CULTURAL CONNECTIONS | JULY 2018

History of Embroidery Samplers

A sampler is a piece of embroidery that is created to show or test needle-

working skill. They were especially popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.

For many years, in England and America, needlework was an important

part of a woman’s education. Women were expected to be able to take care

of a home, and part of that included repairing clothes and linens.

As they learned to stitch, either in schools or from their female family

members, girls would make samplers to show off their needleworking

skills. At first, the samplers might contain letters, numbers and different

kinds of stitching. In a home, women often marked their linens with their

initials and a number. These marking samplers proved that they mastered

this skill. Those with more advanced skills could make decorative

samplers. These could contain intricate and beautiful pictures or patterns.

Families might frame and display these samplers in the home to show off

their daughter’s skill to potential husbands.


• Samplers could take hundreds of hours to complete. They represented patience, skill and obedience

• Many decorative samplers were religious scenes.

• Samplers were often on silk or linen.

• Women would put new stitches that they learned in their sampler. They could look at it later to remember the stitch.

• Wealthy families would send their daughters to schools run by other women. They would learn knitting, sewing and sampler-making.

• Some of the most complicated samplers came from women who attended these schools.

• Women would sign their samplers with their name, age and the date the sampler was completed.

• Today, surviving samplers are displayed in museums.

• Sampler comes from the French word essamplaire, which means a kind of work to be copied.

• The earliest known sampler made in America is from 1645. It was created by Loara Standish, who lived in the Plymouth colony.

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