Sam­pler Sleuth

How Hand­work Records His­tory& Per­son­al­ity

Just Cross Stitch - - Contents - A Child’s Art: How Hand­work Records His­tory & Per­son­al­ity

Work, ex­plic­itly hand­work, was the in­spi­ra­tion for all ex­ist­ing sam­plers to­day. Work­ing a sam­pler was a com­mon ex­er­cise in the 17th, 18th and 19th cen­turies for our fore­moth­ers to learn ba­sic and ad­vanced stitches and tech­niques of needle­work de­sign.

While many girls who ex­e­cuted sam­plers would not be ex­pected to work for a liv­ing, the use­ful and or­na­men­tal needle­work skills were im­por­tant for the fu­ture man­age­ment of homes and fam­i­lies.

Sam­plers are not just the by-prod­uct of a maker's hand; they are his­tor­i­cal records re­flect­ing a par­tic­u­lar re­gion, cul­ture, econ­omy and so­ci­ety.

Anne Woodall, whose sam­pler reproduction ap­pears in this is­sue of Just

Cross Stitch, was born in 1808 to John Woodall and Mary Hill in York­shire, Eng­land. She died in 1883 at the age of 75.

York­shire is a his­toric county in north­ern Eng­land and is the largest county in the United King­dom. York­shire was his­tor­i­cally a cen­ter of in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly in tex­tiles and wool, as well as in the pro­duc­tion of coal.

English sam­plers are com­monly worked on a back­ground of fine wool. They fre­quently have a for­mal sym­met­ri­cal com­po­si­tion with tiny mo­tifs spaced evenly on the left and the right of a larger cen­tral pic­to­rial fo­cus. The mo­tifs in English sam­plers are of­ten ar­ranged in a mir­ror­like for­mat as dis­played on the Anne Woodall 1814 sam­pler.

There are nu­mer­ous mo­tifs on Anne's sam­pler, and many come with de­fined his­toric sym­bol­ism.

The cen­tral fo­cus of Anne's sam­pler is a bas­ket of flowers, sym­bol­iz­ing all the great hopes of friend­ship and love from a young girl liv­ing in the year 1814.

The heraldic crown is a Chris­tian sym­bol for ev­er­last­ing life and the be­lief in Christ's cru­ci­fix­ion, his sac­ri­fice for aton­ing for mankind's sins and tribu­la­tions. Crowns also rep­re­sent sovereignty and are in­dica­tive of dif­fer­ent lev­els of aris­to­cratic rank.

An­i­mal mo­tifs in Anne's sam­pler also have mean­ings. The deer in its many forms al­ways rep­re­sents a sym­bol of Christ and chris­ten­ing, with the antlers rep­re­sent­ing spir­i­tual author­ity. Dogs por­tray loy­alty, pro­tec­tion and knowl­edge. The horse rep­re­sents mas­culin­ity, pride and speed. Lions rep­re­sent strength, majesty and courage.

Birds have much sig­nif­i­cance in sam­pler-mak­ing. They can rep­re­sent tran­scen­dence and peace. Birds fac­ing each other with a crown, heart or tree be­tween them may rep­re­sent the val­ues of love and mar­riage or the tree of life.

Other sym­bolic mo­tifs are hearts and pine trees. Hearts sym­bol­ize love and com­pas­sion. Pine trees ex­hibit growth, re­birth and Christ­mas.

Anne chose vi­brant col­ors to mark her sam­pler. In choos­ing col­ors, the nee­dle be­comes the pen, writ­ing down the maker's story and pro­vid­ing us with an in­sight into her per­son­al­ity and the sig­nif­i­cance of the color that was cho­sen. Though Anne's verse is in­struc­tive in proper deco­rum and the ben­e­fits of hard work, there is also joy, hope and re­al­ism in her cho­sen threads.

Shades of blue rep­re­sent faith, fi­delity and hu­mil­ity. Pale blue is sym­bolic of peace, heaven and sky. Green rep­re­sents im­mor­tal­ity, joy, youth and re­newal. The color yel­low is sig­nif­i­cant for wis­dom, con­stancy and glory. Gold is sym­bolic of sun, glory and di­vin­ity. The color brown of­ten rep­re­sents poverty or re­nun­ci­a­tion. Black is sym­bolic of grief, despair and death.

Sam­plers are art, and they have the power to ex­press and com­mu­ni­cate the ded­i­ca­tion, ob­ses­sion, abil­ity, skill and com­mit­ment of the orig­i­nal maker, which has tran­scended time and place through­out the cen­turies.

Sam­plers com­mu­ni­cate, through the mak­ers' hands, the con­ti­nu­ity of all our tra­di­tions and the chal­lenges of his­tory that have been faced. The con­nec­tion of our fore­moth­ers en­dures, and the con­nec­tion of fem­i­nin­ity with the cre­ation of cloth and threads con­tin­ues to be the re­cur­rent con­nec­tion to all who love this art—past, present and fu­ture.

The orig­i­nal Anne Woodall 1814 sam­pler is in the pri­vate col­lec­tion of Deb­o­rah Fasano of His­toric Hand­workes. See more of Deb­o­rah's an­tique sam­pler re­pro­duc­tions and orig­i­nal de­signs at www.his­torichand­workes.com.

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