Patches From the Past
Scraps of Fabric, Sewing & Quilting History

Samplers: Seventeenth Century Needlework

~ a sample of women's lives in the 1600s ~

To put the role of needlework during the seventeenth century in perspective we first need to look at the lives of women during that period. Motherhood occupied much of a woman's life. Women gave birth, nursed and gave birth again and again. They were also expected to be an obedient companion to their husbands.

All but the privileged classes not only had to sew all clothing for their family but first needed to spin and weave the fabric. Those fortunate enough to have any formal education were taught to do needlework and perhaps to read. If they were taught to read it was so that they could read devotional books and other approved literature. To learn more about women's lives during this period and earlier go to "The Lives of Renaissance Women" where they address the question, "Did Renaissance women enjoy a Renaissance?"

We realize from this information that many women of the seventeenth century were too busy with survival to even consider having time for needlework. Nevertheless the 17th century was a golden age of needlework especially in the making of samplers. Originally most needlework samplers were created by older women as an example of different stitches. In fact the word 'sampler' comes from a Latin word meaning an example or model to copy.

Later samplers became projects for school girls learning the art of embroidery. Some samplers demonstrated letters of the alphabet and numerals. Biblical themes were common and verses meant to teach and inspire were eventually included. For fascinating information on samplers made in different countries during this period don't miss "Samplers Through the Ages".

It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to be a woman living in the 17th century. Doing needlework was probably the only way those women who did have the necessary time and education could express their creativity. For most women there was not even that opportunity.

This article would not be complete without linking you to examples of 17th century needlework. The Scarlet Letter" is a site that displays several 17th century samplers. The sampler shown on this page is one of the antique samplers in their own collection. It is attributed to Elizabeth Harborne and was made in England in 1647. On the same site you will find reproduction kits are offered for those of you who are interested in reproducing an actual sampler from the 17th century.

For an example of an American sampler be sure to visit the Loara Standish Sampler that is displayed at the Pilgrim Hall Musuem in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This sampler was made by the daughter of Captain Myles Standish about 1653. Her sampler displays the following verse.

"Loara Standish is my name
Lorde guide my hart that
I may doe thy will also
My hands with such
Convenient skill as may
Conduce virtue void of
Shame and I will give
The glory to thy name"

You can spend hours exploring sites on needlework history. Following are some that I've discovered on the Internet.

A Brief History of Embroidery Samplers by Sharon b

A Brief History of Samplers

History of Embroidery in America

The History of Samplers

2000 Judy Anne Breneman (Do not reproduce this article without permission from the author)

[ 17th Century Samplers | Calamanco Quilt | Colonial Bedrugs ]
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