Trying new activities, making foods based on old recipes, and listening to music that was popular in the time period you are writing in can be a great way to turn back the clock and step into the lives of your characters.
Several of mine, including FD from Guises to Keep and JH from Against His Vows, are skilled at embroidery, an art form I have had an interest in for some time even though I certainly lack the same skills a woman of my age would have been expected to possess a few centuries ago.
As described in this post featured on The Jane Austen Centre’s website, “Whenever a needlewoman saw a new and interesting example of a stitching pattern, she would quickly sew a small sample of it onto a piece of cloth – her ‘sampler’. The patterns were sewn randomly onto the fabric as a reference for future use, and the woman would collect extra stitches and patterns throughout her lifetime.”
Via The Jane Austen Centre
Samplers like these appear from time to time in Guises to Keep, as one of the protagonists enjoys the craft. It also has sentimental value for her since her mother died shortly after she was born, but the character was able to learn embroidery from the samplers her father had set aside.
When it comes to writing fiction, I like to experiment with things my characters do first-hand whenever possible. Gaining that kind of experience can be incredibly helpful in describing a task a character is doing, a recipe they make, or a craft they enjoy.
That said, I figured it was time to try my hand at stitching my own embroidery sampler.
I’m not going into this entirely blind. I’ve done a couple of pieces as from kits following a simple design printed on a square of denim, kind of like the printouts we would be given in preschool and kindergarten when we were learning to write the letters of the alphabet.
I also added an embroidery element to my Jane Austen-themed graduation cap.
This took several hours to finish but it was so worth it in the end!
For that project, I made a template from the back of an old notebook, traced it onto the fabric, and filled it in with rows of long and short stitches.
This time around, I’m using a combination of stitches I’ve used before like running stitches and back stitches as well as new ones like the couching stitch and the herringbone stitch.
I’m using a three-inch embroidery hoop.
For my pattern, I traced a circle from the container of my betta’s flakes and divided it into sections using the teeth of a comb for measurement. Each section will be filled with a different kind of stitch.
I’m using embroidery floss from DMC in Ecru, 3863 (Brown), and 964 (Blue).
About halfway done! I took this photo to celebrate my figuring out the couching stitch, which I had not attempted before this sampler.
I realize my stitches are not perfect, especially those I had not tried before including the Herringbone and Stem stitches. The important thing is I was able to learn them while getting a little closer to my characters who are far more talented at embroidery.
Do you share any hobbies with your characters? Is there something they’re into that you’d like to one day attempt? Let me know in the comments below!