Samplers from the Museum's Textile Collection
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Samplers from the Museum's Textile Collection

Though one can trace sampler history back to Mamluk Egypt, most sampler collections today represent works from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Amateur needle workers stitched linen with silk and wool, using the sampler, or exampler, as a record of embroidered curriculum. Early European examples of samplers record stitches (spot samplers) and borders containing letters and patterns (band samplers). The English sampler was transformed in the eighteenth century, becoming a female art form including borders, verses, figures, and pictorial scenes with flora and fauna, all designed to show skill with a needle.

The colorful and often delightful samplers were honored family records, and many remained proudly framed. Until late in the eighteenth century, stitch variety and technical skill were of utmost importance in the finished design. Creative examples include buildings and intricate landscape scenes showing that by this time, samplers were much more than an exercise in sewing numbers and letters.