Needlework Samplers

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer • Mar 09, 2012 • 0 Comments

A sampler is a piece of cloth that is heavily embroidered to show the skill of a beginner. Samplers often include the alphabet, figures, motifs, borders, and sometimes even the name and age of the person who sewed it. Ric of R. Jorgensen Antiques carries several beautiful samplers in his shop. He explained, “Prior to the mid-1800s, all women sewed. If you were born in that period, you would sew. Even the queen sewed. So, all of these relatively well to do girls (meaning their parents could send them to a finishing school) did it.”
Ric used the word “girls” rather than “women” because most of these samplers came from very young girls – some as young as 5 or 6 years old.

The oldest samplers that have survived to this day were made in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some samplers were made by older women and were kept as a sample of their work that they would use for future use. For example, if they came across a decorative border they admired, they would sew a sample of it onto their sampler to refer back to later on.

Samplers may contain as many as 20 different colors of thread. Of course, when you’re looking at antiques, you won’t be looking at vibrant colors. Ric said that when you look at these samplers and their bleached out colors, after a while, you get used to what you’re supposed to see.

“It was a very important auction that just happened in New York, in January. It was the sale of the Betty Ring collection. She wrote many of the most important books of American samplers. She died and all her stuff sold- some single samplers selling for over a million bucks. Huge money.”

The earliest American sampler that we know of was made by Loura Standish in 1653. She was the daughter of a pilgrim military captain. The sampler resides at Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts. School girls as young as 5, would learn to embroider their numbers and alphabet first. Then, they would learn pictorial needlework and would include nature scenes and stitching of homes and couples dancing, etc.

In an article from, Amy Finkel said that American samplers are often more pricey than English samplers because “American samplers offer greater folk art appeal and are less formulaic than English samplers.” The other reason for the price difference would be that there are fewer American samplers since, at the time, America didn’t have as many established schools as England did.

R. Jorgensen Antique’s selection of needlework samplers range from $2,000 to about $10-12,000. Click here to view some of their needlework and samplers, and learn more about the Adam and Eve Sampler pictured above from R Jorgensen Antiques right here on Latique: Latique