from the Mantua makers, tailoresses, and seamstresses of Hadley and Boston, Massachusetts, to the needlework of quiltmaker Hadassah Chapin Ely to Black dressmakers and costumers in the 19th-century Connecticut Valley. In her keynote address, Miller will connect that scholarship to her longtime practice as a public historian. Her talk will contemplate textiles as vehicles for pastkeeping and consider fibers as channels of communication over generations.

10:00 am
Searching for Africans and Their Needlework in the World History of Embroidery

Kelli Barnes, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Delaware

I will be speaking about how my research centering on Black American girls as historical subjects and an analysis of the samplers and girlhood embroideries they created led me to consider the history of their needlework knowledge. They were taught needlework in newly established, European-inspired, American schools, but they undoubtedly also learned needlework from their mother, father, and kin within the home. Seamstress, dressmaker, mantua maker, and needleworker were some of the few jobs African American women were tasked to do or could find employment in during the antebellum era, regardless of whether they attended school. This needlework knowledge learned within the home traveled with many Africans who were stolen from their homelands and brought to the Americas. Therefore, what is the pre-colonial history of embroidery on the African continent and why is it so difficult to find in scholarship on the subject? How might we locate this knowledge in the creation of needlework in the United States during the antebellum era?

10:45 am

11:15 am
The Life of Martha Edlin

Tricia Wilson Nguyen, Owner, Thistle Threads, Arlington, MA

The embroideries of Martha Edlin, housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, are cited as a perfect surviving example of the boarding school education of a girl in the second half of the 17th century. The set comprises two samplers, a stumpwork casket, beaded jewelry box, and numerous pincushions and toys kept in the cabinet. As we have come to expect, they speak silently to an industrious youth and her neat and well-preserved work, which makes us wonder about who she was, where she lived, what the life of a girl given an expensive education was like, and who cared for these heirlooms after she was gone. In the pursuit of understanding the socioeconomic background of the girls who made these caskets for my research, a treasure trove of documents regarding Martha’s life have been unearthed. What has resulted is an extraordinarily full picture of her life as an adolescent, married woman, and widow through the examination of more than a hundred primary source documents. Martha Edlin Richmond was simultaneously a nobody and a somebody. She lived a typical life of an upper-middle-class woman, the type who we previously thought of as only leaving behind a set of silent embroideries. But a trail of documents tell a loud and boisterous story of her life as part of the aspirational class of people whose origins outside of London brought them to the city, working hard to get ahead. She led an amazing life in the center of social, economic, political, and religious events at the end of the Stuart era and left an extraordinary trail of her own words through court cases regarding her and her family’s fortunes and misfortunes.

12:00 pm
Student Presentations

Conserving a Needlework by Ann Plato
Kris Cnossen, WUDPAC, Class of 2022

Natchez Needlework: The Conservation Treatment of a 19th-Century Painted Silkwork Picture
Annabelle Camp, WUDPAC Class of 2022

Threads of Change: Assessing a Potential Meiji Era Silkwork Painting
Rachael Kane, WPAMC, 2022

12:45 pm

2:15–6:00 pm
Workshop and Tour Sessions

6:00–7:30 pm
Reception, Winterthur Visitor Center

Friday, October 7

Copeland Lecture Hall
8:00 am
Coffee and conversation

8:45 am–12:15 pm
Workshop and Tour Sessions

12:15–1:30 pm

1:30 pm
Liberty and Loyalty: Embroidered Coats of Arms in an Age of Revolution.

Erica Lome, Associate Curator, Historic New England, Boston, MA

In 1775, Mary Jones of Weston, Massachusetts, watched her life collapse around her as her family, all supporters of the British Crown, fled their homes and had their immense fortune confiscated during the Revolution. Torn between her Loyalist father and Patriot husband, Mary spent the next several years in search of safety, and one of her sole surviving possessions was a mostly finished needlework sampler displaying the Jones family coat of arms. Years later, she returned to Massachusetts and settled in Concord, where this sampler now resides in the collection of the Concord Museum. Mary Jones was one of many students who attended the Misses Cuming School in Boston (1768-70), run by two Concord sisters, Ame and Elizabeth Cuming, whose refusal to boycott imported British goods also led to their persecution and eventual exile. Several other embroidered coats of arms are attributed to this school and demonstrate the enduring fashion for heraldic imagery among colonial Americans on both sides of the conflict.

Using this grouping as a starting point, this presentation surveys new research into the origins, evolution, materiality, and meaning of embroidered coats of arms made in Boston and considers the importance and impermanence of family in an ever-changing Atlantic world.

2:15 pm
Dechados y Bordados: The Changing Role of Embroidery in Mexican Female Education

Dr. Lynne Anderson, Professor Emeritus, University of Oregon, and Director of the Sampler Archive Project, Eugene, OR

In Spanish America, girlhood samplers are known as “dechados,” a reference to both the embroidered products and the desired spiritual transformation associated with their creation. This lecture introduces the richly embroidered dechados made by girls and young women living in what is now Mexico, emphasizing changes over time and the impact of social, religious, and educational contexts. Discussed and illustrated are motifs and stitches unique to Mexican samplers, ties to diverse needlework traditions, and the lessons girls followed when creating their “paragons of virtue.” Highlighted are the stories of a few girls who proudly claimed ownership of their work, leaving stitched signatures that reveal identity, geographic location, and even socioeconomic status.

3:00 pm

3:30 pm
The Mend as Mirror

Kate Sekules, Author of MEND! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto, New York, NY

Textiles were of supreme value—and garment maintenance essential—right up until the current century, when industrial production metastasized and replacement replaced repair. Ironically, since it takes time and skill, mending is now a luxury and has also recently become art form, activism, and fashion trend. The practical, economic, sociopolitical, and ethical implications of the current mending revival are complex, but—as painstaking reconstruction of the invisible millennia-long history of this gendered labor practice shows —not unprecedented.

4:15 pm
Student Presentations

Materials Analysis of a Late 18th-Century Needlework from Massachusetts

Awyn Beatrix Rileybird, WUDPAC, 2023

“Highly educated and accomplished”: Martha Denny Martin’s Moravian Needlework
Emily Bach, WPAMC, 2022

The Conservation of Ann Flower’s Needlework
Margaret O’Neil, WUDPAC, 2023

5:00 pm
Brief Closing Remarks

Workshop and Tours

In Celebration of the Strawberry
Penelope S. Minner, Traditional Native Artist, Seneca Nation of Indians, Salamanca, NY

In the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois /Six Nations) culture, the strawberry is considered a gift from the Creator. We give thanks to the strawberry as it is a symbol of health, blessings, and thanksgiving, with deep roots in our Creation story. For all these reasons, as well as their beauty, functionality, and saleability, strawberry pin cushions have long been made by Haudenosaunee bead workers.

We will be sewing a beautiful beaded velvet pin cushion in our session. Basic sewing stitches will be taught so that you can complete your own one-of-a-kind pin cushion. All materials will be provided. Bring your favorite pair of scissors and patience! We will be using size 11 beads, if you need your close-up glasses, bring those also.

Skill level: All
90 minutes
Fee: $30
Offered: October 6, 2:30 and 4:15 pm, and October 7, 9:00 am

Embroidery Close Up
Tricia Wilson Nguyen, Owner, Thistle Threads, Arlington, MA

Often embroiderers choose fibers that are complex or techniques that are unexpected and are hard to see when looking at an object in a case or a picture in a book. There is meaning, effect, or some interesting story about the embroidery or maker that can be teased from these choices, if we only knew they were there. During this workshop, Tricia will project highly magnified images of a selection of embroideries from various public or private collections and lead discussions with the class on what can be seen and what these complex and surprising images mean. A handout will be provided with some images, techniques, or additional information to take away as inspiration for your own works. The images will be supplemented by additional visuals or video as needed to elaborate.

Skill level: All
90 minutes
Fee: $45
Offered: October 6, 2:30 and 4:15 pm, and October 7, 8:45 and 10:45 am

Gregg Pink Blossom
Katherine Diuguid, Studio Artist Specializing in Hand Embroidery, Dressmaking, and Textiles, Mooresville, NC

Inspired by the floral embroidery on a pair of men’s waistcoats from the Gregg Museum Collection at North Carolina State University, this floral design blends silk and goldwork techniques including satin stitch, stem stitch, spangles, and various cutwork techniques. The finished product measures 3” x 5”. Images of the reference pieces will be shown during the workshop with the gracious permission of the Gregg Museum.

Kit includes metallic linen with cotton backing fabric and pre-printed design outline, silk embroidery threads, metal embroidery wires, gilt spangles, and needles.

Skill level: All (hand sewing or embroidery experience is recommended)
Kit: $150
3 hours
Offered: October 6, 2:30 pm, and October 7, 9:00 am

U.F.O. [UnFinished Objects]
Samantha Soifer, Professional Embroidery Artist, Philadelphia, PA

What have you let languish in your creative spaces, both mental and physical? What projects have you almost finished but not quite found the motivation to complete? If all you need is a little time, space, helping hands, and a dash of inspiration to get you to the finish line, join me!

Bring along:

Whatever has been haunting your craft bin
Any materials necessary to finish your project (needles, yarn, thread, tape, pins, etc.)
A working idea of how you’d like to Get. This. Project. Done!

This is a cooperative experience facilitated by a professional embroidery artist with knowledge of multiple craft disciplines but who is not an expert in everything craft. Let’s breathe new life into your old projects and see what happens!

Skill level: All
Fee: $30
90 minutes
Offered: October 7, 9:00 and 10:45 am

Dr. Mend’s Surgery
Kate Sekules, Author of MEND! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto, New York, NY

Get inspired to mend with verve, nerve, and glaringly obvious thread; to value and preserve what you already have. Bring your sick or injured garment and get a personal consultation with Dr. Mend and a prescription for your rip, hole, stain, or damage, complete with sample materials and instruction. Learn Kate’s tips and tricks and how the art of visible mending is part of an important contemporary movement to give fashion back its soul.

Skill level: All
Fee: $45
3 hours
Offered: October 6, 2:30 pm

Storage, Care, and Display of Textiles

Want to feel like a student in the Winterthur Graduate Programs? Join members of the Winterthur Preventive and Textile Conservation teams to discuss care of collection textiles. Learn about archival materials for storage, methods of care, and guidance for display and lighting. We will look at needlework examples from the Winterthur permanent and teaching collections to illustrate proper care and display. This workshop will take place in the Winterthur textile and preventive conservation labs as well as the galleries.

Skill level: All
Fee: $20
90 minutes
Offered: October 6, 2:30 and 4:15 pm, and October 7, 9:00 and 10:45 am

Needlework at Winterthur
Small group tours highlight treasures of Winterthur’s unparalleled needlework collection.

Skill level: All
Fee: $20
90 minutes
Offered: October 6, 2:30 and 4:15 pm, and October 7, 9:00 and 10:45 am

Stitch Space
Laura Johnson, Linda Eaton Associate Curator of Textiles, Winterthur

Drop by during the first workshop block either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning to probe deeper into the conference themes through lively discussions, informal trivia, a stitching challenge, and the opportunity to chat or share photos with other stitchers. Bring your stitching!

Skill level: All
Fee: $0
Offered: October 6, 2:30-4:00 pm, and October 7, 9:00-10:30 am

Drop-In Opportunities
Available During all Workshop Sessions


Visit the library to revel in a variety of needlework-related resources drawn from its world-class collections, which span from 1600 to the early 1900s. Take notes or photos. Find inspiration for further study or for your next stitching project. Please wash your hands before coming to the library.


Head upstairs to the Second Floor Galleries to explore The Needle’s I: Stitching Identity, which presents stitchers and stitchery from the 18th century to the present day and explores these makers, their marks, and their stories through themes of family, memory, and craft tradition. The exhibition is inspired by The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution by Marla Miller.

Speaker Bios

Lynne Anderson is director of the Sampler Archive Project, a nationwide collaborative effort to create an online database of information and images of American samplers. She is also founder of the Sampler Consortium, an international member organization for individuals interested in the study of schoolgirl samplers and related girlhood embroideries. Dr. Anderson has published numerous articles on the role of schoolgirl samplers in female education and is a frequent speaker at national conferences. Her study of Mexican samplers is informed by an ongoing collaboration with Mayela Flores Enriques, lecturer in Art History and Ph.D. candidate in Critical Gender Studies at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Kelli Barnes is a Ph.D. candidate in History and African American Public Humanities Fellow at the University of Delaware. Her research focuses on Black girls and girlhood, African American history of the 18th and 19th centuries, and transatlantic history—all through the lens of Black feminist and womanist theories, material culture, and visual culture analysis. This research builds on her previous work as an interior designer and historic preservationist and her interest in curatorial and exhibit design work upon graduation.

Erica Lome is associate curator at Historic New England. She was previously the Peggy N. Gerry Curatorial Associate at the Concord Museum, a position sponsored by Decorative Arts Trust. She received her M.A. from the Bard Graduate Center and her Ph.D. from the University of Delaware’s American Civilization Program.

Marla Miller teaches history, public history, material culture, and museum studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her interest in women’s work before the industrial revolution has led to several award-winning publications, including The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution (2006), and Betsy Ross and the Making of America (2010). Her most recent work, Entangled Lives: Labor, Livelihood, and Landscapes of Change in Rural Massachusetts, published in 2019, highlights the limitations and opportunities Anglo-, African, and Native American women encountered through their work in the community of Hadley, Massachusetts. Marla also serves on the board of the New England Quarterly and as a consultant for museums and historic sites.

Tricia Wilson Nguyen is a teacher, historian, entrepreneur, and engineer. Her interests stretch between the embroidery and technology of the past and present. Dr. Nguyen’s primary field is engineering where she has been part of a small group of scientists and artists who have pioneered the new field of electronic textiles. Her product developments in that field have been seen in Land’s End, Brookstone, the fields of World Cup Soccer, and have been exhibited at the Smithsonian. But in this venue, Tricia is best known for her knowledge and interpretation of historical needlework through projects such as the Plimoth Jacket. She is owner of Thistle Threads, a company which researches and designs historically inspired needlework. Her unique twist is viewing the objects through the lens of economic history using her engineering background to understand the clues they hold.

Kate Sekules is a Ph.D. candidate in Material Culture and Design History at Bard Graduate Center, New York, using interdisciplinary approaches to research mending cultures and related fields. She has lectured on the history, methodologies, and contexts of dress and textile repair at institutions including Parsons, NYU, New School, FIT, and Tufts, runs the mending program at NYC nonprofit Custom Collaborative, and has taught workshops at RISD Museum, the Textile Arts Center, New York, and the Costume and Textile Association UK, among many others. She is a board member of the Ethical Fashion Forum, UK, and sits on the advisory council of the New Standard Institute, NYC. She received an M.A in Costume Studies from NYU. Her book MEND! A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto was published by Penguin in fall 2020.

$425; $350 Winterthur Members. Save $50 if you register by June 30. Access to Asynchronous Virtual Conference content is $200; $150 Winterthur Members. Space is limited. Registration Required by September 30.

All presentations will be recorded and made available two weeks after the conference for access by conference registrants for one month.

Winterthur reserves the right to cancel the conference. Should Winterthur cancel, participants will be issued a full refund. Needlework Conference participants who cancel by September 15, regardless of reason, will be issued a full refund minus a $50 handling fee. No refunds will be issued after September 15.