Did you know that we have 15 samplers in our collection, the earliest having been done in 1813 and the latest in 1940? Some of our earliest samplers were reproduced by the Exemplary Needle Guild in the early 2000s.
A sampler is a piece of embroidery produced as a demonstration or test of skill in needlework. In 18th century America, a girl was expected to grow up, get married, have children, and take care of a home. Because of the limits of her sphere, girls received a very different education from that available to a boy. Instead of academic studies, girls were usually sent to schools that taught an assortment of skills considered “female accomplishments”–music, watercolor painting, manners, and sewing. As part of her preparation for the responsibility of sewing clothes and linens for her future family, most girls completed at least two samplers. The first, which might be undertaken when a girl was as young as five or six, was called a marking sampler which taught a child basic embroidery techniques and the alphabet and numbers. The letters and numbers learned while embroidering a marking sampler were especially useful, since it was important that any homemaker keep track of her linens, some of her most valuable household goods. This was accomplished by marking them, usually in a cross stitch, with her initials and a number.
A girl who was lucky enough to continue her education usually made a second embroidery at a ladies boarding school while she was in her adolescent years. This was usually a more decorative pictorial or needlework picture. While less straightforwardly useful than marking samplers, decorative samplers and needlework pictures also served an important function as they revealed the values of the girl and her family to potential suitors.
By the middle of the 19th century, needlework lost its relative importance and became relegated to an elective subject in female academies. The gradual spread of public education and co-education among all classes pushed sampler making from the classroom to a pastime at home. The increased use and availability of ink to mark textiles replaced the laborious cross stitched letters on clothing and household textiles, and the increased availability of paper, pencils, slates, and blackboards led to them becoming the preferred method for practicing letters and numbers.
Here are some examples of the oldest and/or most decorative samplers that we hold in our collection here at BNHV.
Ever wondered what treasures and neat objects comprise the collection here at BNHV? Starting this month, “Collections Curiosities”, a new initiative by the Curator, is here to educate you on what exactly is being held in the Collections Storage Building. Whether it is a rare artifact or a piece that tells a particularly interesting story, “Collections Curiosities” will be bringing you the scoop every month, featuring a specific example or sub-collection from our permanent collection and/or archives. It is our hope that learning more about the fantastic collection here at BNHV will be an incentive for the community and other organizations to recognize the value in our enterprise and seek to be a part of our current and future endeavors!