Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!”
A needlework sampler is a piece of embroidery produced as a demonstration or test of skill in needlework. It often includes the alphabet, figures, motifs, decorative borders and sometimes the name of the person who embroidered it and the date. The word sampler is derived from the Latin ‘exemplum’ – an example.
The oldest surviving samplers were constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries. As there were no pre-printed patterns available for needleworkers, a stitched model was needed. Whenever a needlewoman saw a new and interesting example of a stitching pattern, she would quickly sew a small sample of it onto a piece of cloth – her ‘sampler’. The patterns were sewn randomly onto the fabric as a reference for future use, and the woman would collect extra stitches and patterns throughout her lifetime.
16th Century English samplers were stitched on a narrow band of fabric 6–9 in (150–230 mm) wide. As fabric was very expensive, these samplers were totally covered with stitches. These were known as band samplers and valued highly, often being mentioned in wills and passed down through the generations. These samplers were stitched using a variety of needlework styles, threads, and ornament. Many of them were exceedingly elaborate, incorporating subtly shaded colours, silk and