Saturday, October 31, 2020



Samplers have been around for centuries, with the oldest surviving ones dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries. There were no printed patterns back then, so when a needleworker found a design she liked, she would stitch it onto a piece of cloth—her samplerso she would have a record of it. The sample stitches might be sewn on individual pieces of fabric or all of them on one large piece, and the seamstress would usually keep her sampler, adding to it for the rest of her life.

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?

Start your Christmas shopping early with my fun coloring book.

Stained Glass Mandalas contains over 50 unique designs. It also features fascinating vignettes about the history of stained-glass and interesting facts about tools, techniques, and the glass used in creating colorful projects. These optically engaging patterns stimulate the brain and induce creativity.

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Vickie McDonough is the CBA, EPCA & Amazon best-selling author of 50 books and novellas. Vickie grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams penning romance stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie’s books have won numerous awards including the Booksellers Best and the Inspirational Readers’ Choice awards. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, doing stained-glass projects, gardening, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website:


  1. Thanks for the great post! I love the pictures you included, that last one is like a painting! I used to love to do embroidery work but my eyesight doesn't allow me to do such small work anymore. I did not do any kind of sampler that I kept nor do I have one from any relative. My relatives were all too busy to sit and do embroidery, or at least that's my guess. Especially my paternal grandmother, she owned Jersey cows until she was at least 70!

    1. Connie, I used to do counted cross-stitch, but I'm in the same boat as you with my eyesight not as sharp as it once was. I have several quilts my grandma and great-grandma made that I cherish.

  2. I've seen samplers and know what they are, but I never knew why women made them other than for pleasure. Now I know! :) Thanks, Vickie.

  3. I love samplers, but unfortunately, I don' own any stitched by my ancestors. My mom and aunts embroidered and crocheted doilies. You are such a prolific writer with your 50 books - congratulations!

  4. Thank you, Janet. I was unpacking some boxes today and found a toaster cozy one of my great-grandmas made. That's something you rarely see these days. It has a 3-d chicken on top and a bunch of colored eggs. A fun find.