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in the LioUection of the 
Cooper-Hewitt Museum 

The Smithsonian 
National Museum 
of Design 




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in the Collection of the 
Cooper-Hewitt Museum^ 

The Smithsonian 
National Museum 
of Design 


Bristol, Rhode Island, 1802 

Embroiderer: Mary Follet, age 12 

Silk on plain-weave linen 

Stitches: cross, stem, chain, running 

Dimensions: 21 x 16'/^ inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


Inside cover 

first row: 

cross stitch (looping backward 


feather stitch 

eyelet stitch 

second row: 
plaited braid stitch 
rococo (queen) stitch 
French knot 

third row: 

long-armed cross stitch 
marking cross stitch 
wrapped cross 


England, first half of 17th century 

Silk and metal-wrapped silk on plain-weave 


Sdtches: tent, half cross, chain, running, satin 

plaited braid, back 

Dimensions: 20 x 7 inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


Photographs by Scott Hyde 
Design by Abigail Sturges 
Type by AA Typeart, Inc. 
Printing by Meridan-Stinehour 

© 1984 by The Smithsonian Institution 
All rights reserved 

Library of Congress Catalog No. 83-73735 
ISBN 0-910503-43-5 

Foreword Most of the Cooper-Hewitt's delightful collection of nearly one thousand 

samplers stem from the generosity of two donors, Mrs. Henry E. Coe, who 
made an important bequest in 1941, and Gertrude M. Oppenheimer, 
whose bequest came forty years later, in 1981. Each collector had a 
different focus. Mrs. Coe, who had written the book American Samplers with 
Ethel Stanwood Bolton in 1921, clearly preferred the work of American 
and English embroiderers, while Miss Oppenheimer's interests lay in the 
work of The Netherlands and Germany. Gifts from Emily Coe Stowell and 
Rosalie Coe, Mrs. Coe's daughters, from Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt, the 
founders of the Museum, and from other generous donors have also 
enriched the collection. 

The last few years have seen an increasing number of requests to study 
the Museum's samplers, a reflection of the general interest in folk and 
country styles. This publication and its accompanying exhibition, 
Embroidered Samplers, along with Gillian Moss's Stitch Guide, are intended to 
bring the Cooper-Hewitt's collection to an even wider audience. The New 
York State Council on the Arts has provided funds for the project. The 
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has also given support. 

Lisa Taylor 

1. Boston, the Province of Massachusetts 

Bay, 1734 

Embroiderer: Ann Peartree 

Silk, paper, and metal-wrapped silk on 

plain-weave linen 

Stitches using silk: cross, satin, running, 

herringbone, back, stem, couching 

Stitches using metal-wrapped silk: stem, 


Dimensions: 14'/; x ll'/-i inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


Ann Peartree was the daughter of 

Katherine Peartree, who was granted a 

license by the Selectmen of Boston to sell 

strong drink at retail. In 1744 Ann Peartree 

and her mother died of smallpox. 


^^^ he intimate world of childhood, domesticity, and the schoolroom was the 
world of the embroidered sampler. Almost without exception, samplers were 
stitched by young girls who were attempting to master the techniques of 
such future tasks as mending, darning, marking household linens, and 
creating decorative accessories. A child often worked her first sampler at the 
age of five or six and later stitched several others as she mastered new and 
more complicated techniques. (Not until the twentieth century did it become 
fashionable for adult women to make samplers.) Overall, the needlework of 
these young children was of high quality, although the pedagogic mistakes of 
childhood — backwards letters, reversed numerals, and misspelled words — 
occasionally asserted themselves. 

Perhaps it is inevitable that the nostalgia evoked by looking at an object 
produced by a child who lived hundreds of years earlier intrudes upon 
scholarly analysis; yet a group of samplers speaks of a locality, a region, or a 
country, and a study of samplers can lead to insights into the roles of 
children and women, as well as into the history, politics, and economics of a 
particular country or period. The foundation fabric and embroidery 
threads, the stitches, the combination of techniques, the design, and the 
shape of a sampler all give clues to where it was made and when. 

The foundation fabric used for samplers was almost always plain-weave 
linen, cotton, or wool, of a density varying from a loose weave that made 
stitches easy to count, to a weave so tight that counting stitches would have 
been impossible. In Britain and Northern Europe foundation fabrics were 
specially manufactured in twelve- to fifteen-inch widths, with blue threads at 
the selvages. 

Silk was the most frequent choice for embroidery thread, although 
alternatives existed in some regions. Wool was used in Northern Europe and 
in Spain. Linen and metal-wrapped silk embroidery threads enlivened 
English samplers in the seventeenth century, and by the nineteenth century, 
cotton thread had become available virtually everywhere and was commonly 
intermixed with more expensive silks. 

A consideration of two English works in the Cooper-Hewitt collection, 
both made by the same child, one a year later than the other, suggests the 
importance of materials in the overall appearance of a sampler. The earlier 
sampler, which is the more elaborate of the two, technically and visually, is of 
silk embroidery on a linen foundation, while the second was worked with 
wool embroidery on a wool foundation. The most likely explanation for 
what would otherwise appear to be a decline or loss of needleworking skills 
is that the wool itself proved to be an impediment and is responsible for the 
crudity of the work. 

2. Friesland or Groningen, United Provinces 

(The Netherlands), 1774 

Embroiderer: I.V.S., age 15 

Silk on plain-weave linen 

Stitches; running (pattern darning), eyelet, 


Dimensions; 19 x 20 inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


In this darning sampler, ten squares of 

foundation fabric were cut out and 

discarded. The remaining holes were then 

filled with darning in patterns that 

simulated plain weave and various twills. 

Stitches can reveal a sampler's origin, since the use of some was limited 
to certain countries. Among those that serve as guides are plaited braid done 
in metal-wrapped silk, which is found only on seventeenth-century 
English samplers; surface satin, which appears on American samplers; 
wrapped cross stitch, used on Spanish samplers; Aztec stitch, used only in 
Mexico; and a combination of half cross stitch with double running stitch, which 
was used in Turkey. 

While it would seem that the surest and most direct way to determine 
the origin of a sampler would be through an examination of its design, the 
study of motifs must be approached cautiously. 

Many of the motifs on European samplers can be traced to designs 
published in various European pattern books. Johannes Sibmacher's book 
Neues Modelbuch in Kupjfer gemacht, published in Nuremberg in 1604, and 
Peter Quentel's book, Eyn new kumtlich Boich, published in Cologne in 1527, 
were frequently consulted sources. Some of their more popular patterns 
were pirated by other printers and can be found on the samplers of 
Germany, The Netherlands, England, and even Mexico. A considerable 
number of the motifs found on samplers may have had symbolic meaning 
originally, but through the generations they were repeated often enough so 
that many grew to be cliches and were routinely stitched by young girls who 
were unfamiliar with their associations. 

In the United States, a schoolteacher was often responsible for the 
arrangement of a pattern. This must have been the case for an 1838 
sampler in the Cooper-Hewitt collection (see figure 15). The piece shows a 
large Gothic Revival church erroneously identified as St. Paul's Chapel. (St. 
Paul's was a Greek Revival building constructed in New York in 1790.) The 
sampler is almost an exact match with another 1838 sampler that came up 
for auction in 1981. It has been discovered that the two girls who stitched 
these lessons lived in southern New Jersey, one in Egg Harbor, the other in 
Perth Amboy. Presumably they were schoolmates, both under the tutelage of 
a schoolmistress who was confused about the identity of an illustration of St. 
Thomas Church that appeared in the the New York Mhror in 1829, about six 
years before the structure was finally consecrated. 

Frequendy an instructor combined a geography or history lesson with a 
stitchery exercise. Historical events were popular in English samplers. A 
man peering out from the branches of a tree on an English sampler in the 
Cooper-Hewitt collecdon represents Charles II hiding in the Boscobel oak, 
an event with which all English school children were familiar. In an English 
sampler embroidered by S. Edwards in 1814, we are told that "the Allies 
entered Paris March 31, 1814," a reference to the allied advance on Paris 
that resulted in the abdication of Napoleon. On samplers from The 
Netherlands, a country that foreign powers tried to dominate for centuries, 
"The Maid of The Netherlands in a Dutch Garden" was a popular symbol of 





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3. Northern Germany, 1879 

Embroiderer: B.U. 

Silk and cotton on plain-weave cotton, 

gauze-weave silk and 2/2 wool twill 

Stitches: cross, herringbone, threaded 

herringbone, overcasdng 

Dimensions: 18'/2X ISVi inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


There is one fabric patch in each of the 

squares of this patch sampler except in the 

square with initials, which has two. On the 

five patterned fabrics, the patch has been 

carefully matched to the pattern. 

liberty, even when the country was responsible to foreign powers. 

Religious scenes were popular on samplers in both northern and 
southern Germany The black-robed figure of Martin Luther is seen 
frequently on the samplers of northern Germany while in the southern, 
predominandy Catholic states, the crucifixion is dominant. 

In most European countries, sampler motifs are a combinaUon of 
religious and domestic themes. Human figures usually represent characters 
from a Bible story: Adam and Eve, the Wise Virgins, the spies of Eskol, Jacob 
wresding with the angel, or Cain slaying Abel. 

With the exception of Adam and Eve, religious and secular modfs are 
rarely found combined in English and American samplers. Instead, ordinary 
people are portrayed, conducting the roudnes of their daily lives. 

The custom of including a maxim or uplifdng verse on a sampler was 
by no means universal. On most European samplers, lettering was limited to 
repetitions of the alphabet. In England, toward the end of the seventeenth 
century, verses and cautionary maxims began to appear on samplers. 
Sometimes the texts were long, with several verses of a poem. An English 
early eighteenth-century sampler advises us, "The sharpness of a needle 
profit yields and pleasure. The sharpness of a tongue bites out of measure." 
In a condnuation of the English tradition, American samplers from 
Massachusetts and Rhode Island often included caudonary texts. 

Deciphering the names and initials on a sampler can be challenging, 
and familiarity with local customs can help in understanding the names. 
Usually a girl's first choice was her own name or inidals. Often she would 
include her parents' names and initials, using her mother's maiden name. 
When a sampler was made in school the instructor's name or inidals might 
be included, as well as the inidals of schoolmates and friends. When the 
names or initials of a man and woman were used together, they were usually 
the names of the girl's parents; only occasionally a girl would combine her 
name with the name of her betrothed. 

In some instances the lettering style may help locate the origin of a 
sampler; for example, elaborate block letters were used in the Frisian 
Islands, off the coast of The Netherlands (see figure 4). In many European 
communities the local alphabet did not contain the letters Y and Z. 
Frequendy V served for both V and U, and / served for both / andy. In 
seventeenth-century England, and occasionally in eighteenth-century United 
States, Q was both a backwards P and Q, with both forms being used at the 
same time. 

A specific type of sampler known as the darning or mending sampler 
developed in northern Europe (figure 2) in the eighteenth century Darning 
simulated the structures of the fabrics that the northern European 
housewife could expect to encounter in her own home — plain weave, twills, 
and knitdng — and the skills the embroiderer acquired in sdtching a darning 

4. Frisian Islands, United Provinces (The 

Netherlands), 1696 

Silk on plain-weave linen 

Stitches: satin, eyelet, four-sided, cross, 

whipped running, French knot, withdrawn 

element work with needlemade fillings. 

Dimensions: 14'/? x 17% inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


The small figures at the lower left represent 

Christ and the Wise Virgins (Matthew 

25:1-12), a cautionary parable advocating 


sampler were later used to mend tablecloths, napkins and sheets. 

To make a darning sampler, the embroiderer cut holes in the woven 
foundation fabric and then carefully darned the hole back in, using silks of 
different colors for woven warps and wefts, so that both the embroiderer 
and the instructor could see if the threads were interlacing properly. In 
some cases the embroidery was done through the cloth, without cutting 
holes in the foundation fabric. 

Some of the most technically skilled darning samplers were made in 
The Netherlands, usually by girls who were about fifteen years old and who 
had previously mastered the simpler techniques of the pattern sampler. In 
the Dutch language there are different words for the several variously 
shaped holes: corner, square, three-corner, and staircase. 

English darning samplers were quite different from the Continental 
ones. Usually the center was decorated with a bouquet of flowers tied with a 
ribbon. In the United States a few darning samplers were produced, 
although they were not common and were never as decorative or as skilled 
as European and English versions. 

The skill of patching fabrics with a piece of the same fabric was also 
practiced on samplers in Northern Europe (figure 3). The technique 
involved placing the patch so skillfully that there was no visible change in the 
pattern or weave. 

Another kind of sampler, the marking sampler, which was particularly 
important in Germany, was stitched specifically as preparation for 
embroidering monograms and identifying numbers on towels, tablecovers, 
and sheets. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European families 
had to mark their household linens with embroidered initials, monograms, 
and numbers so that the linens could be reclaimed after they had been sent 
to the bleach fields, a practice that was repeated annually. 

Various methods were used to finish the edges of samplers. Nineteenth- 
century Italian samplers have cut, unhemmed edges with no protection 
against fraying. Samplers from Northern Europe were often carefully 
completed with decorative hem-stitching (figure 4). And others have been 
found that are still sewn to the inch-wide linen tape that the student basted 
to the sampler before starting the embroidery. The tape was then lashed to 
an embroidery frame to ensure a taut working surface. In still other 
instances, the hemming was almost casual. 

The tradition of framing samplers so that they can be hung on a wall is 
not European, but was occasionally practiced in Great Britain and the 
United States. Samplers made at some of the more fashionable schools were 
framed — either by the school or by the families when the girls brought their 
work home. The majority of samplers, however, were left unframed. It has 
been the descendants of the embroiderers, or dealers and collectors, who 
have decided that samplers should be framed . 


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5. United Provinces (The Netherlands), 

second half of 18th century 

Sill< on plain-weave linen 

Stitches: rococo (queen), stem, cross 

Dimensions: 12'/2 x 19'/i inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


The Netherlands Dutch samplers display a wide range of styles and a high level of 

needlework, starting with the earliest of the samplers, which date from the 
seventeenth century. 

The samplers were worked on linen, although in the eighteenth 
century, Dutch schoolgirls frequently used cotton as a foundation fabric, a 
practice unheard of in the rest of Europe where the fabric was still a luxury. 
The embroidery threads were silk, linen, or wool, and by the nineteenth 
century, cotton thread had also become a choice. The samplers were made 
in a variety of shapes, from squares to horizontal or vertical rectangles, with 
a tendency in the eighteenth century for girls in larger cities such as 
Amsterdam or Middelburg to choose the square. Sometimes the edges were 
elaborately finished with hem stitching and needlemade picot edging. 

Regional characteristics developed in Dutch samplers that make it 
possible to attribute many of them to a city or specific region of the country. 
Friesland is responsible for one of the more distinct bodies of work, partly 
because of its alphabet, which is unmistakable with its blocklike letters 
ornamented with curlicues, and partly because of such characteristic motifs 
as tightly worked bands of geometric patterns (figure 4). 

Frequently a Dutch sampler includes a coat of arms or another 
traditional symbol of the city in which it was worked: paired rabbits indicate 
the city of Amsterdam; a single rabbit, that of Middelburg. Sometimes 
buildings can be identified: Lange Jan, a yellow brick tower in Middelburg, 
was embroidered on a 1764 sampler in the Cooper-Hewitt collection. 

Dutch samplers rarely include religious texts or maxims, although 
occasionally a personal note is added such as that on a Frisian sampler in the 
Cooper-Hewitt collection that records the names of two men who built a mill 
in the embroiderer's town in 1721. 

More than the needlework of any of the other European countries, 
Dutch needlework reveals the nation's political history. Centuries of 
struggling against larger and more powerful states can be seen in political 
images such as "The Lion Holding the Sword and Arrows" and "The Maid 
of The Netherlands in a Dutch Garden," both symbols of freedom. 

The eighteenth-century "Dutch rococo samplers" form another group 
of distinctive needlework (figure 5). The samplers were decorated with 
flowers and hearts executed in rococo stitch, a stitch that was tightly massed 
to decorate such diverse accessories of the period as shoes and psalters. 

In the nineteenth century, uniquely Dutch motifs gave way to romantic 
motifs such as the pastoral landscapes and floral bouquets that were popular 
throughout Europe. 

The embroiderer's name or her initials, the monograms of family 
members and instructors, and the date are usually included on Dutch 
samplers. In the nineteenth century, the age of the embroiderer was 
sometimes added, too. 



A considerable number of German samplers have survived, the earliest of 
which date from the first half of the seventeenth century. 

Until the nineteenth century, when cotton became widely available, 
linen was always used for the foundation of German samplers and silk for 
embroidery thread. In shape, northern German samplers were usually 
square, while from the seventeenth century on, those from southern 
Germany were vertical rectangles. In both regions, the practice pieces were 
almost always hemmed in a tidy manner. 

Samplers made in northern Germany are much closer in appearance to 
the samplers of Scandinavia and The Netherlands than to those of southern 
Germany. Those made in the Vierlande, a region in the north, on the Elbe 
River, are sombre pieces embroidered in black with circular motifs. The 
Cooper-Hewitt collection contains a sampler from northern Germany on 
which the young embroiderer has carefully stitched a Hebrew alphabet and 
the Old Testament scene of Cain slaying Abel (figure 6). In the Roman 
Catholic south, a large crucifixion scene often dominates the center of a long 
vertical sampler, with bands of pattern beneath and/or above the symbol. 
Occasionally one finds southern German samplers with motifs from the Old 
Testament. Adam and Eve, when they appear, are plump and jolly (figure 
7). The samplers of Central Europe had taken on a characteristic look as 
early as the seventeenth century, due to a preference for floral motifs 
worked in cross stitch (figure 8). 

Texts were unusual on German samplers until the nineteenth century, 
when a few sentimental inscriptions and fragments of verse began to appear. 
Religious maxims are sometimes found on the long, narrow samplers from 
southern Germany. Most German samplers are dated and monogrammed. 


6. Northern or central Germany, 1 796 

Silk on plain-weave cotton 

Stitches: cross, satin, eyelet, double running 

Dimensions: 13% x 14 inches 

Bequest of Gertude M. Oppenheimer 


Scandinavian samplers are generally more sedate and restrained than those 
from the Continent or Great Britain. The variety of stitches on the sampler 
is reduced, and indeed, the sampler itself is slightly smaller in size, 
suggesting that the young girl who stitched the sampler already had been 
imbued with a sense of thrift and economy. 

Wool was regularly used in Scandinavian samplers, both for foundation 
fabric and embroidery thread. The white deflected element sampler was an 
exception; in this type, white embroidery thread was used to deflect the 
warps and wefts of a piece of woven white linen or cotton from their 
horizontal and vertical alignment in order to create an openwork effect. 

Many of the motifs found on Scandinavian samplers also appear on 
samplers from northern Germany and The Netherlands, although their 
arrangement is difi^erent. One image of uniquely Scandinavian appeal is the 
Biblical story of the woman of Samaria at the well with Christ. 

The date and a number of personal monograms are usually present on 
Scandinavian samplers, but the embroiderer's full name is not given. 





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7. Southern Germany, 1747 
Silk on plain-weave linen 

Stitches: two-sided cross, half cross, satin 
Dimensions: 2l'A x 13'A inches 
3equest of Mrs. Henry E. Coe 

8. Bohemia (Czechoslovakia), 1683 
Embroiderer: M.M.T. 

Silk and pearl on plain-weave linen 
Stitches: two-sided cross 
Dimensions: 13'/2X ll'/2 inches 
Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 

9. France, 1832 
Embroiderer: V.RQ. 
Silk on plain-weave linen 
Sticches: cross, satin, back 
Dimensions: 9% x 10'/' inches 
Bequest of Mrs. Henry E. Coe 

Italy Samplers were stitched in Italy from the seventeenth through the twentieth 

centuries, but eighteenth-century samplers are rare. 

Seventeenth-century Italian samplers were worked on large squares of 
linen as well as on long, narrow rectangles. Silk or linen threads were used 
to embroider patterns around all four edges of the sampler, with no attempt 
to present a "picture." The bands of pattern on these samplers are generally 
composed of a variety of modfs, each repeated only once or twice. 

Nineteenth-century Italian samplers are the most prevalent. In shape, 
they are usually horizontal rectangles with cut, unhemmed edges. 
Embroidery was done in silk, linen, or cotton thread. While alphabets are 
commonly present on these samplers, verses and maxims are not. The 
alphabet is always introduced by a cross, the traditional way of starting the 
alphabet in Roman Catholic countries. Usually a number of religious and 
domestic motifs, including animals and people, are depicted within a variety 
of floral borders. Often a chinoiserie design is included, and frequendy 
several different border patterns are used on the same sampler. 

The cross stitch on an Italian sampler was always worked with two 
separate journeys of the needle and thread across the cloth, each journey 
making a half cross sdtch. This creates a row of double parallel lines along 
the back of the foundation, which can be used for idendfication. 

Italian girls often signed and dated their samplers. 

France The relatively small number of French samplers in existence suggests that 

fewer samplers were made in France than in other European countries, 
although it is difficult to assess to what extent the scarcity of examples is due 
to the apparent lack of interest that the French have shown for studying or 
preserving this part of their heritage. 

Linen was used as the foundation fabric for eighteenth-century French 
samplers, with silk for embroidery thread. In the nineteenth century, cotton 
was often preferred. Sizes and shapes of French samplers vary, and the 
edges were sometimes finished and sometimes not. 

Designs on French samplers are similar to those on Belgian, English, and 
Italian samplers, and therefore cannot be used as a method of determining 
the country of origin. Nor is the presence of a French text reason alone to 
ascribe a work to France, since schoolgirls in England and the United States 
were sometimes assigned French texts for their samplers (see figure 18). 

One possible way of authenticadng a French sampler is through the 
identification of stitch techniques. In all of the nineteenth-century French 
samplers in the Cooper-Hewitt collection, cross sdtch is the predominant 
sutch (figure 9), and it is made in a peculiarly French way, with one passage 
of the needle and thread across the cloth, in a looping backward movement. 

Another disdnguishing factor is that a French girl usually included her 
age on her sampler, along with her name and the date. 




10. Spain, 1802 
Silk on plain-weave cotton 
Stitches: satin, cross, running, back, four- 
sided, chain, eyelet 
Dimensions: 27'/i x 26'/2 inches 
Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


Leizo Aguslina Barero discipula ded. Rosa Artiaga 
Seremalo eldia ii de dkiembre del anode 1802 
(Made by Agustina Barero, student of Rosa 
Artiaga Seremato, December 1 1, 1802) 

Spanish samplers were not regularly dated until the nineteenth century, and 
consequently it has been difficult to determine a chronology for the 
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century examples that exist. 

Spanish samplers are almost always filled with geometric bands of 
pattern arranged in one of three ways: a receding square on a sampler 
approximately two feet square (figure 10); vertical columns positioned on a 
larger vertical rectangle; or a long, horizontal rectangle, smaller in size than 
the other two. On this last, the embroidery consists almost entirely of 
running stitch. Each of the three types has its distinctive coloring. The 
receding square arrangement is colored with bright pastels and is worked in 
silk threads; the vertical column is worked in shades of natural and blue, 
using linen and wool; and the horizontal rectangle is stitched with brightly 
colored wool, linen, or cotton. 

The name of the embroiderer, the name of the teacher, and the date 
are often included on the square samplers. The Cooper-Hewitt collection 
has two samplers of almost identical design, one made in 1820, the other, in 
1 826, which read in translation, "I made this in the house of my teacher, 
Maria Coller" The other types of samplers have neither text nor alphabets. 

Mexican samplers are filled with vitality, exuberance and bright color (figure 
1 1), and the needlework is often of very high quality. During the period that 
Mexico was a colony of Spain, from 1519 until 1821, education was 
controlled almost exclusively by the Church. In the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries, a number of European religious orders sent nuns to 
Mexico who taught needlework in convent schools. Consequently many of 
the individual motifs on Mexican samplers are European, although there are 
a great number of uniquely Mexican touches. In some cases a particular 
style can be associated with a specific school. The Cooper-Hewitt collection 
has two similar samplers made by different students at the Academy at 
Puebla in 1852 (figure 12) and 1853. 

A list of uniquely Mexican sampler types and characteristics would 
include white samplers, samplers of withdrawn element work, samplers 
worked with glass beads, and those with elaborate needlemade edges. 

Sometimes Mexican motifs are incorporated with European motifs. A 
motto frequently embroidered on Mexican samplers was "Ni me doy ni me 
presto, solo di me duena soy." ("I do not lend or give myself, I keep myself 
only for my master.") "My master" refers not to a man but to the Church. 

A uniquely Mexican embroidery technique is the "Aztec stitch." To 
work it, warp and weft threads of the foundation fabric are withdrawn from 
the cloth at spaced intervals, leaving a regular grid of foundation fabric 
squares. Embroidery stitches are worked diagonally across the squares, each 
stitch wrapping once or twice around remaining groups of elements before 
returning and wrapping in the opposite direction. 



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1 1. Mexico, early 19th century 
Silk on plain-weave cotton 
Stitches: long-armed cross, whipped 
running, satin, roumanian, fern 
Dimensions: 14% x 18'/4 inches 
Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 

12. Puebla, Mexico, 1852 
Embroiderer: Refugio Gavino, student in 
the Puebla Academy 
Silk on plain-weave cotton 
Stitches: satin, stem, knot 
Dimensions: IT/s x 28y4 inches 
Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


Lo hizo Refugio Gavino en Ian enseOanza de la 
Academia de Puebla en el mes de Agosto del ano 
de 1852. 

(Made by Refugio Gavino under the 
instruction of the Puebla Academy in the 
month of August, 1852.) 

Great Britain 

Samplers from England and other parts of the United Kingdom offer a rich 
variety of styles and stitches — a diversity that may reflect Britain's well- 
established ties with other European countries. 

Several styles of samplers were being made in England in the 
seventeenth century, including the isolated motif type (figure 13) and the 
various band-type samplers (see frontispiece). 

Most seventeenth-century British samplers were long, narrow 
rectangles. The foundation fabric was prepared by cutting an eight- to ten- 
inch length of linen fabric from a two- to three-foot-wide selvage width of 
linen. The long, cut edges were hemmed and the embroidery was worked 
across the shorter dimension. Bands of openwork, raised work, and solid 
embroidery were usually combined on these samplers. Often bands of 
colored silks were worked in intricate patterns and stitches. Sometimes the 
entire piece was in white. Later, still, in the seventeenth century, whitework 
bands were combined with bands of colored embroidery, alphabet and texts. 
Two or three letter A's started the alphabet, followed by one version of each 
of the other letters. 

A number of new styles developed in Great Britain in the eighteenth 
century, including the most familiar sampler format, a combination of a 
picture, a verse, and a repetition of alphabets. 

Some British samplers can be associated with specific schools. The 
Museum has two samplers signed Ackworth School. Ackworth was a Quaker 
school in Yorkshire, England, that became a model for some of the 
Quaker schools in the United States. One of the pieces is a simple darning 
sampler, which would have had practical application, since the female 
students at Ackworth were expected to make and mend their own clothes, 
along with all of the linen for the school and the boys' underclothing. The 
other Ackworth sampler is a closely filled arrangement of circular motifs 
and numbers. 

Scottish samplers derive from English work, while having definite 
characteristics of their own. Often a large house dominates the center of the 
sampler (figure 14). One house, with a peaked gable, four columns at the 
front, and a garden enclosed by a picket fence, appears on several different 
Scottish samplers, with variations in the windows, the mortaring, and the 
roof tiles. 

In the samplers of the British Isles, the embroiderer included her name 
and the date, although she generally omitted her age. 

United States 

While sampler-making traditions came to America with the first European 
settlers, samplers from the seventeenth century are extremely rare. The 
earliest American samplers in the Cooper-Hewitt collection were made in 
Boston in 1729 and 1734 (see figure 1). The collection contains other 
samplers made in Massachusetts and Rhode Island before the Revolutionary 


13. England, mid-17th century 

Silk and metal-wrapped silk on plain-weave 


Stitches using silk: tent, half cross, chain, 


Stitches using metal-wrapped silk: back, 

crossed chain, plaited braid, chain, ladder, 

wrapping, looping, interlaced looping 

Dimensions: 21 x 14 inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


Following pages 

14. Scotland, probably Edinburgh, late 18th 
or early 19th century 

Embroiderer: Bridget Rule 

Silk on plain-weave wool 

Sdtches: cross, satin, back, rococo (queen), 

double running 

Dimensions: 12y4 x ll'A inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


The names of the schoolmistresses, Mrs. 

McConochie and Mrs. Hog, have been 

embroidered on the sampler. The initials 

are probably those of schoolmates. 

15. Southern New Jersey, 1838 
Embroiderer: Elizabeth Scull, age 8 
Silk and beads on plain-weave wool 
Sdtches: cross, satin, stem, chain, buttonhole, 

Dimensions: 16'/2 by 13 inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


Elizabeth Scull was the daughter of Lydia and 

John Scull of Egg Harbor, New Jersey. 

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{J"g Ai^d vhsie her f ing-e^^^ o^r tKe c-s/riva-^-^nrove 
.Engfag'e=W ttmie*' he«irt Jto i^e-ek thy love 
With thy dear childr^-Ti Bay ^he fei^- « :^. p^^ri 
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16. Made at the New York African Free 

School, New York, April 1803 

Embroicierer: Mary Emiston 

Silk on plain-weave linen 

Stitches: cross 

Dimensions: 1 1 x 16y4 inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 


The African Free School, founded in 1787 

by the New York Manumission Society, was 

a coeducational school that taught practical 


Following pages 

17. Probably New York or Connecticut, 
about 1800 

Embroiderer: Lucy Lathrop 

Silk on plain-weave linen 

Stitches: cross, long-armed cross, tent, stem, 

rococo (queen), satin, eyelet, chain 

Dimensions: 14 x 12% inches 

Bequest of Marian Hague 


18. Baltimore, Maryland, June 1823 
Embroiderer: Louisa Nenninger, age 8 
Silk on plain-weave linen 

Stitches: cross 

Dimensions: 17% x 17% inches 

Bequest of Gertrude M. Oppenheimer 



Louis Seize connoil ks pertes qu'on deplore 
(Louis XVI knew deplorable losses) 

Deja, de nos beaux jours on voit brillert aurore 
(We already see the dawn of our beautiful 

Louisa Nenninger, daughter of Louisa 
(Kohlstadt) and John Nenninger, was born 
in 1815. Louisa married Richard Connelly 
in December 1841. 

War, in the 1750s, '60s, and '70s. Many of these pre- Revolutionary samplers 
include both the date the sampler was made and the embroiderer's 
birthdate, information that is of great help in determining where the girl 
lived. Without such specific information, genealogical research is difficult; 
towns were frequendy settled by related families, and often two or three 
people in a township had the same name. 

As might be expected American samplers reflect patterns of 
immigration. Samplers made in Massachusetts, which was settled largely by 
the British, use English motifs. In certain cases it is difficult to distinguish a 
Massachusetts sampler from an English sampler Samplers made in 
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which was settled largely by emigrants from 
Germany, display many of the same motifs found on German samplers. The 
exceptions are samplers made in schools along the Susquehanna River. The 
blocked format of these is similar to that found in some English samplers 
and can perhaps be attributed to the British names of some of the teachers: 
Mrs. Leah Mequier's (McQuire) and Mrs. Buchanan's names appear on two 
Cooper-Hewitt samplers. 

Many of the larger schools had their students produce samplers that are 
distinctive enough to be associated with that school. All the students 
produced essentially the same sampler, varying the verse or the placement of 
details. When one is familiar with the styles of the various schools, it is 
possible to make correct attributions. Only rarely was the name of the school 
stitched on the sampler (figure 16). 

American contributions to sampler making include the family record 
sampler and samplers with black backgrounds (figure 17). In the Middle 
Atlantic states the backgrounds were closely worked with black cross stitch, 
while in Bristol, Rhode Island, long and floating black stitches were used. 

Beginning in the 1820s and '30s, larger samplers, of approximately two 
by two and one-half feet, were preferred, and they were worked with larger 
and fewer kinds of stitches. 

Samplers continued to be made by American schoolgirls at the 
beginning of the twentieth century, but after World War I, they were 
stitched primarily by adult women who regarded the craft as a nostalgic and 
sentimental one. 

In addition to samplers from all of the countries of Great Britain, 
Europe, and North and South America, samplers from the Far East, China, 
and Sri Lanka are occasionally found in needlework collections. These pieces 
were usually commercial endeavors, however, prepared for a Western 
market. It is the embroidered samplers of the West, made for prosaic 
reasons, yet imbued with the individuality of their makers and the stamp of 
their time, that have gained in appeal as the years have passed. 

Gillian Moss 


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Selected Bibliography Bolton, Ethel Stanwood and Eva Johnston Coe. American Samplers. 

Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America, 1921. Reprint. 
New York: Dover Publications, 1973. 

Cavallo, Adolph S. Needlework. The Smithsonian Illustrated Library of 
Antiques. New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 1979. 

Clabburn, Pamela. Samplers. Aylesbury, England: Shire Publications 
Ltd., 1977. 

Fawdry, Marguerite and Deborah Brown. The Book of Samplers. New York: 
St. Martin's Press, 1980. 

King, Donald. Samplers. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, Her 
Majesty's Stationery Office, 1960. 

Krueger, Glee. New England Samplers to 1840. Old Sturbridge Village, 
Massachusetts: Old Sturbridge Village, 1978. 

Krueger, Glee. A Gallery of American Samplers: The Theodore A. Kapnek 
Collection. New York: E.P. Dutton in association with the Museum of 
American Folk Art, 1978. 

Meulenbelt-Nieuwburg, Alhana. Merkldp Motieven. Amsterdam: H.J.W. 
Becht's Uitgeversmaatschappij B.V., 1981. 

Moss, Gillian. Stitch Guide: A Study of the Stitches on the Embroidered 
Samplers in the Collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. New York: Cooper- 
Hewitt Museum, 1984. 

Ring, Betty. Let Virtue Be a Guide to Thee. Providence, Rhode Island: Rhode 
Island Historical Society, 1983. 

Schiffer, Margaret. Historical Needlework of Pennsylvania. Bonanza 
Books, New York, 1958. 

Schipper-Van Lottum, Bix. Overmerklappen gesproken. Amsterdam: 
Wereldbibliotheek, 1980. 

Swan, Susan Burrows. Plain &' Fancy: American Women and Their 
Needlework, 1700-1850. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1977. 

Tarrant, Naomi E.A. Samplers. Edinburgh: The Royal Scottish 
Museum, 1978. 


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