Samplers have been around for hundreds of years, with the oldest surviving ones dating back the 15th and 16th centuries. There were no printed patterns then, so when a needleworker found a design she liked, she would stitch it onto a piece of cloth—her sampler. The sample stitches might be sewn on individual pieces of fabric or all of them on one large piece, and the stitcher would keep her sampler, adding to it for the rest of her life.
If you’re in the market to buy an old sampler, the first three pictures are ones I found on Ebay.
English samplers of the 16th century were stitched on a band of 6" by 9" fabric. Since fabric was quite expensive, these samplers, known as band samplers, would be completely covered with stitches. They were highly valued, and often passed down through the generations. These samplers, stitched using a variety of needlework styles and threads, were often quite elaborate, incorporating subtly shaded colors, silk and metallic embroidery threads, and using a variety of stitches. The samplers also integrated small designs of flowers, animals, and geometric shapes stitched using as many as 20 different colors of thread.
In the early 1700s, a border was often added to a sampler, and by mid-century, letters began appearing, as well as religious and moral quotes, such as “to be good is to be happy.” As a whole, samplers became more organized and decorative.
By the time the 18th century rolled around, samplers were stitched more to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skill. Sewing samplers was thought to be a sign of virtue, industry, and achievement, and girls were taught the craft from a young age. Samplers might include family records, Bible verses, and pictures of the seamstress’s home or church.
The 19th century brought us samplers rich with symbolism and included trees of life, birds, flowers, and religious symbols. Red was the predominant color used by needleworkers, with complements of blue, brown, and green. Trees of life were usually stitched in red, and were a prominent feature. They symbolized the link between earth and sky, and represented life and hope. Other favorite elements of early samplers included flowers in pots, baskets, birds, hearts, crowns, and crosses. In the late 19th century, samplers became more structured. They were designed within framed borders and more attention was paid to symmetry. Borders also became fancier with elaborate floral designs. Alphabets grew more complex with fancy monograms, sometimes intertwined with flowers. Stitches used for samplers were mainly cross stitch, with backstitch and eyelet stitches sometimes used.
|I snapped a picture of this lovely sampler at an antique show.|
I have several quilts that my grandmothers made, which I love, but I dearly wish I had a sampler from one of my ancestors had created. How about you? Do you own a sampler one of your relatives made?
Faced with finding the right fit in life and love, nine young women seek the courage to stitch together romance. But when unexpected obstacles abound, will love unravel before their eyes?
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