Erica Wilson: The Julia Child of Needlework
Erica Moira Susan Wilson (1928-2011) has been called the “Julia Child of Needlework,” and her impact on the field of sewing and craft-related television has arguably been as great as that of Julia Child on the TV cooking program genre. Like Child, who made archaic aspects of French cookery accessible to a popular audience, Wilson revived and modernized old-fashioned needlework techniques with boundless enthusiasm. In Wilson’s obituary in The Guardian, Veronica Horwell wrote, “Wilson shared some of Child's enthusiastic style and all of her ambition to demystify and democratize what had become arcane skills.” This essay explores Erica Wilson’s work and her tremendous impacts both on needlework and on public television, as evidenced through the lens of Erica, a program produced by WGBH in 1971-72 and 1975-6 and broadcast on PBS stations nationally.
A free, open access project of Matrix, Michigan State University Museum, and the Quilt Alliance. [The Quilt Index is a searchable repository of digital photographs, texts (oral, video, and written), and documents pertaining to quilts, quiltmakers, and quilt-related activities. As of January 2013, it contains more than 50,000 digital representations of quilts from museums, libraries, archives, research projects, and private individuals from around the world.
In his 90 Seconds with… episode, Chang Xiong discusses his embroidery based in the tradition of the Hmong people of Vietnam.
Erica Wilson frequently used illustrations and characters from children’s literature, especially the works of Beatrix Potter, as inspiration for needlework designs. Additionally, in her episode of 90 Seconds with…, quiltmaker Ann Brauer discussed how stories such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have inspired her quilts. All of these quilts were inspired by classics of children’s literature
Erica Wilson was very fond of animals and devoted Erica episode “Creatures Great and Small” to depictions of animals in needlework. All of these quilts feature animals, mostly in appliqué designs.
Erica Wilson demonstrates a paper piecing method for making even patchwork in the “Patchwork” episode of Erica. All of these quilts on the Quilt Index used paper piecing, often called “English template piecing” in the United States, in their construction.
In the “Patchwork,” episode of the Erica show, Erica Wilson showed many different traditional quilt patterns, such Carolina Lily, crazy quilts, Dresden Plate, Drunkard’s Path, Hexagon Mosaic, Log Cabin, and Trip Around the World. All of these patterns and many more are illustrated here
Much of Chang Xiong’s work deals with the refugee experience and the Vietnam War. For more quilts depicting human rights issues, see Mary Worrall, Marsha MacDowell, and Lynee Swanson’s exhibit, Quilts and Human Rights.
Erica Wilson's Legacy: A Bibliography
“AHSA Talks with Erica Wilson,” Forecast for Home Economics (Special Issue) 30, September 1984, 57.
Baehr, Helen, and Gillian Dyer. Boxed In: Women and Television. Pandora Press, 1987.
Brackman, Barbara. Patterns of Progress: Quilts in the Machine Age. Los Angeles: Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 1997.
Bryan-Wilson, Julia. "Eleven Propositions in Response to the Question: What Is Contemporary about Craft?." The Journal of Modern Craft 6, no. 1 (2013): 7-10.
Brown, Mary Ellen, ed. Television and Women's Culture: The Politics of the Popular. SAGE Publications Limited, 1990.
Cassidy, Marsha Francis. What Women Watched: Daytime Television in the 1950s. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.
Colby, Averill. Patchwork. London: Batsford, 1958.
“Crewel Awakening.” Newsweek 59, 11 June 1962, 96.
“Erica Wilson Dies at 83 – Led a Rebirth of Needleworking.” New York Times. 13 December 2011.
Ferris, Monica. Crewel World. Berkley, 1999.
Finley, Ruth and Ruby McKim. Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1929.
Gordon, Beverly. "The Fiber of Our Lives: Trends and attitudes about women's textile art as reflected in the literature in America 1876–1976." The Journal of Popular Culture 10, no. 3 (1976): 548-559.
“Great Embroidery Ideas by Erica Wilson.” House and Garden 144, December 1973, 56- 57.
Hall, Carrie A. and Rose G. Kretsinger. The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt. New York: Dover Publications, 1988.
Hedges, Elaine. Hearts and Hands: The Influence of Women & Quilts on American Society. San Francisco: Quilt Digest Press, 1987.
Horwell, Veronica. “Erica Wilson obituary.” The Guardian. 2 January 2012.
Lauria, Jo, and Steve Fenton. Craft in America: Celebrating Two Centuries of Artists and Objects. Clarkson Potter, 2007.
Leslie, Catherine. Identity, Consumption, and Frequency of Behavior among Contemporary Needleworkers. Unpublished doctoral dissertation: Ohio State University, 2002.
”Look Who’s Needling Now!,” Saturday Evening Post 246. November 1974, 48-49.
MacDowell, Marsha and Kurt Dewhurst. To Honor and Comfort: Native Quilting Traditions. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1997.
“Mail Order Mecca for Needleworkers: Nantucket.” House and Garden 132, October 1967, 89-90.
“Needlepoint Boom.” New York Times Magazine. 11 June 1972, 56-59.
Nelson, Valerie J. “Erica Wilson, ‘America’s first lady of stitchery,’ dies at 83.” The Washington Post. 19 December 2011.
“An Old Stitch Hits the Big Time.” Life 54. 15 March 1963, 49-50.
“On and Off the Avenue: Erica Wilson’s Needlework Classes.” New Yorker 37, 18 February 1961, 100 -101.
“One Stitch Leads to Another: Crewelwork.” New York Times Magazine, 1 March 1970, 66-67.
Orlofsky, Patsy, and Myron Orlofsky. Quilts in America. New York: McGraw Hill, 1974. Reprint, New York: Abbeville Press, 1992.
Safford, Carleton L. and Robert Bishop. America’s Quilts and Coverlets. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1972.
Shaughnessy, Katherine. The New Crewel: Exquisite Designs in Contemporary Embroidery. Lark Books, 2005.
Shaw, Robert. Quilts: A Living Tradition. Hugh Lauter Levin. 1995.
Spigel, Lynn, and Denise Mann. Private Screenings: Television and the Female Consumer. University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
Webster, Marie. Quilts: Their Story and How To Make Them. New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1915.
Williams, Raymond. Television, Technology and Cultural Form. New York: Schocken Books, 1974.
Wilson, Erica. The Animal Kingdom. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978.
Wilson, Erica. Ask Erica. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977.
Wilson, Erica. Children’s World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983.
Wilson, Erica. Christmas World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980.
Wilson, Erica. Crewel Embroidery. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962.
Wilson, Erica. Erica. Television Series. WGBH Boston. 1971-2 and 1975-6.
Wilson, Erica. Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.
Wilson, Erica. Erica Wilson’s Needlepoint: Based on the Collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Abrams, 1995.
Wilson, Erica. Erica Wilson's Quilts of America. New York: Oxmoor House, 1979.
Wilson, Erica. “Everyone is Doing Crewel,” House and Garden 123, January 1963, 96 - 99.
Wilson, Erica. Fun With Crewel Embroidery. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965.
Wilson, Erica. More Needleplay. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979.
Wilson, Erica. Needleplay. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975.
Wilson, Erica. Erica Wilson’s Needlework to Wear. New York: Oxmoor, 1982.
Wilson, Erica. New World of Plastic Canvas. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978.
Wilson, Erica. Say It with Stitches. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978.
Wilson, Erica. “Needlepoint.” Four-part Video Series.