The museum’s samplers are some of its most treasured
objects. A selection from the sampler collection is on view
again in the temporary exhibition gallery and the exhibition will
run until the 19th of April. Samplers cannot be permanently exhibited
because prolonged exposure to light damages them
greatly. However, we do try to show some of them every few
years, for short periods of time.
In this year’s show we have concentrated on showing
samplers that have been acquired in the past thirty years. One
of the most interesting is one completed by Elizabeth Lodwick
in 1798. Elizabeth was eleven years old and her sampler tells
us that she was “Taught by Miss Gwynn Newcastle Emlyn”.
Her sampler had been treasured and passed down through the
family, until eventually it arrived by bequest at the museum.
Learning how to sew was a vital part of the education of girls.
In the eighteenth century, girls such as Elizabeth Lodwick, who
received an education, were pretty privileged. Even so, becoming
a proficient needlewoman was essential for all girls.
As education became available to all, so sampler making
became an everyday occurrence in schools throughout the
country. In the days before mass-produced garments and
sewing machines, who else could make household linen and
underwear but a housewife and her daughters? Girls who went
into service were also expected to do their share of mending or
sewing. Making a sampler played a vital part in acquiring these
The first samplers were made to record
stitches and patterns. By 1800 they were beginning to turn
from reference tools into display items. Embroidering the alphabet,
numbers and Biblical orpious verses was also seen as
part of an ‘improving’ process. However, the little sampler
maker may well have had greater enjoyment from sewing borders
and motifs, such as houses, birds and butterflies.
numbers of samplers have survived from the 1850s until the
1890s. They are often large and very brightly coloured and embroidered
in wool using only cross stitch. They mark the beginning of the end of school sampler making. Ideas about the education
of girls changed and the need for needlework skills diminished.
Sampler making survives today as a lovely pastime. Nothing
illustrates better the enormous changes that have taken
place in the education of women over the years than the history
of the sampler.
From 'The Friend' February 2010