By Sue Fenwick
I recently found a beautiful piece of needlework at a local antique store. It is a 17-by-21-inch piece stitched on 16-count perforated paper. The design is a large red brick farmhouse with the motto “God Bless Our Home” across the top. It has beautiful bead embellishments, which include clear glass bead windowpanes and beaded swag curtains.
This beautiful treasure inspired me to call Claudia Dutcher Kistler, of Dutch Treat Designs in Livermore, California. Claudia has been collecting perforated-paper needle art and motto samplers for more than 20 years, and she possesses a wealth of knowledge on the subject.
After seeing my photos, Claudia told me my piece is a motto sampler on perforated paper from the 1880s. It is an original stitched in wool in the original frame. The colors are still bright, and there are no tears or water stains. It is an amazing example of perforated-paper needle art.
Perforated-paper samplers are somewhat overlooked in the industry, which largely uses linen or aida cloth for canvas. But punched or perforated paper was widely used in the 19th century for needlework. It was a poor woman’s canvas because it was something that was easily affordable and accessible.
“If you didn’t have fabric or you couldn’t afford the new needlepoint things that were coming in, you used perforated paper,” Claudia said. “They didn’t have all the supplies we have today. The paper is like a thin cardboard with little holes in it. It is really quite durable. In the early paper, the rag count was almost like fabric, so it feels almost more like a fabric than a paper. As you go later in the period, it feels more like a cardboard.”
Perforated paper was manufactured in the United States and England in the late 19th century.
“The earliest sampler from England is from 1864,” Claudia said. “The motto designs came a little after, and the American ones started mid-1870s. The patent dates were in the later 1870s for the first ones in England. It started in the U.S. and went to the U.K., but perforated-paper needle art is an American product.”
Designs were engraved or stamped on the paper and mass-produced. The most common designs were the mottos in the 8 ½-by-21-inch or 17-by-21-inch sizes.
Sunday school motto samplers are another interesting niche in perforated paper samplers. These were typically smaller, and they were always religious.
“The Sunday school mottos were not ‘Eat, Drink and Be Merry,’ ” Claudia said. “They were ‘God Bless Our Home’ or a favorite Scripture.”
The stitches on perforated paper are simple cross stitch, straight stitch, backstitch and the long (or satin) stitch. The long stitch is any stitch that goes over more than one hole and is usually on a diagonal that slants to the right. Sometimes, you will see beads or embellishments. The backstitch sometimes appears in outlines on motifs.
A lot of people call perforated paper Berlin work. It’s not quite the right term for it, but it’s a term that’s accepted.
“Berlin work to me would be more needlepoint and all wool,” Claudia said. “Perforated paper really had a mix of threads. They used silk, beads or whatever they had available, and not just wool. A lot of the more traditional mottos you see will have wool, but it is not limited to that.”
Claudia uses a size 24 tapestry needle and bigger sheets of perforated paper for her projects.
“I use size 5 perle cotton or Caron Watercolours thread,” she said. “If you want to do a long (satin) stitch, you have to use a heavier thread that will cover across the holes on the paper. The Caron Watercolours are great because they cover really well.”
Because the canvas is paper, you cannot roll it on a frame or scrunch it in a hoop. The Dutch Treat frame is designed especially for use with perforated paper tapestry and is available on Claudia’s website.
“I needed something that would clamp the paper and keep it flat,” Claudia said.
You can work the smaller pieces in hand. If you crumple your paper, or if it gets a little wavy while you’re working on it, Claudia advises to iron it with a low-heat iron with no steam.
“Perforated paper doesn’t like to be wet, so never use steam,” she said.
Claudia sells supplies, charts and designs for perforated paper needlework on her website. While you are visiting her site, be sure to check out her beautiful and popular Anne cloth cross-stitch table toppers.
If you’d like to read Claudia’s article on perforated-paper needlework, click here.
Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every other Tuesday.