Friday 16 December 2011

Cristina's Progress With Hannah Westcombe And Those Mysterious Upper-Case Ligatures Explained - Maybe!

It is good to see that Portuguese Head Girl, Cristina, is making progress with her Hannah Westcombe - one of the earliest text samplers at Ackworth School. For those of you who might not know, Cristina underwent serious heart surgery not so long ago, and now is making her recovery. She says: The doctors are still keeping me on sick leave, which is very good at this time of year, because cold and changing of weather brings me lots of pains in the bones of my chest: that’s one of the reasons I decided to go on a new project – it lifts me up. We all hope you continue to feel lifted up, Cristina and wish you all the best for the festive season. I see Cristina is just beginning the row of upper-case ligatures - those pairs of letters joined to each other. While the lower-case ligatures were commonly used around that time, for a limited period, to improve the aesthetic of the printed word, upper-case ligatures, apart from an odd Latin example were not commonly seen. So what, if anything was the purpose of stitching them? It was something of a mystery. Then we began to notice upper-case ligatures on Scottish samplers. Scottish samplers are to a large extent marked by rows of paired initials belonging to family members of the stitcher. While in many examples they are stitched separately, on some few samplers they are ligatured.

This illustration of the text on a Scottish horn book of 1784 is contemporary with Ackworth School text samplers and just a year later than Hannah Westcombe's sampler - here you can see the lower-case ligatures. So, one has to ponder if the influence for the ligatures - both upper- and lower-case is coming to Ackworth from across the border. And by across the border nothing particularly extreme is being posited. In fact, Carlisle just to the north of the Quaker strongholds of Cumbria and Westmorland regularly played hop-scotch across that shifting divide. Even today, whenever the weather is poor and visibility is low, I'll give up on a fell-walk in the Lake District to travel an hour north for comforting coffee and home-made toasted banana bread at John Watts Coffee Shop in Bank Street, Carlisle.
One of the earliest text samplers at Ackworth School. Limited edition printed chart comes with 5 mini text sampler projects and background history. Price includes postage.

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