Friday, June 17, 2011

What's in a Sampler ?

Take a closer look !!
Samplers have educated, influenced and inspired us through the ages.
During the 18th century and earlier, samplers were used to teach young girls the art of stitching and their ABC's.   Parent's would hang these in the parlor, so prospective suitors could see that their daughters were educated and accomplished needlewomen.  These were skills the girls would need for their married life.   Each country and even different regions of a single country would have a limited number of fonts and motifs available for the girls to show their creativity and skill. These motifs were basically only those that their teacher would have collected throughout her life.  During their married lives their sampler became a sample of motifs, borders, and stitches that could be copied onto clothing and household linens.   They would also share these with other women in their community, and certain regions became known for their unique style of patterns.

With the industrial revolution it became less important for women to hand sew and embroider.  Girls were still taught how to stitch, but as women would enter the work force embroidery became something only for the young or privileged.

Today it is the accomplished embroiderer that tackles these samplers of old, originally stitched by 8 to 11 year old girls.  Some of these historical samplers are loved and treasured through the generations as a family heirloom, many are also found in museums and some even discarded in antique shops.  Some have the motifs and specialty stitches beautifully arranged  and on others they are scattered.  My theory is that these pieces must have been a type of doodle cloth, onto which the embroiderer would have practiced or copied a new stitch or motif from other women she would have visited.  It is thanks to these women that these patterns are available to us today.

We first came across Hannah Beeby's sampler in the shop.  One of our customers, a descendant of Hannah's sister, Sarah, wanted to have the sampler re-framed, so it may be enjoyed for many more generations.  We all fell in love with it, and were permitted to chart the sampler.  Ietje, one of our instructors in the shop set out to chart and research the sampler.  It was through her efforts that Hannah and the sampler's history can be appreciated by many.  Ietje stitched her sampler in Splendor silk with colours that closely matched the original colours.  Ietje's sampler hangs in the shop, and the pattern leaflet, Hannah Beeby 1816 Sampler (TD-8), is available through Gitta's.

A sampler is much more than a framed picture, it is a sample or collection of stitches, of alphabet fonts, of design motifs.  It is a representation of the stitcher's family, many girls would add their name and age, as well as the names of  their family members.  Thus the sampler becomes a written  history.  It is a sample of a  woman's worth, of her creativity and skill. 

It is the samplers of old that we appreciate today,  but it is our samplers that will become the heirlooms of tomorrow.


  1. Your post started me wondering about the development of samplers, and one question that comes to mind is: Why did some samplers and styles of samplers come to be done in single colours while other samplers were stitched in many colours?

    Margaret K.

  2. They were restricted to plant and insect dyes. Man-made synthetic dyes were not introduced until the mid-19th century.