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.