Stitched on expensive, imported linen with multi-colored silk threads, this spot sampler is emblematic of those produced in the second quarter of the 17th century. English domestic samplers were used as primary sources of needlework for many women in the 16th and early 17th centuries—the scarcity of printed books and patterns lent a primitive flavor to the early samplers, and the samplers themselves became a record of stich and design. Once pattern books became more widely available, samplers transitioned from being records of stitches to being an educational tool and for use as a record of a different type—numbers, alphabets, geography, family history and trivia have all been found stitched on samplers.
Samplers depict flowers, animals, insects, fruits and different patterns, just to name a few, common motifs. Our sampler has over thirty different designs—a pansy (a symbol of love and meditation), a carnation (a symbol of love), a rose, a rabbit, a bird, a butterfly, a moth, a caterpillar, a worm (a symbol of industriousness), a strawberry (a symbol of purity and righteousness) and seventeen blocks of geometric patterns. The samplers were usually stitched by young girls, aged five to fifteen and used for practicing needlework techniques, in preparation for making household textiles. The woman of the house was often in charge of her young children’s educations, and would have made sure her daughters’ learned the different embroidery stitches, a practical skill necessary in running a household in the seventeenth century. A sampler would have been a girl’s first piece of embroidery and she would have moved onto other small works, such as an embroidered box, small beaded pieces, and stitched pictures. Because the stitches on the sampler were repeated in a variety of patterns and the repetition is an indication of an attempt to master the form, work such as this was generally produced by a less skilled needle
er. The top part of our sampler is a repetition of the queen, or rococo stitch and the complexity of the stitches increased as the needle worker progressed down her piece of linen, showing her increasing skill as she completed her work. Samplers were often passed down in wills and some families kept large collections in their homes.
It is important to remember that spot samplers were used mainly for practice and not until much later were they viewed as objects worthy of artistic display. Our sampler is not currently on display but please stop by for a tour to see what is on display!
Clabburn, Pamela, Samplers (UK: C.I Thomas and Sons, Ltd., 1977).
Synge, Lanto, Antique Needlework, (London: Blandford Press, 1989).
Agecroft Hall object file