I finally started binging on Outlander over the past week. As I slowly fell in love with Jamie, I figured that the most logical course of action, before starting Season 2, would be to find a Scottish cross stitch chart to work on while I caught up with the rest of the series.
I immediately fell into another crazy obsession.
It started when I began browsing the Scottish section of The Scarlet Letter. I narrowed my potential purchases down to two reproductions.
Both were beautiful charts, with gorgeous florals and borders, animals, and a strangely similar house. Luckily, The Scarlet Letter usually includes some historical information in their descriptions. The first, by Isabel Redie, stated, "The quintessential Scottish sampler, displaying all the characteristics common to this group of samplers, including the arcaded pansy and carnation bands, illuminated alphabets, the arms of Scotland and the Linlithgow family, and the mystery mansion."
Wait what. The mystery mansion?!
The second, by Marion Robertson, included the following: "This sampler features many of the elements of design that distinguish Scottish samplers, including [...] the famous mansion house. Of this large house, [...] Scottish needlework expert, Margaret Swain, wrote in her book Scottish Embroidery: Medieval to Modern (Batsford, London, 1986) "The buildings that occur on Scottish samplers are often thought to be imaginary...It seems probable that the solid symmetrical houses appearing on many Scottish samplers between 1750 and 1850 are not imaginary, but actual houses, too familiar to the needlewoman and her family to need a label."
Oh no, I thought. This is going to become a thing.
I couldn't find a single example in any of my needlework history books, so I started searching through museum collections.
The National Museums Scotland had a couple examples online, but unfortunately, not much information. Both are nearly identical, and were made in the same year. Sisters? Cousins? Either way, there's the house.
I stumbled upon a few examples on Pinterest, and just for the record, I hate Pinterest. The majority of relevant photos are uploaded without any detail, which sucks for every reason, but especially for research. Following the links, if there are any, results in more "boards," which is great for clicking in circles, aka USELESS.
Luckily, I stumbled into Antique Samplers. And I remained there for hours. I'm still there now, actually, and I'm staying.
Anyway...jackpot. If you're on the edge of your seat, like I was, wondering if the few examples of *~the mystery house~* were a fluke or something more, brace yourself.
(All samplers on this page link back to their source, although you may need to create an account with Antique Samplers to view several of them.)
Four chimneys, four pillars, a pediment, and a distinctive, fenced-in garden, all done in a neoclassical design. Clearly, this was a meaningful building. Was it a home? A school? If it was stone, as several descriptions indicated, why weren't there remains? Or a record, at least? I decided that in order to determine the possible relationship between stitchers, I needed to figure out if they were centered around a particular location. I plotted the points on a map of the samplers that had recorded locations.
The two furthest points are approximately 217 miles apart, or around 4 hours by car. This doesn't rule out a school, I suppose, but it makes the mystery even more interesting. Two girls, in two 19th-century towns, 200 miles apart, for some reason, included the same building on their samplers.
Pouring over the pages of examples that feature the house, I finally found this piece (above) that had a bit more information. The description of this sampler, by Hectorina Mckenzie, states: "The house depicted here is considered to be representative of a stately city home made of stone blocks. This specific design of the house appears on numerous Scottish samplers, most typically with a blue roof representing the slate that was used for roofing materials."
Oddly enough, the tradition continues, as there are several beautiful modern charts with...surprise!
It's the house.
I'm sure there is a simple explanation as to why this exact house appears so often in so many pieces. Regardless, it's another really interesting example of the work of bygone stitchers, and the influence they continue to have on modern needlework.