Friday, January 18, 2008

I Stop to See a Weeping Willow, Crying on his Pillow

A while back, Adrienne asked me for a list of pumpkin designs since I have this unstitched pumpkin patch growing in my craft room. My other passion is for willow trees, and I half promised to put together a list of those. I’ve been thinking about all this because the project I am currently stitching has willow trees on it.

No doubt, you already know that willow trees were often used symbolically on mourning samplers in the Victorian period. Before I go any further, let me tell you, I’m no historian. One of my English professors once called my grasp on history “impressionistic,” which I thought was a pretty way of looking at it. She probably meant to motivate me to be more historically accurate, but she couldn’t. I just want to you know, that when I say “they” in the “Victorian period” I’m talking about two continents of people* who lived over a period of 70 years as if they all acted the same way all the time during those years. They didn’t. Just so you know, I know.

Nevertheless, I will say those Victorians were crazy about death. I’m serious. Photography was coming to the masses, and they would often take photos of their dead relatives** laid out in the living room. Or, even freakier, photos were taken of dead relatives made to look alive. (Clearly, Weekend at Bernie’s is part of a long tradition.) Or, freakiest of all, posed with the living. These post mortem photos, which may be the only ones in existence of the person, might be sent to all the relatives, kind of like the prayer cards Catholics give out. (I'm not a collector.) They also would use the hair of the dead in lockets—woven into knots, not just tied with a ribbon like the hair your mom saved from your first haircut—or other jewelry, or, indeed, in art. Nothing like having aunt Hilda’s hair woven into flowers to remember her by. It should come as no surprise, then, that the dead relative’s hair would also be used to stitch mourning samplers.

More on mourning and mourning samplers:
  • This article from the late 70s was one of the first to examine the dead people picture thing. See if you can get it through your library.
  • Scarlett letter has a mourning sampler pattern with a history of the genre (this one has another interpretation of columbines, too.)
  • This sampler, in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, includes watercolor painting on the sampler. And I thought that "embellished" cross-stitch was just a tacky modern invention.
  • My impressionistic sense of history is a little outraged by the impressionistic sense of history in this one.
You can find patterns for mourning samplers here and here, the latter sans willow trees.

Interestingly enough, the several willow designs I possess aren’t mourning samplers at all.
  • LHN, Willow Tree Inn
  • Carriage House Samplings, Willow Tree Sampler
  • City Stitcher, Willow Trees Sampler
  • Hands to Work, Two Fine Houses
  • Hillside Samplings, Folk Art Thread Keep (current project)
  • Moira Blackburn, Keep Me Sampler
  • Samplers and Such, Oriental Tin Topper Willow’s Garden
  • Simply Old Fashioned, Twinkling of Willows

Found through Hoffman Distributors:
  • Blackbird Designs, Willow House
  • By the Bay, Willow Hill
  • Carousel Charts, Willow Tree Sampler
  • Carriage House Samplings, Black Willow Farm
  • Carriage House Samplings, Willow
  • Dames of the Needle, W is for Willow
  • Hillside Samplings, Autumn Willow
  • La D Da, My Ways
  • La D Da, Willow Tree
  • Sampler Girl, Mrs. Lincoln Sampler
  • Threads Through Time, Willow
Even though willow trees are a little more difficult to find in a simple search (some patterns feature willows but don't have "willow" in the name), there still aren’t nearly as many willow patterns as there are pumpkins, which is a shame. I’ve always wanted to design a sampler with willow trees--it would be for mourning our pets. I know a good quote about dead animals (you’ll have received it from me if you blogged about a dead pet). And, well, I love the willow trees. Someday, but don’t hold your breath.

* technically, only the British are “Victorian” since she was their queen, but Americans did exist between 1837-1901(still do) and some of their customs were very similar to the English (still are)

**I don't have to tell you not to follow these links if pictures of dead people freak you out, right?

I know, three posts in one day, what am I high? Apparently, see below. Who agrees to shell out $12 to send a one pound package?


best pal said...

For more on American mourning customs, see the new book by Drew Gilpin Faust

Kendra said...

I used to "know" someone on an online bulletin board who collected those Victorian death pictures (she would scour eBay for them)...she was absolutely fascinated by them. Personally, they're a bit creepy...but to each his/her own. :-)

I do think it's interesting that in such a prudish and proper era, they were that concerned with their dead. Can you imagine people doing that now? They'd be accused of being just a bit off kilter...LOL!

debijeanm said...

I've seen the woven hair things and they creep me out.

Check out
and scroll down to Mother Earth and Her Children to see the most beautiful mourning quilt you will ever see. (Just one woman's opinion, of course.)

Anna van Schurman said...

best pal, do we get to be smarter because DGF went to our college? I mean intelligence by association, that's worth something, right?

Anonymous said...

IF I ever finish "The Plantation Sampler" you can have my chart - if it hasn't fallen to pieces by then.

A friend in Mexico died when I was there and we sat in the living room with his body all day (in a casket with a glass top) until time for the funeral.

And then there are cemeteries....


Barbara said...

Those pictures were pretty weird. But all in all, interesting stuff.

best pal said...

If it worked that way, I'd be a LOT smarter from knowing you but, alas, that's not the case....

Kim Ayres said...

Have you seen "The Others" with Nicole Kidman? Watching this was the first timeI came across the idea of the practice of photographing dead people in that way

Jenna said...

Yeah, that's kinda creepy. I wasn't even going to look, but morbid curiosity kicked in. I think the worst one was the little girl posed with her dead brother. Now that's just wrong. But then, I think that open casket funerals are wrong, too, but who am I to judge?

Anna van Schurman said...

I don't really see movies like the others. I first came across the dead people photography at a conference in graduate school. The talk was illustrated.

Michelle said...

Wow - for a second there I thought I was back in my 19th century art history class. Those crazy Victorians.