Samplers

Samplers

The Textile Research Centre in Leiden houses a remarkable knitting sampler (in Dutch called a breirol), which may be one of the oldest extant examples in Europe. It is dated to AD 1791 and was acquired together with a large group of Hungarian embroideries.

The Loara Standish sampler is the oldest known extant sampler in the USA, and was worked probably in the 1640's. The sampler is embroidered on fine linen (c. twenty threads per cm) using blue, green, pink and red silk thread. It is 60 x 18.5 cm in size. The stitches used include: Algerian eyelet stitch, back stitch, double running stitch, long-armed stitch and Montenegrin cross stitch.

The Glascow Museums Resource Centre houses a sampler (acc. no. 1980.158) that was made by Margaret Sheddon and was completed in 1812. It was worked following the characteristic Scottish tradition of alternating designs in green and red silk on the ground material. The sampler measures 43.1 x 33.5 cm.

A marking sampler is a small piece of cloth with the alphabet, numbers (up to ten) and possibly the name of the girl who made the sampler. The alphabet and ciphers were regarded as enough for a person to show that she would be able to mark an object (such as a garment) with a name and number, even if she was semi-literate.

Missionary samplers are examples of embroidery that were made by girls outside of Europe in Christian mission schools, especially during the colonial era. Taken from a centuries-old European tradition and introduced to still ‘uncivilised’ parts of the world, needlework was regarded as a vital element of the social, moral and, above all, religious upbringing of girls.

A monogram is a design composed of one or more letters, typically the initials of a name (such as GVE), which are often used in order to identify the owner of an object or garment. A monogram sampler, therefore, is a form of sampler in which one or more sets of (decorative) initials are worked on a piece of ground material.

An early form of a needlework sample (often classed as a sampler) from Nasca, Peru, is kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (USA). The sample dates to the second century BC. It is 105 x 72 cm in size. A sample is a piece of cloth on which motifs and stitches are worked out in a random manner. The aim of this type of textile is to act as a private ‘sketch pad’ to remind the embroiderer of techniques and ideas.

A piece sampler is a term used by some authors to describe a collection of small pieces of cloth (samples) on which a person has worked out a new stitch or pattern.

Sampler making was a long established occupation for many young girls around the world from the sixteenth century onwards. Many of these samplers were intended to help the girls to acquire and show various decorative embroidery skills. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries samplers of plain (structural) sewing rather than with decorative needlework, were often made in schools.

Embroidery has for centuries played an important role in Russian daily life. The mainly linen garments were often decorated with embroidered hems, and the towels were often skillfully embellished. Embroideries were also often included in dowries, reflecting the social position of the bride's family, but also the skills of the bride.

Sam cloth is an American term for a needlework sampler, and more specifically a beginner’s practice piece in sewing letters of the alphabet.

In the British Museum, London (Oc1848,0216.1), there is a sampler that comes from a missionary school in Samoa, one of the Pacific Ocean group of islands. It is 31 x 21 cm in size and dates to about 1844. The sampler is in a traditional, North European form with rows of letters and numbers worked in cross stitch using red and blue woollen thread on a linen ground.

In decorative needlework, the word sample is used to describe a simple or randomly worked form of sampler. The intention of making a sample is to try out various techniques, designs or lay-outs, or to remind the worker of the technique and/or patterns, or to show them to a few others.

Sampler is a Middle English word that derives from the Old French essamplaire and eventually from the Latin word exemplum or ‘an example.’ The earliest English written reference to the word sampler, meaning a piece of embroidery serving as a specimen of the worker’s skill, dates to the early sixteenth century.

During the twentieth century, a number of companies in various countries produced kits with all the necessary materials needed to make a sampler of some form. These kits included ground material, thread, needle and a suitable pattern, usually in the form of a chart.

The collection of Museum Rotterdam houses a sampler from the second half of the eighteenth century worked in queen stitch with coloured silk threads on a loosely woven linen fabric. It measures 32 x 31.5 cm.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses an early eighteenth century sampler from England with a representation of Queen Anne (r. 1702-1714). The linen sampler is worked with silk and metal threads, using chain stitch, cross stitch, satin stitch and split stitch. The sampler measures 31.8 x 22.8 cm. 

Sarah Stone's sampler is one of the earliest surviving American samplers, and was made by Sarah Stone in 1678. She lived in Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts (USA). The sampler is c. 42 x 19 cm in size and worked in coloured silks on a linen ground. It is worked in various stitches, including back stitch, cross stitch, detached buttonhole stitch, double running stitch, eyelets, long-armed stitch and satin stitch.

The collection of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden includes a sampler, 36 x 35 cm, which is made of cotton and embroidered with perlé thread. The central motif is a bunch of stylised flowers. In addition, there are the initials P and B and the date, 1904.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses a sampler from Mexico that is dated to 1860. The ground material is linen and the embroidery is worked in cotton and silk. The embroideress is Rosa Maria Vasconcelos (born 1800). The sampler includes geometric shapes, following Spanish traditions. The sampler measures 40 x 38.1 cm.

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