Taber Museum holds needlework exhibit

“Make Much of Precious Time While in Your Power” is the summer exhibit now open at the Thomas T. Taber Museum at 858 W. 4th St. The exhibit, featuring around 79 samplers, shows American and European needleworks created by young girls and women during the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibit opened June 4 and will continue to be on display through September 1.

Director Gary Parks explained that much of the exhibit is brought together through several private collections, including some from his own. Parks has been interested in needlework ever since being introduced by a family member.

“The majority are from private collections, including in part my collection — about 30 of them,” he said. “When I was a child, my maternal grandmother lived next door to us and, before I started kindergarten, we would go and visit her every day. If it was inclement weather, we would stay inside and she would take me into one of her rooms called the double parlor and here would be this needlework on the wall.

“She would say, ‘See this needlework? That was made by your great, great, great grandmother in Germany in 1777 and finished in Maryland a year later,’ “ he recalled. “It had Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge, the serpent running up the tree, Eve holding the apple, and that started my interest in them.”

The samplers were made by the young girls who were being taught how to sew with basic and darning stitches. Darning stitches were used to fix clothes that had been torn apart — the straight line stitches would mend them together. Darning stitches were often used on socks during this time, according to Parks.

The young girls would take pieces of linen, wool or cotton to learn the stitches. Many of them started as early as age 6, taught by other female family members or at a finishing school with teachers who often had better fabrics, including silk threads, and better means to teach the girls.

“The finishing school samplers might have a satin stitch or a running stitch or a French knot, which is a particularly difficult stitch to do,” said Parks. “If you went to a more exclusive school, the teacher probably gave you the best thread to use and the best instruction.”

The samplers included different verses, followed by flowered designs or designs that groups such as the Quakers would regularly put on their needleworks. Some traditional designs included using hair and stitching the eight-point star. In this exhibit, visitors can find samplers with spelling mistakes and some that are unfinished due to unknown reasons.

“They’ve been stitched for centuries. They introduced the alphabet, numerals, the inscriptions about their moral upbringing,” said Parks. “In contrast, they usually provided floral motifs or border which had an abundance of life on it.”

The title of the exhibit came from the earliest sampler on display, which contained the exact wording “Make Much of Precious Time While in Your Power.” This sampler was made by Sarah Relph when she was 10 in October of 1745, making it about 274 years old.

Two samplers of the 79 were created locally in Jersey Shore and Muncy by two girls under the age of 14. Both were made with silk threads, include an inscription and motif of flowers and borders.

The needleworks from this exhibit were arranged by regions, made by people with various backgrounds including the Quakers, Pennsylvania Germans, English and Scottish, and from throughout the northeastern United States such as New Jersey, Maryland, New Hampshire and New York.

The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.