Meriem Chauvet - Collector and Needlework designer
Meriem Chauvet, the designer behind Couleur Tourterelle, is an expert stitcher and collector of antique 19th and early 20th century samplers, mostly of French and European origin.
Every sampler tells a story. The designer brings each one back to life, researching every motif, painstakingly reproducing every stitch, even the most faded and frayed, seeking similar materials so you can reproduce it in its full glory. These exceptionally rich reproduction charts make you travel back in time and feel almost intimate with the stitcher of yore. A pure pleasure to cross stitch.
Couleur Tourterelle Reproduction sampler and Original sampler side by side
In search of Lost Time
This sampler was stitched as a keepsake of a young girl's stay in the Normandy seaside resort of Cabourg. The place is famously known as one of the setting of Marcel Proust's literary work "In search of Lost time" including "In the shadow of young girls in Flower". We do not know the young stitcher's age, but she might have come across Marcel who also sojourned as a boy with his parents in the 1880's, long before he would become a famous writer.
Hortense de Frocourt proudly signs her name on the sampler, repeating her initials in several places. There is great elegance in the way the sampler is composed and the choice of letters and motifs. The little steamboat motif, a reminder of the seaside location, would at the time have been considered a "modern ship" as opposed to a sailboat.
For the word "Sampler" in English, the French language distinguishes two types of needlework. This work (left), about 20 earlier than the one above, is the more simple marquette, probably the first work of a young stitcher, using a single color on rustic linen fabric. Originally marquettes consisted of just letters and numbers stitched for practice. This one however was embellished with four elegant borders and the young stitcher was able to personalize her work with some motifs of her own.
The reproduction sampler (right) was turned into a tiny pin-cushion by Meriem Chauvet (stitched over 1 thread on finer fabric). The chart however is the exact reproduction of the original.
The tradition of "marking" household linen goes back at least a century further before that and was already cited in the encyclopaedia published by Diderot and d'Alembert between 1751 and 1772. The image below is an extract of the original illustration of the Linen maid's Alphabet & Numbers, left (source: gallica.bnf.fr / BNF).
The alphabet was passed on from generation to generation as can be seen in the E. Loir Sampler where every letter and number is replicated in the exact same format (notice the shape of number 5)
Original illustration from the Diderot and d'Alembert Encycopaedia (left)
While many English language samplers include long texts - often scripture or prayers - French samplers rarely include any text beyond a couple of words.
This sampler dating back to 1823 (original pictured left) is an exception: a poem composed by a 9 year-old stitcher expressing her love for her beloved grand mother, maybe the person who taught her to stitch. As the young girl was born in 1814, the grandmother must have lived through the 1789 French revolution and Napoleonic reign. Notice the typographical style and simple ornamentation characteristic of the period.
After the revolutionary times, the Catholic church regained its huge influence in France. By contrast with the work previously shown, the church altar - be it surrounded with flowers - was often a prominent theme in samplers and could be depicted in intricate detail.
The three examples below show to which extent: with the first one implying an altar by its layout, the second depicting the interior of the church in amazing detail, and the third one - probably a personal interpretation - replacing the center altar with a monumental basket of flowers and adding more fantasy, birds in particular.
This sampler is also remarkable by its pink linen fabric background, often found in samplers of the Toulouse region (South West France). Designer Meriem Chauvet offers a solution for achieving the same color background using Zweigart pink linen and dyeing it with tea to soften the color.
Later samplers tend to be more personal, including birds and other ornamental motifs. With wool thread gradually replacing silk, samplers feature a larger number and brighter colors. Here are some examples of colorful samplers of the second half of the 19th century in France
The sampler is representative of late 19th century European samplers where richly colored tapestry designs were starting to be published and stitchers picked motifs of their choice to embellish their samplers. This stitcher, living in a rural part of France, picked several motifs for her sampler, a lady and a gentleman in 18th century attire, as well as two parrot motifs.
When charting the reproduction sampler (right), Meriem Chauvet kept close to the original colors seen practically intact on the back (further right). She points out that Célestine used knots to secure her threads, many, many knots!
Early 20th century
This relatively "modern" sampler features a very interesting mix of early 20th century styles.
The top part of the sampler features a single alphabet with large elaborate monogram letters similar to those seen in white embroidery.
The two charming bird motifs, as well as the central motif are certainly stitched from one of the models popular at the time.
And surrounding the sampler is a remarkable Art nouveau border. It is stitched in pink, with very dark flowers and long protruding pistils.
This shows the remarkable way stitchers have been able to follow the needlework trends of their times, yet at the same time producing some very personal and remarkable works.