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?
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.