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.
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
* 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?