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Eastern Hemisphere map. Photo: George Serras.
Stretched and framed
To get a tight, even surface for embroidery the fabric would have been stretched over a circular wooden frame or 'tambour'. You can see the marks and holes left by metal pins on the edges where the silk has been tacked onto the frame.
This red chalk and pencil drawing by the French artist Louis de Carmontelle shows the Duchess of Chevreuse embroidering with a wooden frame or 'tambour', sometime in the late 1700s. Courtesy: Carmontelle Musee Conde, Chantilly, France/Giraudon/The Bridgeman Art Library.
Tracing the map
If you look closely at the word 'AFRICA' you can see some parts are sewn and some inked. The maker traced the map onto the silk, leaving ink guidelines. The maps could be purchased already printed onto the fabric. This sampler was probably created at a school where the girls saved money by copying the maps themselves.
The pattern map
This embroidered map has been traced from a map of the world designed especially for 'Ladies needlework and young students of geography' by the London printing firm Laurie and Whittle.
The company produced a range of paper patterns and maps printed directly on silk, and sold them with coloured silks, a wooden stretcher and gilt frames for displaying the final work.
An unfinished embroidery featuring the Laurie and Whittle world map of 1798 printed onto silk. Courtesy: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
The embroiderer has used two or three rows of coloured silk stitches to emphasise the borders of countries and other geographical features. These outlines imitate the watercolour highlights seen on hand coloured maps. Spidery threadwork on the back of the sampler shows that the coloured embroidery silks have faded. They were once bright yellow, pink, green and gold.
The front of this section of the map shows the rows of coloured stitches.
The back of the map shows how the stitches were worked and their original bright colours.
This illustration from a 1750s encyclopaedia shows how silk threads were dyed. Courtesy: The Bridgeman Art Library.
Accuracy not required!
The maker of this embroidery has reversed the positions of Botany Bay and Port Jackson on the map. It is understandable, given the settlements may have been little more than 10 years old when the map was sewn.
Embroidered maps often contained errors — it seems teachers were more concerned that girls put their stitches in the right place than about geographical accuracy.
Ann Brown may have incorrectly joined England to France and Ireland on her sampler because she mistook the cuts in a jigsaw map for borders. Courtesy: Witney Antiques.
Jigsaw puzzles were invented as geographical toys for children, and this one was probably made by printing firm Laurie and Whittle in about 1794. Courtesy: Hampshire County Council.
Names for New Holland
The embroiderer of this map seems to have had a particular interest in Australia and its history. She has inked in the locations and dates of Dutch claims on New Holland ('Leeuwin's Land 1622' and 'Nuyts Land 1627') and coloured the part of the coast charted by Cook differently to the rest.
Her attention to Australia also helps to date the map — Tasmania is attached to the mainland, showing the embroidery was made before 1800, when a map displaying Bass Strait was first printed.
This chart of Bass Strait by Matthew Flinders published in London in 1800 proved Tasmania was an island. Courtesy: State Library of New South Wales.