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A History

Stiches in Time


No one knows when the first sampler was crafted, but in some parts of the world, by the 16th century, embroidery was a popular form of art and relaxation, and those who embroidered used samplers as a way to experiment with patterns.

The harsh life in the early days of America left little time for embroidery, but, by the 18th century, samplers were being made in schools. Simple ones had alphabets and numbers. Older girls at finishing schools stitched more elaborate objects, adding designs and figures in intricate needlework.

Around 1750, the sampler became a freer and more original work, with variety in the designs. Many girls used nature as a theme. Some used watercolor designs or added ribbon and rosette embellishments. Most girls signed and dated their work; many added verses or sayings in tiny cross-stitch or other embroidery.

Floral wreaths sometimes encircled verses such as:

This needle work of mine can tell

When I was young I learned well

And by my elders I was taught

Not to spend my time for naught.

Some girls inscribed the Ten Commandments or verses from the Bible, books or sermons--some as many as 20 lines long.

By the late 18th century, the genealogical sampler had become popular. The names of grandparents, parents and siblings were listed, along with dates of birth and death.

In the 19th century, many samplers depicted public buildings such as churches, colleges and statehouses. Some children depicted their house, yard, garden, family and pets.

By the mid-1800s, other forms of needlework were more common, and the custom of making samplers died out.

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