For the love of an 18th century sampler

0030_For the love of 18th c. samplersII

These two photographs are a companion to my previous post (Love, our subject:). I’m including them here to chart my progress, and to encourage myself to keep working at reproducing this intricate 18th century English sampler. Completed in 1780 by eleven-year-old Sarah Brignell, the original is on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. I chose to reproduce this sampler because of its imaginative floral border and because of the primitive cartouche that appears in the center of the piece. Within this little globe are a girl, a tree, a stag, a bird, a butterfly, a flower, a green meadow, blue sky, a smiling sun – a child’s version of Eden. I’ve never seen another historical sampler that looks like this one, and I find it charming.

0029_For the love of 18th c. samplersI

I’ve spent some of the pleasantest hours of my life with a needle, floss, and a piece of cloth. This Sarah Brignell sampler is the third and most difficult one I’ve attempted. My motive in choosing it is that I want each of our three children to have one of “my” samplers as a keepsake someday. I’ve finished two already: The Chase sampler, which was completed in 1760 in Newbury, Massachusetts by 11-year-old Mary Starker (the original of which is part of the Williamsburg collection), and an English sampler completed in 1832 by 7-year-old Ann Pasfield. (Yes – she was seven years old, a precocious child to say the least.)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the ongoing challenge of the Sarah Brignell sampler is that the words of its hymn are worked with a single strand of black silk floss over a single thread of 35 count linen – which means there are thirty-five strands of linen to the inch. In the case of this sampler, it also means there are thirty-five cross stitches to the inch – incredibly tiny. I’ve had quite a time of trying to see what I’m doing. Although I’ve worn bifocals for several years, bifocals alone are insufficient for this task. I attempted to work with a needlework magnifier perched in my lap, but found it far too cumbersome. It’s the same reason I’ve never been able to work with an embroidery hoop – it gets in my way and feels artificial. I suppose I’m a needlework purist of sorts – I want nothing between me and my embroidery. However, in the case of the infinitesimal stitches required in the Sarah Brignell, I needed help and ultimately discovered that putting a pair of reading magnifiers over the top of my bifocals worked perfectly. And that, my friends, is how I earned one of my family’s affectionate nicknames: Six Eyes.

Sometime, I’ll tell more about my love of samplers and needlework in general. For now, my embroidery chair in the sunroom beckons. I think I’ll put Ola Gjeilo (my latest favorite composer) on the stereo, unite with all the unsung embroiderers of days long flown, and focus (all six of) my eyes on a work of love.

4 thoughts on “For the love of an 18th century sampler

    • Katrina, I’m delighted to know you’re continuing to enjoy Ola’s music! And what a perfect description of what it means to work on a reproduction sampler: it does indeed stitch the past together with the present as an offering to the future. xoxo

  1. I can’t help but wonder what little Sarah might’ve thought, were she somehow made aware of the ways in which her own tiny sampler, exquisitely sewn, would someday knit together so many kindred souls, and touch their hearts as it does

    • I’m sure she would have been astonished, humbled, and thrilled to know that one day, her work would be displayed in the Victoria & Albert, the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. This alone would have astounded her. She would also have found it hard to believe that her sampler would one day be reproduced by other embroiderers, her name remembered, and her work praised by admirers far beyond the borders of her native England. I’m amazed myself, just thinking about the ways the world has changed since Sarah’s birth in 1769! xoxo

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