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American History Through The Eye Of A Needle ~ Part I

Aug 17, 2007
More than 100 years ago at the dawn of the 20th century one of America's most distinguished authors, Rose Wilder Lane, was asked to write a report on the history and development of the needlework arts in America. Mrs Lane was the ideal writer for this worthy task being herself an expert needlewoman, historian, novelist, and essayist.

Her words gave radiance and meaning to the great needlework canvas and provided encouragement for the creative women of the time to carry on the great tradition of American needlework. This creativity brought beauty to their lives and homes and everlasting satisfaction to themselves and their families.

Mrs Lane's original report has been split up into this five-part series of articles and is virtually unchanged from her original script.

Needlework is the art that tells the truth about the real life of people in their time and place. The great arts, music, sculpture, painting, literature, are the work of a few unique persons whom lesser men emulate, often for generations. Needlework is anonymous; the people create it. Each piece is the work of a woman who is thinking only of making for her child, her friend, her home or herself a bit of beauty that pleases her.

So her needlework expresses what she is, more clearly than her handwriting does. It expresses everything that makes her an individual unlike any other person - her character, her mind and her spirit, her experience in living. It expresses, too, her country's history and culture, the traditions, the philosophy, the way of living that she takes for granted.

The first thing that American needlework tells you is that Americans live in the only classless society. This republic is the only country that has no peasant needlework. Everywhere else, peasant women work their crude, naive, gay patterns, suited to their humble class and frugal lives, while ladies work their rich and formal designs proper to higher birth and breeding.

American needlework is not peasant's work or aristocrats. It is not crude and it is not formal. It is needlework expressing a new and unique spirit, more American than American sculpture, painting, literature or classical music.

Three hundred years ago the colonies in America were European. Gentlemen and their ladies brought to North America the absolute monarchies of the Continent, the feudal system of England, and the arts and cultures of the Old World. They also brought the lower classes to do the hard work.

The workers who cleared the forests, planted the crops, hunted for the fur traders, and did the brewing, building, spinning and weaving were peasants hardly more free than serfs, bound servants no more free than slaves, poor families imprisoned for poverty who were herded out of debtors' prisons and shipped to America, and poor girls who, having no dowries, were auctioned in American ports to woodsmen and freed servants who could afford to buy wives.

They came from the hungry classes in all the famine-plagued kingdoms of the Old World. They had nothing in common but their poverty, their humanity, and a wild hope. Long before British victory in European wars had seized for the British Empire all the colonies in America except the Spanish Floridas and New France west of the Mississippi, the land that is now these States was the home of all mankind.

The Dutch built the town on Manhattan Island, and the patroons' large estates on Long Island and up the Hudson River valley. German peasants slowly defeated the Pennsylvania wilderness. Scotch-Irish struggled into the Carolina mountains. Swedes settled Delaware. New France ran from Maine to Detroit to St. Louis and up the Mississippi from Mobile and New Orleans to Illinois, Missouri and the Dakota headwaters of the Missouri River. New Spain stretched from Peru and Mexico to San Antonio, Los Angeles, San Francisco. The Russians came down from Alaska to Monterey.

Among all these pioneers, only a few at first, were Italians, Danes, Poles, Armenians, Assyrians, Czechs, Slovaks, Finns, Greeks, Norwegians, Hungarians, Africans, Arabs, Egyptians, Levantines. Protestants ruled New England; Catholics governed Maryland; Jews were in all the colonies. All varieties of humankind were here, and all the languages, faiths, cultures.

By painful stages on wagon tracks through forests and by boats sailing along empty coasts, the English, Irish, Scottish, Dutch, French and Spanish gentlemen were meeting on the neutral ground of their lofty social class. Beneath them the lower classes were mingling and intermarrying with each other and with the Indians - the farmers, the peddlars, the sailors, the little merchants, the wilderness fighters; the first Americans.
About the Author
John Wigham has been a professional author and editor for 20 years and is a co-founder of Patterns Patch
an online cross stitch club dedicated to counted cross stitch. The website has a small team of writers who are devoted to our cross stitch club and enjoy writing about their hobby.
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