Erica Wilson (19282011) was arguably the most successful embroidery designer, teacher, and entrepreneur in America during the second half of the twentieth century. This superlative achievement was nurtured and encouraged by her husband, the renowned mid-century modern furniture designer Vladimir Kagan (1927—2016). Together, they created a highly successful business—all branded under the name Erica Wilson—that included books, kits, a television program, and retail shops. Erica’s embroidery designs, sometimes based on historical patterns and techniques, were well suited to the sensibilities of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Erica’s presence as the expert on all things needlework was larger-than-life. 

In 2015, the Kagan family donated to Winterthur Museum a selection of Erica’s work, including samplers Erica made during her training at the Royal School of Needlework in the 1940s and numerous examples from throughout her successful professional career. This generous gift not only allows the museum to interpret the influence that historic needlework and craft has had on artists and needlework into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries but also makes Erica’s work available as inspiration for those who are working with needle and thread today. 

This exhibition explores the life and work of Erica through a selection of objects from the Winterthur Museum collection and from Erica’s family.  

   Photograph by The Selby, September 8, 2010

One aspect of Erica’s career that not only brought her great success but also exposed millions to her craft was her PBS television show EricaProduced by WGBH from 1971 to 1972 and 1975 to 1976 in a studio next to that of Julia Child’s, many likened what Erica did for needlework to what Child did for cooking and referred to her as the Julia Child of needlework.” Pieces included in this exhibition can be seen in the show’s introduction and featured in episodes.  

Intro to “Erica”

“Thinking Big” Original airdate: December 21, 1971

Explore the Exhibition

Acknowledgments

Erica Wilson: A Life in Stitches was curated by Linda Eaton, John L. & Marjorie P. McGraw Director of Collections & Senior Curator of Textiles at Winterthur, and Anne Hilker, Ph.D. candidate at the Bard Graduate Center, and was possible because of the generous support of the family of Erica Wilson who have shared many of the objects featured here.

The online exhibition was created by Bethany McGlyn, Sewell C. Biggs Curatorial Fellow, and Corinne Brandt, Exhibitions Assistant.

This exhibition was made possible by the following foundations and individuals:

Mrs. Jeanne L. Asplundh, Mr. and Mrs. Kim J. Cassady , Mr. and Mrs. Hans G. Fleischner, Mrs. Sarah Schutt Harrison, Mr. Frank J. Guzzetta and Mr. Paul E. Manville, and Mr. and Mrs. Hans G. Fleischner

The Asplundh Foundation

Ms. Joan D. Zelinka, Ms. Kathleen Staples and Mr. Joe Ashley, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Fagan III