Elizabeth Porter-Phelps' Needlework, 1760-1817

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This piece of needlework has found new fame in a book authored by Professor Marla Miller of UMass entitled The Needle's Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution.

This needlework is on display in the northeastern bedroom on the second floor of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum. This piece was a project for Elizabeth Porter Phelps that she supposedly began as a young woman when craft of this nature was especially popular for women of Elizabeth’s status. It is probably a copy of the painted Porter coat of arms that now hangs in the Long Room of the house, presumably bought by her mother Elizabeth Porter from an itinerant vendor who painted such things. The reason for its attribution to such a particular kind of vendor is that the objects on the heraldic device, supposed to be merlin wings, are not. Whoever made this got it wrong, and whoever bought it did not know the difference. Elizabeth Phelps perpetuated the error in the needlework.

Miller writes: “James Lincoln Huntington recalled that his ancestor was working on this in the twilight of her life in the early nineteenth century, but it is likely that she was then picking up a project laid down years earlier, when heraldic needleworks like this one were fashionable among young gentlewomen. The quality of the work and her lack of interest in completing the piece are evidence perhaps that Phelps had less enthusiasm …”


  • Miller, Marla R. The Needle's Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution. (Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006)