What’s Your Passion?

  • HOBBY: [ˈhäbē] NOUN. An activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.

People love hobbies. Some can be pretty bizarre—clipping and dying dogs to look like wild animals; collecting back scratchers or Ronald McDonald memorabilia; extreme ironing (I’m not making this up); doing cow impressions; playing dead.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that the #1 most popular hobby in the U.S. is reading. Writing comes in at #4.

Needlework is a universal hobby. From the earliest times, men and women all over the world have created works of art and necessity with needle and thread (or yarn). Collecting the needlework of the past is a hobby, too. Since my protagonist in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series is an antiques dealer, I thought I’d share with you two examples of historic needlework in my own collection. Forgive my amateur photography.

Cross Stitch

At a time when educating girls was considered frivolous if not pointless, the domestic arts were the main focus of their studies. One Italian proverb says, “A girl should be taught to sew and not to read, unless one wishes to make a nun of her.”

This particular sampler was worked by a girl named Elizabeth Billinghurst, who completed it on the tenth of August 1781. While I can’t know for sure, she may have been the Elizabeth Billinghurst who was born in Surrey, England, in 1767 and died in 1859 at the age of 92 (quite an achievement for the eighteenth century). If she’s the one, she completed this sampler when she was fourteen.

The saying she chose was a popular one for young stitchers:

Virtue’s the chiefest beauty of the mind

The noblest ornament of humankind

Virtue’s our safeguard and our guiding star

That stirs up reason when our senses err

In spite of the complexity of the project, Elizabeth wasn’t all that detail-oriented. Failing to plan ahead, she was obliged to insert the final letters or word above the line. It’s one of my favorite things about this sampler. I picture her bent over her work, longing for an opportunity to stash the linen in her work basket and race outside to visit the horses or climb the apple tree in the garden.

            Once girls in the 1700s and 1800s had completed their samplers, they often went on to the more challenging pictorial embroidery, worked on very fine linen with long silk threads. If the design included people, the faces and arms were usually painted.

            Although my example has no name or date, the secular subject suggests it was done in the South (or in Scotland) where this type of pictorial needlework was commonly taught at female academies. Often the teachers had a repertoire of patterns to be copied. The girls would choose their favorite design, complete the needlework, and then a local artist would paint the faces.

            Besides reading and writing mysteries, one of my hobbies is knitting. What is your favorite hobby? What do you collect? Photos, please!


  1. I think I need to focus my hobbies! I love painting and although not recently, I also love needlework. Now truthful, reading has been my lifelong passion….. and dragging me away from that has always been hard.

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