Samplers 101

I heart samplers.

I have recently begun in-depth research on samplers, and the more I learn about them the more I love them.  The life and history of samplers is so much more interesting than the cross-stitched aphorism matched with a trite motif (cat, lighthouse, seashell, etc) that we see today and thus have come to think of as a sampler.

Samplers originally began as a way to record what a stitcher learned, the word sampler comes from the Latin exemplum which means ‘an example to be followed, a pattern, a model or example.’ Hundreds of years ago, stitchers didn’t have The Embroidery Stitch Bible to refer to. Although Gutenberg invented the first movable type printing press in 1455,  the first mass-produced stitch books were not printed until the mid-17th century. Even then, very few people could afford such extravagances.

As women picked up new stitches from their cousin in the country or a neighbor, they would record them on a scrap of cloth as an aide-memoir.

This sampler records stitches, albeit of a different kind. Taken by Ickybitty in the Zurich Medical History Museum, this is an 18th century record of suture stitches.


Okay, this is nuts, here is a closer look.


Like all other textiles, there is so much of the history of samplers which remains unknown because the textiles themselves have not lasted. The oldest surviving sampler was made by Jane Bostocke in 1598. This does not mean it was the first one, it simply means it is the oldest preserved one. It is in the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.


Come back next week for more on the art and history of samplers.


~ by rubi on April 3, 2009.

3 Responses to “Samplers 101”

  1. crazy sampler top image. Fascinating. I am really into researching samplers at the moment too. I am making a “contemporary” sampler for a historic interpretations exhibit and am so excited to get started. If you find any really good resources please pass my way:)

  2. Very interesting suture stitch sampler! Strange….

  3. […] This incredible 18th century sampler is a record of surgery sutures. See and read more about it with rubi of stitch spectacular. […]

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