Do You Know Your Sampler History? Learn Now!

My entrée into the world of contemporary art quilting began with a timeless needlework technique: hand embroidery. From there my repertoire rapidly expanded to include modern machine embroidery, free-motion stitching, machine needle felting, and much more. But I often return to the simple joys of hand embroidery, and I know many of you feel the same way. Today, my colleague Jeane Hutchins, editor-in-chief of PieceWork magazine, has dropped by the Quilting Daily blog to give us some of her expert insight into one of the oldest needlework traditions, samplers. I hope you enjoy what she has to say as much as I did!

A Sampling of Sampler History

We live in a time of high-speed connectivity, with hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, and newspapers online and in print, with texting, Twitter, Facebook, and patterns available for instant download. It’s hard to imagine a world without them. But long before instant communication, before printing, even before books, needleworkers had developed their own way of communicating.

Some form of what we now call “samplers”–the physical examples of their work that needleworkers used to remember, communicate, and preserve patterns, stitches, and color combinations before books and printing–probably were in use circa A.D. 500, and some embroidery samplers excavated in Egypt have been dated to as long ago as 1250.

The July/August issue of PieceWork is packed with samplers and sample books! Here are some highlights:

  • A handmade book bound in wool felt has more than 100 crocheted samples (with the odd tatting sample here and there) sewn onto 12 polished-cotton pages. It’s on the cover of this issue.
  • Jill Schwartz kept her crochet samples in a lunchbox until she decorated a pillow with her favorites.
  • Elna Pughe was a college student in Colorado between 1904 and 1908. Her sewing sample book survives. Its 79 handwritten pages are her notes on general sewing rules, codes of conduct (“Each student is requested to wear a white apron”), how textiles are manufactured, descriptions of various fabrics, bed and table linens, and so on. Actual samples are in the book.
  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, English countrymen who worked in the fields, tended sheep, led wagons, cut wood, and baked bread wore smocks, handmade, loose-fitting overgarments, most with exquisite smocking and embroidery. Our project accompanying this fascinating step back in time is a smocking and embroidery sampler, complete with instructions for making a traditional Dorset crosswheel button.
  • And there’s more: knitted samplers, a bobbin-lace and an embroidery sample book, and a tribute to samplers from 1929.

Enjoy our special look at samplers!

P.S. This issue also brings you the winners of our 2010 Heart Ornament contest! Prizes in this annual event range from $500 cash to $200 in product from our generous sponsors; in addition to a grand-prize winner, we have four category first-place winners-needlework, lacemaking/tatting; quilting; and knitting/crochet.

All of the entries were outstanding. We’ll be announcing details of the 2011 contest in the November/December issue.

(All photographs by Joe Coca.)


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