Wednesday 11 January 2012

Scattered Thoughts on the Scattering of the Betty Ring Sampler Collection

I wonder if you noticed, by zooming in, this little detail on the Quaker Doll in Betty's collection which is up for auction by Sothebys later this month? In addition to the charming pocket resting on her right hip, marked with the letter S (twice), she has a little Quaker pinball with braid tied around her waist and hanging on her left hip! How wonderful is that? I spent the whole of Sunday looking at all the items, trying to gather some thought. I have to say my first thoughts, amongst the hot flushes, were for sal volatile when I saw the estimates. It is a delight to see how samplers are valued across the pond and cannot wait for the day when we similarly value our textile heritage here.
Of course, I love the Quaker samplers in the auction, and was delighted to see close-up the US Quaker darning pattern samplers, which have more to do with learning and enjoying weave patterns than any practical darning exercise. I wonder if these also were worked in the girls' spare time for pleasure, as they were at Ackworth School? I have never seen anything quite like this on a pattern darning sampler - a creation of knitting or perhaps Swiss darning worked upon the surface of the linen.
Though many samplers feature a house or homestead, Anna Pope has rendered her particular family's home with loving attention to detail - down to (or rather, up to) its modish lightening conductor. Although Benjamin Franklin had described how such lightning conductors could be used to safeguard homes - as opposed to churches or civic buildings - in the 1750s, it wasn't until 1761 when there was the first recorded instance of a house saved from lightning by such a conductor. Anna's work then of around 1796 documents the uptake of the new technology.
Lingering with Anna's stitched house, we can also see the technique of tweeding - combining strands of different shades to create a more complex and subtle effect for grass or sky. There is so much to see in these samplers, one could go on interminably. I am always struck by the uneven cross stitches in many samplers - as if no-one had told the girls they simply must learn to cross all their stitches in the same direction. The result is a far more charming and rich surface by consequence than any created under such stringent rules. Looking at so many mourning pictures, one cannot fail to be struck by the premature harvest of life, and by the numbers of young orphans left behind. While many were helped by guardians and benevolent hospitals, others, less fortunate would have been left to fend for themselves and would have lived in quasi feral communities. Can it be such a wonder that these children, gathered in by church and schools, should work such desolate and dismal thoughts of death into many of their samplers?
Finally, I know I shall be asked which sampler is my favourite. The answer is: it depends which day you ask me. I love the chutzpah of Lot 583, the Chagall-like joyfulness of Lot 652, the fraktur titling of Lot 616. I have a penchant for New York samplers such as Lot 600, but maybe if really pushed I would choose Lot 622 the 1740 Philadelphia sampler. And if my fairy godmother flew in the window right now, my single wish would be for this singular and sensational collection never to be scattered and for it to have a permanant home in memory of all that Betty has done for the world of samplers - say, oh say that the twin samplers by the Reding sisters (Lots 563 and 565) sha'n't be separated!


  1. I too spent this morning poring over my catalogue.... What a fantastic collection! Would love to go to NY to view the collection or even attend the sale, but I would have to make sure that I kept my hands firmly in my pockets!!


  2. Like you, I hate to see the collection separated. So sad. Thanks, though, for the links in the previous posts to Betty Ring's books and the auction catalog. I've enjoyed admiring the collection as well.

  3. I had the chance to go last weekend and it was amazing! Seeing the stitching up close was so much better than online. I spent three hours there and only saw a fraction of all the handiwork on display.
    If you're interested, my pics:
    My video:

  4. I agree about the scattering of this collection Jaqueline. It`s a this politically correct age I hesitate to say it....but her family should be horsewhipped!