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Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Erica Wilson

 

When Erica Wilson died last week at the age of 83, I thought about writing a tribute to her. She was, after all, the most influential lady in the needlework industry in the last half century here in America.

But I was a little daunted at the prospect of writing about her. I cannot say that I ever met her, because I never did. I cannot say that I ever spoke with her, because I never did. I cannot say that I ever attended class with her, because I never did. What do I know about Erica Wilson, and who am I to write anything about her? How could I pay even a remote tribute to her and to her impact on the needle arts?

From Erica Wilson's Embroidery Book

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about Erica Wilson. I’ve dug out all her books that sit on my bookshelves. They’re good friends, these books – especially her Embroidery Book and Crewel Embroidery. They are well worn, more so than any other books on my shelf. I refer to them all the time. Her Embroidery Book is my go-to book to double-check stitch instructions and techniques. When I come across a technique explained in newer books, I ask myself, “How did Erica Wilson do this?” And I trot off to learn from Erica Wilson.

We owe much to Erica Wilson, those of us who love needlework. When she came to the United States, America was forgetting the needlework heritage of earlier generations. Life was moving forward, and “mundane” pursuits like the needle arts were drifting quickly to the side-lines. Erica Wilson became the life-line of the needle arts – she rejuvenated them and sustained them. And as any good mentor does, she handed on what she received, so that, today, we can enjoy this “embarrassment of riches” that we see in our needlework world.

And in contemplating Erica Wilson, I realized that I have met her. I have consulted her. I may not have spoken with her, but she has certainly spoken to me. I have “gone to class” with her. I’ve done all this through her books, through her kits, through the inheritance that she has passed on to all of us.

If you don’t know Erica Wilson, I suggest you meet her through her books, especially Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book and Crewel Embroidery. You can find these books through many used book sources, and they are well worth having on your shelves. You’ll find in them – and in her – a real friend.

 
 

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(25) Comments

  1. Thanks for your tribute to Erica Wilson, Mary. I grew up on Erica Wilson. I started out as a young girl with her kits. About ten years ago I was cleaning out some of my supplies via Ebay and sold an unopened kit of hers. I got good money for it, but have been sorry ever since! I only have one book of hers! “Ask Erica”. I’m going to have to look for some more.

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  2. Thank you for your nice article about Erica Wilson. About 30 years ago, she had a needlework show on PBS and I remember her joking about her obstinance at using her thread/wool till the last millimetre. And to keep her memory alive, I only have to look at the lovely felt embroidered leaf wreath with red cardinals that I made two decades ago from a Erica Wilson needlepoint kit.

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  3. I had not heard about Erica Wilson. She will be very much missed in the needlework world. I also do needlepoint and I am currently working on a piece from her book of designs adapted from objects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I wish I could do every project! She was an incredibly talented and wonderful artist.

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  4. Thank you for your thoughtful post on the late Erica Wilson. I too will be re-visiting her books on my shelves over the Christmas holidays.

    Thank you for the wonderful posts in 2011 – I love this form of education, its a real pleasure point in my day.

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  5. Mary,
    This is a lovely heartfelt tribute to Erica Wilson. It was a pleasure to share your journey and the influence she has had on your works.
    I think about the influence you are having on mine and what a great mentor you are and even though we have never met, I will thank you now and let you know that to so many of us, “you” will be our Erica.

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  6. I never got to see Erica’s shows when they were on TV, but do have some of her books. I frequently see the Needleplay books, but rarely any others. But when I do, I buy them. I almost wish people would see the wealth of information they contain, instead of focusing on the projects. I say “almost” only because I’m selfish and don’t want the competition until I’ve found them all.

    RIP, Erica Wilson, and thanks for helping to bring needlework back.

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  7. Thank you for the tribute to Erica. Those of us of a certain age feel just as you do – that we knew her. I wore her library edition out when I was younger; didn’t seem like there was money to buy them. I have several of them now as I see them at sales and friends give them to me – seems like the colors are of a certain era too so they are replaced with newer, more colorful books.
    Kudos to you for all that you do in this embroidery era! You are an invaluable asset; just as Erica was in her time…

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  8. I did not know Erica Wilson had passed away, How very sad. I understand your hesitation to write a tribute, but what you wrote is likely what we all feel about her. You said it very well. Many of us – women interested in needlework – probably never met her, but we “knew” her through her books. I have well worn books by her that I have referred to over the years. I think I’ll pull them off the shelves today, with a cup of tea and say good-bye. Lovely post.

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  9. Oh, I did not know she was gone…but her legacy remains on my shelves as well, and will continue to be treasured for years to come…may her memory be for a blessing.

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  10. Erica Wilson was a regular contributor to “McCall`s Needlework and Crafts”–my absolutely favorite magazine! My mother is also a big fan…I (as kid) drooled over her crewelwork creations (I was only fluent in cross-stitch at the time!) and I DID buy her Embroidery book–a popular reference for myself, even today…she will be missed!

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  11. ” I have gone to class” with Erica says it all. Her books read as though you are having a chat with her. I’m so thankful you introduced me to Erica a few years ago. Love her “give it a try attitude.” I have both books you mentioned at my side constantly. She gives such a wonderful balance of History and Technique. Stitch companions as well as good reading. Thank you for letting us know she has passed away. She lived to a ripe age and left a wonderful legacy. Mary, your web site has been my other ‘ go to’ for ‘how to’ and history you are leaving a similar legacy. Thank you.

    What other books has Erica Wilson published?

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  12. I’ve read many of her books, and always loved both the lay out, the care and the text. I have learned so much from her, and from others who have taken the time to write about something so personal, so creative and so much fun. For many of my generation, there never was a mother to hand down the skills of generations. My mother never learned from her mother, and the needlework skills she learned in school, were something she did not pass on.
    I got interested in embroidery through reading romantic books, then started with patterned cross stitch, then preprinted tapestry canvas. And then, when I was about 13 I stumbled over a book by Cecile Dreesmann in a second hand bookstore. It was small, ratty, and to me it was the gateway to a lifelong wonderful hobby.

    At 35, I’ve never had the chance to really take a class, to sit with a mentor, but I have had the amazing fortune to learn so much from ladies like Erica Wilson, who have shared their talents.

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  13. Mary, thank you for your tribute to Erica Wilson. As a young woman I was inspired by Erica Wilson, Elsa Williams, Margaret Davis, and Louise Chrimes. Not only did these women teach me the correct way to execute a stitch they opened my eyes to America’s proud history in needlework. It is nice to see Erica Wilson’s life long work honored!

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    1. Dear Paula,
      j am in search fo Louise Chrimes designs. J could not find any book with her designs. J’d like to know if you can suggest were to find samples of her work.
      J am very fond of crewel and jacobean work.
      J will be very greateful if you have some suggestiobne for me.
      Thank you very much in advance
      Claudia

  14. Mary,
    I credit Erica Wilson with having gotten me back to embroidery after I put it down to spend time going to school and earning a degree and then teaching to put my husband through school. During a most trying time back in the early 70s, whilst I was recovering from a very serious bout of pneumonia and trying to survive “cabin fever” during a very severe winter that kept me housebound for much of 4 months, I purchased a couple of her books and got “heavily” into crewel embroidery. I managed to do 2 big wall hangings and several smaller pieces that I gave as gifts during that winter. And I have kept up my interest in embroidery ever since, branching out into cross stitch, white work and then ribbon embroidery. Erica made it all seem very possible and practical and gave you a way to “fancy up” and personalize just about everything… from household linens to clothing. I still look at those old books for inspiration and still have a large “tub” of crewel embroidery yarns in my workroom that I dig out every so often and do a bit of “decorating” with. She was an excellent teacher… teaching by example and inspiration. And I loved her use of vibrant colors. It gave me the courage to branch out away from pastels and old style “heirloom” embroidery (which I still love, btw) into something more lively and vibrant.
    Tess

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  15. Thank you for your tribute to Erica Wilson. Just two weeks ago I took out her Christmas book from the library. I made one of her embroidered ornaments, the little sleeping kitten “Chessie”. And Saturday on my way out of the grocery store I found the paperback edition of that book in the used book bin for 50 cents, which of course I bought. I remember Erica from the late 1960s and 70s when my mother and I were learning to do crewel embroidery. She was a treasure and I did not know of her passing until reading it from you. Wouldn’t you love to see her old PBS tv shows? Thank you

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  16. I, too, was inspired to pick up a needle and thread again by Erica, through her books. My grandmother had tried to teach me to crochet and embroider when I was very young, but since I’m left-handed, it just didn’t work out well. The books made clear what Grandma had been trying to tell me.

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  17. Thank you Mary for being our modern day Erica Wilson. I go to your website and use it as you used her books. I didn’t know about her, but I thank her because you did know and benifit all of us because of it.

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  18. I just wanted you to know I enjoy reading your post and have learned a lot . It has motavated me to try and improve my needle projects . I like the new lay out of you newa letter . So will wait for the next one and have my coffee while reading it.
    Thank you

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  19. I, too, have ALL of her books. I refer to them as I work on stitching any type of project. Currently, I use her books for reference as I create my own designs. Erica Wilson is my muse to do my own “thing”.

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