English Samplers

English Samplers

England has a long history of producing superlative embroidery, for both secular and religious purposes. The country even gave its name to a rich, luxuriant form of embroidery developed for the medieval church, opus Anglicanum. Although English samplers and other girlhood embroideries are a more humble and domestic form of needlework, English needlework teachers seem to have consistently set high standards for their young students, resulting in products of astounding composition and skill. This exhibition has focused on English samplers from the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century. In addition to fine needlework, features typical of this period include: (a) a color palette of muted greens, golds, and browns; (b) signatures identifying girls by their full names and often including date, age, and location; (c) a strong sense of symmetry in design and layout; and (d) verses written or adapted for children with the goal of teaching moral behavior and religious piety.

18th century English stitched sampler

Elizabeth Midford, 1747

Materials: Silk on linen
Dimensions: 14" H x 7.5" W
Stitches: cross, double running, stem, French knot, eyelet, braided
Collection of Lynne Anderson

This finely stitched sampler was the work of Elizabeth Midford, a member of the aristocratic Midford/Mitford family in Northumberland, England. The alphabets are missing both the letter "J" and the letter "U" - two letters that had not yet been adopted into the English alphabet.

Early 19th century English sampler in museum collection, USA

Sarah Baston, 1830

Materials: Silk on linen
Dimensions: 15" H x 16" W
Stitches: Cross, four sided, eyelet
Benton County Historical Society Collection

Sarah Baston stitched this fine sampler at the age of 11, in 1830. It shares many features with other English samplers of the period. Most notable is the strong sense of symmetry, especially in the bottom half.

Sarah has stitched two different verses on her sampler, both of which come from longer works.

The first verse reads: Lord give me wisdom to direct my ways. I crave not riches, nor the length of days. Popular on samplers stitched in America as well as England, its first appearance on American samplers seems to have been about 1725.

The second reads: I have done this that you may see, what care my parents took of me. Another popular sampler verse, these lines are often preceded or followed by additional stanzas thanking her parents for the opportunity to learn.

Charlotte Rowlison, 1835

Materials: Silk on linen
Dimensions: 12.25" H X 12.25" W
Stitches: cross, satin
Collection of Lynne Anderson

Charlotte Rowlison's sampler illustrates England's tradition of fine needlework instruction combined with verses for literacy and moral education. Poems and hymns were frequently included on English samplers, many written or adapted specifically for children. Although the author of Charlotte's four-stanza poem is unknown, a version was included in an anthology of moral songs for young children, published in London in 1845 by S. Wilderspin and T.J. Terrington.

Ann Swatton, 1837

Materials: Silk on wool
Dimensions: 12" H x 12" W
Stitches: cross, satin, straight
Collection of Lynne Anderson

This sampler is stitched in muted colors of green, gold, and brown. The symmetrical layout is typical of English samplers in the 19th century. Ann included two verses on her sampler. The first is one of the most popular of all sampler verses:

Jesus permit thy gracious Name to stand
As the first efforts of an infant's hand
And while her fingers on the canvas move
Engage her tender hear to see thy love.
With thy dear children let her have a part
And write thy name thy self upon her heart.

Mary Stockwell, 1843

Materials: Silk on linen
Dimensions: 15.5" H x 12.75" W
Stitches: cross
Collection of Lynne Anderson

Mary Stockwell was the sixth child born to William and Ann Stockwell in the small town of Isleworth in the western part of greater London. Mary stitched her sampler when she was 12 years old.

Mid-19th century needlework stitched sampler

Ann Fuller, 1852

Materials: Silk on linen
Dimensions: 17.25" H X 13.5" W
Stitches: cross, satin, running, eyelet
Collection of Lynne Anderson

Ann Fuller stitched a sampler that has something to please everyone: great graphic appeal, excellent needlework, a detailed signature, a local landmark, and a verse full of religious piety and filial love. The central motif is "The Grand Pont House in Berkshire", a Georgian home built on the arches of a medieval causeway south of Oxford, England. It is likely that Ann was the daughter of William and Sarah (Rawlins) Fuller of Albury, Oxfordshire, a small village about 11 miles from the Grand Pont House.