Current Exhibitions

Model Looms & Samplers

In the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century, young girls in America were taught sewing and embroidery. This was considered not only a useful skill, but a necessary one, and an essential aspect of their education. If a young girl was lucky enough to attend school, especially at one of the female academies, part of their core curriculum was sewing. Samplers were educational tools allowing girls to develop stitchery skills for a variety of purposes. Many samplers incorporate poems or verses which were themselves part of the educational experience. They were also a creative outlet, allowing young girls to hone their artistic skills to ornament otherwise mundane household or personal items.

Samplers are well-loved objects of Americana, and some are splendid examples of American folk art. Most were created by very young girls – usually around the age of twelve. Some are very basic with just the letters of the alphabet and numbers. Usually even the most basic samplers have attempts at a variety of stitches and some sort of ornamentation or design. The most accomplished are sometimes very impressive works of art. Sadly, many have deteriorated over the decades as they were often mounted on acidic board and, if proudly displayed on the wall, suffered extreme fading from sunlight.

Many of the samplers on view in this gallery have faded badly or been subject to damage from the acid in their mounts. But, despite this, the varying skills of their makers is evident. What is important to an historical museum like OHS is that we know who made them – and exactly when they were made – and as such they embellish our knowledge of the history of this particular place.

Many of the examples of girlhood embroidery on view here incorporate the names of Oysterponds families that have a long-established role in the history of the two communities of East Marion and Orient: Beebe, Boerum, Davis, Griffin, Hubbard, Rackett, Terry, Tuthill, Youngs.

-William McNaught

Exhibit Items

Weaving is a method of textile production in which two distinct sets of yarns or threads are interlaced at right angles to form a fabric or cloth. The technology of weaving has a long history – dating back to Neolithic times, 12,000 years ago. Since that time, the basics of looms have remained essentially the same:

-A frame on which to place the warp – the threads running the length of the loom across which threads are woven.

-A mechanism for separating the warp threads to allow the weft – the threads which are woven crosswise to the warp to form the web – to be woven through the warp.

Over time, looms have evolved to make weaving easier, faster and less labor intensive for the weaver, and to facilitate the weaving of increasingly complicated designs. The principles of weaving contain the concept for the development of computer technology. In weaving the weft threads are either above or below a warp thread, and the combination and sequence of the ups and downs create the pattern of the cloth. Computers are made of millions of on and off switches which by using the right combination and sequence create instructions – or programs and applications.

The looms in this exhibition are from the collection of Florence House – who taught weaving at Columbia University Teacher’s College for several decades beginning in the 1920s. Four of the five little looms in this exhibition were hand-made – perhaps by her or her students – as models to demonstrate various types of looms. The fifth loom is a fully operational manufactured table loom. It might have been used as a student loom, or by a textile designer to weave samples of cloth which would later be woven on mechanical industrial looms, or perhaps by a hand-weaver to create small items such as scarves, hand towels, and the like.

Florence House was born in what is now Bulgaria, but was at that time part of the Ottoman Empire. Her father, Charles House, founded the American Farm School in Greece. The House family maintained a house in Orient and would return to the North Fork each summer. Florence lived in Orient after she retired from teaching and bequeathed considerable material about textiles and weaving to OHS.

-Ellen Zimmerman

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