Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Needling Grandma

Needling Grandma

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 22, 2008

I thought I knew my grandmothers’ names pretty well but was startled to discover from Frank’s challenge how much trouble I had recalling them. After all, I’ve wrung dry every clue from every genealogical document I’ve been able to find:

There’s the deed signed by a grandmother as “X her mark” and witnessed by her daughter “Sarah C. Parshall” — does this signal the generation where the women in my family learned to read and write?

There’s the agricultural census indicating that my family owned 35 sheep and produced 19 yards of woollen fabric in the previous year — do I glimpse my grandmother and her daughters at work?

There’s the store account in an estate file, showing purchases of brandy, then of laudanum, at ever decreasing intervals, ending with a purchase of crepe on the day of my grandmother’s death — does this indicate that her last, lingering illness was a painful one?

There’s the series of deeds from a grandfather giving 40 acres to each son who married or reached age 21, followed by a similar batch of deeds giving acreage to each daughter as soon as my widowed grandmother came into full possession of the remaining property — am I right in suspecting that grandmother was righting a long-felt injustice?

See what I mean? In the absence of personal papers, I have mastered the art of speculation.

But whether or not I have pinned down their personal stories, I have many of their names sewn up. Here is a picture of a piece of stitchery — the names all come from my pedigree charts; many of the pictures represent family stories. There are the geese one grandmother raised; the quilt another one made; the guitar played by a third. There are even private jokes — see my “rainbow Troutman”? And the Jones family whose name is entwined with grape vines did have a vineyard. So far my nieces and nephews aren’t interested in much more than finding the embroidered spiders and the rotting apple cores, but someday I hope they’ll be interested enough in the soldiers and the watermelon and the morning glory and the honey bees to listen to the stories.

When you think about it, each one of these names (with the exception of my own) entered my heritage because a woman brought it with her into her marriage.

Answers to potential questions: cross-stitch, 22 to the inch; about 24 inches square (and it is square despite the distortions of this poor photo); 12 years, off and on; it started as a needle-and-thread doodle and grew from there; and yes, I did submit it to the Church art competition a few years ago. It was turned down. They awarded the needlework prize to a piece of stitchery made from a commercial pattern. No, I didn’t really check the winning oil paintings for signs of paint-by-number kits. Mmmmm — sour grapes can sure be tart! :-)


Oh, Ardis I love this. I think this is the first time I’ve seen something that didn’t attempt to be all orderly with the names (i.e., in a tree shape). Good job.

P.S.–From a commercial kit? You’ve _got_ to be kidding.

Comment by Julie M. Smith — 3/17/2007 @ 11:21 am | Edit This

Really pretty.

Comment by Adam Greenwood — 3/17/2007 @ 12:36 pm | Edit This

Beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like it and I wish I had a pattern for something similar since I’m not very good at winging it on my own, this just may inspire me to try tho. 22 count – over one thread or two? Thanks for sharing, it truly is beautiful and what a tribute to your family.

Comment by Dianna H. — 3/17/2007 @ 12:45 pm | Edit This

Wow! This is beautiful.

Comment by mami — 3/17/2007 @ 12:46 pm | Edit This

I think the best thing about this would be the chance to talk over the kids. I’d be really excited to have something like this in my home. And the corny parts,–”rainbow Troutman,” har–just make it easier to remember.

Comment by Adam Greenwood — 3/17/2007 @ 1:14 pm | Edit This

Orderly, Julie? Not me — the “organizing” principle of my life — and my needlework, and my bookcases — is randomness. Not chaos, but randomness. (There. That sounds like a purposeful decision instead of an accident, I hope.)

Thanks, Adam and mami. Someday I’ll get this framed for display, when I can afford museum glass (that costs about ten times as much as ordinary framing glass, but you absolutely cannot tell with your eyes that there is glass there). In the meantime, it’s just folded up in a desk drawer.

Dianna, if you stitch you have probably collected pattern books that would allow you to make your own unique work, no matter what thread count you use (the 22-to-the-inch, over a single thread, let me put in all the detail without making this as large as a quilt). There are no rules, and if you make misjudgments in colors or in putting things too closely together, nobody can say you didn’t intend it to be exactly that way. I started with my parents’ names (Parshall and Taylor) and used large alphabets that I liked. Then I subdivided the remaining space with the names of my grandmothers (Hall and Lapp). Each time I finished a name, I looked for the largest remaining space and cut it in half with the next name on my list, choosing a color that hadn’t been used in that region before. You can estimate how much space you need for each name by counting the stitches for individual letters in your pattern book — nothing has to be centered to the precise thread. When you’ve done as many names as you know, or as you have room for on your fabric, then check the pattern books you’ve collected for bits and pieces of pictures. You may have a pattern for a Victorian Christmas stocking, and in the midst of all the toys under the tree there is a single doll you want — embroider that, ignoring everything else. You may have a pattern book for jar covers — isolate the rolling pin in one picture and stitch just that. When you run out of pictures, fill the tiny leftover spaces with flowers — one yellow stitch surrounded by four colored stitches, with a straight green stem. It only looks elaborate when you think of it as a whole — it’s much easier if your think of each tiny part as an individual picture. Go for it! Nobody else in the world will have anything like what you create with your own family names.

Comment by Ardis Parshall — 3/17/2007 @ 1:15 pm | Edit This

I’m speechless. (That’s really saying something.) :)

Comment by m&m — 3/17/2007 @ 2:00 pm | Edit This

I want you to know that there was at least one person (who was not a judge, but an insider) who complained long and loud about the needlework from a kit that was juried into the museum competition. And given a prize! As you can see, it didn’t do any good. It is what happens when you have people who know alot about some art forms, judging things they know nothing about–but think they do. We can and should do better. I love your piece.

Comment by Marjorie Conder — 3/17/2007 @ 2:52 pm | Edit This

Absolutely beautiful!

Comment by Rachel Woods, About LDS Guide — 3/17/2007 @ 5:40 pm | Edit This

What a treasure. What’s it say along the bottom?

Comment by Susan M — 3/17/2007 @ 6:06 pm | Edit This

Marjorie — I heard that through the grapevine at the time. It’s nice to have it confirmed by someone who didn’t know me then, so wasn’t just trying to make me feel better.

Thanks, Rachel, and m&m.

Susan M., it says “That this pedigree may useful be, Search out the virtues of your family. And to be worthy of ancestral name, Learn out the good they did, and do the same.” At the bottom right edge is my name and the date of completion (2001). The alphabet used on that line is one thread wide and two threads high.

Comment by Ardis Parshall — 3/17/2007 @ 6:32 pm | Edit This

This really is delightful, Ardis. Well needed delight, might I add.

Comment by J. Stapley — 3/17/2007 @ 9:30 pm | Edit This

Ardis – this is really beautiful. As a fellow cross-stitcher I can appreciate the work (and love) that has created this beautiful piece of work. As a point of interest – as I didn’t count the number of names – how many generations did you follow back? I hope you have someone to pass it on to who appreciates it fully.

Comment by ukann — 3/18/2007 @ 4:55 am | Edit This

I am amazed. That is a truly impressive piece. Thank you for sharing it with us, and for answering all the questions that promptly popped into my cross-stitcher brain.

Comment by dangermom — 3/18/2007 @ 11:37 am | Edit This

ukann, I’ve never counted the names or figured the generations — some lines go back much further than others, of course, but I’ve never counted. I worked on family research nonstop most of the years this was underway, which meant that I picked off a couple of names that turned out to be incorrect. I still have one name that I think now is an indication of occupation rather than a surname, but at some point you have to just leave the thing alone, you know? Just as the last corners were being filled with flowers, I made what is still my most triumphant research breakthrough and successfully placed my 4th great-grandmother Sarah Cro[w]nover into her well-researched ancestral line and was faced with the problem of squeezing “van Kouwenhoven” into a full tapesty — not something short like “Gray” or “Beck”, but “v-a-n-K-o-u-w-e-n-h-o-v-e-n”! If you look at the top, to the right of “Badcock,” you’ll see a village scene. Just above the village, you can barely see that I successfully shoehorned in my new-found name.

J., and dangermom, I’m glad you enjoyed it. One of the aspects of family history that I really appreciate is that there seems to be a place for any skill you can bring to it — research, organization, imagination, any art or craft in the way of displaying it, whatever.

Comment by Ardis Parshall — 3/18/2007 @ 12:06 pm | Edit This

my jaw dropped when i scrolled down, ardis. it is 20 million times better and more a work of art than i’d anticipated! WOW! (and i don’t type with caps, so that’s saying something!) i would be beyond tickled pink to inherit something so amazing that is also connected to who i am and where i came from. my favorite gifts are similar items. i hope you find someone in your family to pass it along to who will appreciate it as much as i, an unrelated internet stranger, do!

Comment by makakona — 3/18/2007 @ 2:05 pm | Edit This

Oh, that is so beautiful. I love stuff like that. I don’t like making it, but I like having it.

Comment by annegb — 3/18/2007 @ 5:21 pm | Edit This

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question Ardis – much appreciated.

Comment by ukann — 3/19/2007 @ 4:00 am | Edit This

This appeared on another blog on 17 March 2007


No Comments

No comments yet.