What is a Sampler and why did women make them? A sampler can be simply defined as, “pieces of cloth used to record patterns and stitches.” [1] For women in the 19th century, education was very limited. If a woman was lucky enough to be born to a privileged family that valued education, she would be sent to a special school where she would learn, not reading or math like the male children, but skills she would later need to care for a home. She learned letters through stitching them on plain, usually linen, fabric with silk or cotton thread. She created a sampling of the stitches she learned for reference on future projects, such as marking her family linens. Without these Samplers, these women’s lives would have likely floated into obscurity. Through their signed and dated works, their story emerges.

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Sampler, 1815, Welthy Andrus, Linen, Silk, H:15.5″ x W:12.5″ , New York State Historical Association, Gift of Mrs. William Wilsey, N0123.1939, Photography by Richard Walker

 

This Sampler, stitched by Welthy Andrus (N0123.1939), was made in 1815 in Richfield, New York. Though we know very little about Ms. Andrus, we do know she was born on March 28, 1803, and was one of nine children. She was baptized in the Christ’s Church in Cooperstown, New York. [2] She was just 12 years old when she stitched her basic marking sampler. Through this work, she learned her alphabet, numbers and a few basic geometric motifs. Her Sampler, containing simple adornments, is made on a linen ground, with beautiful blue silk thread. She demonstrates four different fonts in her alphabets, numbers and signature. Amazingly, she uses only one stitch to create each of these fonts. The simplicity of her design could be explained by the shift from homemade goods to manufactured goods during her lifetime. [3] The industrial revolution began in the early 1800s and textile manufacturing moved from homespun to a commercial endeavor.  Less time was being spent on making personal linens by hand.

It is apparent that Welthy’s family had financial security. Once a girl completed her needlework, she would have her work framed and it might hang on the wall of her parent’s parlor. Here, it would not only show off her skill with the needle, but also the gentility of her family – only parents who could afford the tuition were able to have their daughters learn decorative needlework. [4] This framed work could have impressed suitors when they came to call. In the case of Ms. Andrus, she never married and lived with her sister until her death in 1865.

By Melissa Kiewiet ’17

[1] Lynne Anderson, Samplers International: A World of Needlework, 2nd edition (Eugene: Sampler Consortium, 2011): 9.

[2] Records of Birth and Baptism 1797-1827 by Rev. Daniel Nash.

[3] Aimee E. Newell, “Tattered to Pieces: Amy Fiske’s Sampler and the Changing Roles of Women in Antebellum New England,” in Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles, 1750-1950. (Ashgate: Farnham, 2009): 51-52.

[4] Aimee E. Newell, “Tattered to Pieces: Amy Fiske’s Sampler and the Changing Roles of Women in Antebellum New England,” in Women and the Material Culture of Needlework and Textiles, 1750-1950. (Ashgate: Farnham, 2009): 55.

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