Monday, 7 June 2010

A Forensic Approach to Samplers and Needlework

There is so much for the lingering and respectful eye to notice on a sampler that sometimes goes unnoticed because we are in awe of the design, the story, the history and tales already told. In the course of the next few weeks I want to mention just a few simple clues which we can all pick up on when viewing collections. Close inspection shows that some samplers have been stitched by more than one hand. And here is an instance which demonstrates clearly that the sampler was picked up at a later date by someone other than the original stitcher. This is not the tidiest sampler of spot trials, but it is a valuable and revealing cloth.
Here you can see a close-up section from the central portion of the sampler. Although the sampler is chaotic, what has been stitched in places is neat and effected competently with consistent tension.
But was this cloth intended for a different purpose or another stitcher before these trials were made? The lower portion of the cloth has been drawn with flower slips of which only the one in the lower left corner has been executed to the intended design. Other flower slips have been ignored and overworked with a geometric design. By the same hand as the completed flower? That is difficult to say from visual evidence alone, but the question must be asked all the same.
However, there is no doubting that this flower has been attempted by a different and less experienced hand. Judging by the grosser stitches, it could have been stitched one to two hundred years later than the first stitches. What young stitcher could not resist a pre-drawn design waiting for completion? The implications of this analysis are wide and affect all samplers - how many other samplers have been stitched by more than one hand? How many cloths have had designs added and stitched to previously unfilled areas at later dates? How does this affect our judgment, dating and interpretation of not only the suspect pieces, but other samplers which have been linked by stylistic analogy?


  1. i am wondering why you would think it is 100 to 200 years after the original was stitched? could it have been stitched by the same woman only older, who is having difficulty with her hands, memory? so many questions i agree. thanks for having us question what we see.

  2. A good point - this is something definitely to bear in mind. However, in this case it is the consistency of working that is of a lower standard and I think one would retain a learned consistency even with impaired dexterity - and the use of cross-stitch does not sit comfortably in the context - a tent stitch, yes.