Cross Stitch Sampler

 Cross Stitch Sampler
Sampler, 2015.017

To celebrate Women’s History Month, March’s Treasure of the Month is a 19th century needlework sampler that highlights how the decorative arts can provide a wealth of information about everyday women throughout history.

Samplers began in the 1400s as a way for embroiderers and lacemakers to reference different types of stitches and designs. These early samplers were intended for personal, practical use, so designs and motifs were randomly placed and the sampler itself was rolled up and stored away when not in use. Gradually, however, samplers evolved into a way for young women to practice and display their needlework skills, becoming more common from the 1600s onward. Girls from middle or upper-class families would attend schools or hire private tutors that taught embroidery, painting, and other skills.

 Cross Stitch Sampler
Close-up view of cross stitch, 2015.017

Needlework was considered an important skill for girls to learn because it was both practical and creative. Learning needlework taught girls patience and neatness and showed off their ability to read and write, as many samplers included the alphabet in their designs. It also allowed girls to mark their linens with their initials so they did not get lost at the launderer’s, and enabled them to add decorations to linens, clothing, and other home décor items.

Samplers were usually stitched with silk or cotton thread on linen fabric, although later in the 18th century it became more common to use wool fabric instead. Although every sampler was unique, there were many common motifs, like houses, flowers, alphabets, and proverbs or Bible verses.

These samplers, especially when signed and dated, are often the only historical records we have of everyday women. In fact, some samplers even included family trees and birth information. In the 19th century, the United States government allowed the widows of Revolutionary War veterans to submit samplers proving their relationship as part of their pension applications. These samplers are now preserved in the National Archives as official government documents. But even when samplers were simply used for decoration, it is clear that the women stitching them hoped their work would last for generations, frequently including phrases like “when this you see remember me.”

 Cross Stitch Sampler
Close-up view of Algerian eyelet stitch, 2015.017

This ca. 1817 sampler from our museum collection was stitched by Eliza Ferrebee Manning Mason, who was the grandmother of Jean Scrimgeour Morgan (the artist and community leader for whom the Morgan Room at Rosenberg Library is named). The sampler repeats the alphabet three times and the numbers 1-11 twice, as well as the following phrases: “Baltimore, Aug 15th / Eliza F Manning her sampler finished / when you view this work of mine see how well I spent my time.” Indeed, Eliza’s stitches are very neat, and she employed several different types of stitches such as cross stitch, Algerian eyelet stitch, and four-sided stitch. No sampler is entirely perfect, however: although the sampler has faded considerably, you can see where Eliza ran out of room on the third repetition of the alphabet and had to add the “z” to the line above after “Baltimore, Aug 15th.”

The practice of stitching samplers declined steadily throughout the 20th century, especially after the World Wars. However, there are still needlework guilds and schools around the world today. Cross stitch in particular regained popularity in the 1990s and again in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Needlework has become a leisure activity that can be enjoyed by all genders, not just women, and there are many patterns reproducing historical samplers as well as more modern art styles.

If you are interested in learning more about needlework and connecting with others who love the textile arts, check out our Unraveling at Rosenberg program on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, from 1-3 pm in the 2nd floor McCullough Room!

 Cross Stitch Sampler
Close-up view of four-sided stitch, 2015.017

The Treasure of the Month is located on the 2nd floor of Rosenberg Library in the Grand Hallway. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday, Friday, and Saturday and 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM Tuesday through Thursday. For museum questions, call 409.763.8854 Ext. 125 or email museum@rosenberg-library.org. For press inquiries, contact the Communications Coordinator.

Past Treasures