Recently, a friend dropped me an email to find out if I had ever gotten ahold of Erica Wilson: A Life in Stitches, which reminded me to mention the book to you sooner, rather than later!
It’s been on my reading list for a while, and I go back and forth to it, reading it in small increments when I can, but I haven’t finished reading the whole book yet.
I generally like to read the complete book before I review it, but some books take much longer than others! This book requires a quick mention, because it’s one of those “get it before it’s gone” publications.
Erica Wilson: A Life in Stitches by Linda Eaton and Anne Hilker is published by Winterthur, and it corresponds with the Erica Wilson exhibit of the same name at Winterthur.
Because it is a museum-published book corresponding to an exhibit, usually once the book is sold out, it’s gone.
The book chronicles the life of Erica Wilson and scope of her work in light of the development of 20th century embroidery in America.
Even if you don’t know who Erica Wilson is (she passed away in 2011), but you have any interest in the history and development of needlework – and especially contemporary needlework – you will find the book most interesting. It’s very thorough!
Erica herself was an inspiring woman with an amazing work ethic and spirit, which really comes across in this book. Needlework was a central part of her life, and it propelled her to great success.
She influenced the entire needlework market in this country through her books, her kits, and her PBS show, Erica
I wrote about the show here in an article that connects you with many episodes of the show.
I also wrote about the show in this article, which links you to the WGBH open vault collection of some of the show’s episodes.
Definitely worth watching!
The book details Erica’s personal life and her business life, following her path from her studies in the UK at the Royal School of Needlework to her settling in the US, where she lived with her husband Vladi, who was an integral part of her business success.
You’ll find many pictures from her personal life and many, many photos of her work.
The section on Erica’s Designs: Traditional to Contemporary is, to me, the most interesting part of the book so far. It demonstrates how her foundational skills were built upon a thorough technical knowledge of traditional techniques, and then how she developed a style contemporary to her age, to keep needlework a viable and relevant craft. She was flexible, fearlessly adapting to the times with enthusiasm.
There is a wonderful tribute in the back of the book to Erica, where those who knew her or who followed closely in her footsteps, recall her and her influence on the needlework world.
It’s a good book, and I find it particularly inspiring. I’m enjoying reading it, and I don’t want to rush through it. But I wanted to get it out here for you, so that you can pick up a copy if you are equally interested in Erica, her influence, the history of needlework in America, and the continuing development of needlework in the late 20th century.
Erica Wilson: A Life in Stitches is not an embroidery book. It’s a biography and catalog of work. You’ll be able to see a wide selection of the body of her work, but there are no patterns, instructions, and so forth in the book.
Where to Find It
The Erica Wilson shop in Nantucket still survives, though it features very little needlework (some needlepoint canvases), devoted more to boutique clothing befitting the New England coastal lifestyle.
They carry the book here right now, so that’s where I’d get it if you want it at a reasonable price.
The Winterthur shop is not available online right now, but the museum might carry the book. You might use the contact information on the Winterthur website to see if you can order from them.
Frankly, I wouldn’t bother with Amazon. The few copies on there are priced over $100.