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Women and Sewing
These two pieces of embroidery show symbols or images important to the woman who made them. As the hatchment by Hannah Babcock reveals, fancy sewing was considered an essential part of the education of a well-to-do young woman. Miss Babcock attended a finishing school in Boston to learn skills desirable in a wife. The nun who created the insignia also learned fancy embroidery, but put her skills to use in the service of religion.


Nun's Emblem Franz Mayer Collection Silk and silver thread embroidery 18th century New Spain
Hatchment Bayou Bend Collection 1785
Nun's Emblem
Franz Mayer Collection
Bayou Bend Collection

Silk and silver thread embroidery
18th century
New Spain

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A Nun's Insignia

This insignia portrays the Immaculate Conception crowned by the Trinity. Clockwise from the upper right, the saints surrounding Mary are Anne, her mother; Francis Xavier; Gertrude; the Archangel Gabriel at her feet; Francis, Joseph, and Mary's father Joachim.

A Hatchment

A coat of arms is in the center here, with a helmet above and a foliate design on the sides. Inscribed on the ribbon underneath the arms are the names Howe and Babcock. Since most American families did not have coats of arms, they frequently adopted a coat of arms related to their family name.


In the Middle Ages, nuns traditionally wore images of the saints to whom they prayed. This insignia was worn by a Conceptionist nun on the chest or shoulder of her white habit. Conceptionists were a branch of the Order of St. Clare.

A hatchment usually presents the coat of arms in a diamond or lozenge shape. The word hatchment comes from the word "achievement."

The nun who sewed this insignia demonstrates skilled knowledge of embroidery. She probably learned sewing at home, before entering the convent. Once cloistered, nuns performed useful work which may have included sewing.

Hannah Babcock, from Milton, Massachusetts, attended a boarding finishing school in Boston. As part of her education, she learned fancy sewing and embroidered this hatchment. She also would have learned music and drawing.

Technique & Materials
The figures of Mary and the saints around her are embroidered with loose silk thread using a stitch that forms a pattern of broken lines. A thick, padded border covered with silk and silver thread embroidery circles the scene.

Technique & Materials
Hannah Babcock used silk embroidery thread on a black satin background. John and Samuel Gore, heraldic painters in Boston, probably transferred this design onto the fabric, adding some elements.

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