Margaret McKay

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After a young lady learned to embroider a sampler, she might attend a female academy to make a silk embroidered picture. This was a more challenging technique that became popular in the early 1800s. Subjects included classical, biblical, and historical scenes, as well as mourning pictures.
This pastoral scene shows a young man seated under a tree with a horn slung over his shoulder, and holding a piece of bread (?). Before him stands a young woman carrying a sack, at which a dog is sniffing. The oval scene is surrounded by a single line of stem stitch, 1/4" beyond the picture. The border is embroidered with an undulating ribbon tied in a bow at the lower edge and entwined with sprays of roses, lilies, morning glories, carnations, daisies, and other flowers. At the lower edge of the oval embroidery, printed in ink, is the inscription: "MARGARET McKAY M. E. & A. SKETCHLEY's BOARDING SCHOOL HAERLEM LANE." The picture is worked on a twill-weave ivory silk ground and the stitches used are satin, long and short, stem, straight, chain, and French knot.
The Sketchley’s school continued at Haerlem Lane in Poughkeepise, NY from 1801 until 1804. The name “M. E. & A. Sketchley” and the address or town, were usually worked on the silk embroideries of their students. The Sketchleys also taught in North Carolina and Virginia. The embroideries include elegant scenes in the neoclassical taste, but lack any distinct characteristics that would help identify unsigned pieces.
Margaret McKay is probably the sister of Capt. George Knox McKay (1791-1814). Her embroidery descended in his family until it was given to the National Museum of American History.
Currently not on view
date made
McKay, Margaret
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
silk (ground material)
wood (frame material)
silk (embroidery threads material)
water color (painting material)
ink (inscription material)
overall: 26 in x 22 in; 66.04 cm x 55.88 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Frances C. Land
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Embroidered Pictures
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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