Articles of History: Samplers

For hundreds of years people sewed their clothes by hand. Learning to mend, sew and make your own garments was a necessity of life for people of every class. Rather than making sewing and embroidery a boring, work a day chore, our ancestors had fun with their task of sewing and turned it into something beautiful. The hundreds and hundreds of sewing samplers left to this day for us to observe is a great example of persistence and hard work.

Mabel Lucie Attwell - Embroidery

But what is a sampler? The custom of sewing samplers began in the middle ages. When women would get to together to sew, they would some times see different stitches that they had perhaps not sewn before. Taking a scrap of fabric, they would copy a sample of the stitch to save for later and help them remember what it looked like. They were quite literally “stitching a sample”! Later in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it became the custom for young girls to stitch samplers as a means of practicing, using their skills, promoting industry and showing that they had the knowledge of many different types of stitches. Girls were taught to sew and stitch as young as four years old!

When samplers of stitches first appeared, they might have been random scraps of fabric with hurriedly executed stitches in whatever thread was available. As the custom of stitching a sampler became more popular though, it developed into an elaborate art form. Samplers were stitched on whatever cloth was available though the favorite materials were generally linen and cotton. Because cloth was precious, the entire piece would be covered with stitches. The thread used for these samplers was usually cotton or silk in every color imaginable. Often the alphabet was the main item to be stitched by the young girl, but after that there was no end to what could be stitched! There are all kinds of things stitched on samplers from houses and gardens to people and animals as well as flowers, fruit, poetry, Bible verses and elaborate free hand designs. Here are a couple of examples of this beautiful art form.

       

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