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Samplers - Jersey Heritage

Date post: 15-Feb-2022
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A sampler is essentially a piece of embroidery that was pro-duced, usually by young girls, as a demonstration or test of theirskill in needlework. They often include the alphabet, numbers, mo-tifs, decorative borders and sometimes a verse and the name of theperson who worked it and the date. Today, samplers are often sim-ply seen as nostalgic decorative pieces associated with interior de-sign, but in reality their historical role is much more than that.

The name ‘sampler’ is derived from the Medieval French wordessamplaire, meaning a kind of model or pattern to copy or imitate.Before printed pattern books became available, the only way em-broidery designs could be transmitted was by being passed fromhand to hand. Whenever a woman saw a new or interesting patternshe would sew a small copy onto a piece of cloth as a reminder,and in this way patterns spread throughout Europe and the Mid-dle East. This method of recording patterns and motifs on fabric forfuture use was an essential method of storing information, whichmeant that new patterns were collected and exchanged with suc-cessive embroiderers adding their own colours and interpretation.

This collecting of patterns accelerated in the late 15th and 16thCenturies, when there was a strong interest in all forms of decoration,and it became fashionable for needlework to decorate clothing andfurnishings. The growing interest in travel and exploration resulted inexchanges of techniques, materials and dyes. The introduction of theprinting press and the substitution of vellum or parchment withcheaper paper meant that it was possible to create printed patternbooks. There was obviously a demand for these, as the first printedpattern book arrived in 1524, published in Augsburg, Germany byJohann Schönsperger. Similar books then appeared in France andItaly and finally, in 1587, in England; however, these were relativelyexpensive and not readily available. Because the craft of embroiderywas time-consuming and costly it was restricted to the wealthierclasses. By the end of the 16th Century, needlework had gained im-portance as it displayed wealth and status, and samplers continuedto be made as practice pieces and for reference.

The earliest reference to a sampler in England appears in 1502in the household expense accounts of Henry VII’s wife, Elizabethof York. The records show that on 10 July of that year, Thomas Fis-she was paid for ‘an elne of Iynnyn cloth for a sampler for theQuene’. The earliest surviving sampler is in the V & A collection,and was signed by Jane Bostocke, dated 1598.

These early English samplers were worked in long narrow rib-bons of linen, which varied in width between 6 and 9 inches (15 -23 cms). The selvages (the edge of the cloth woven in such a wayas to prevent it unravelling) became the top and bottom edges. Weknow that these ‘band’ samplers were valued because they were

often mentioned in royal inventories and bequeathed in wills. Al-though modern samplers are usually worked in cross-stitch alone,these early examples show many varieties of stitch and thread thatoften combined different traditions - Hungarian, Florentine, black-work, whitework, openwork and the like. They display such a highstandard of work it is believed that they were created by expertneedlewomen.

By the early 17th Century, a very simple border was added tothe sampler, sometimes surrounding a number of randomly placedmotifs - commonly referred to as Spot Samplers. These could bepictorial, such as buildings, figures, plants and animals, or stitch-and-pattern motifs. By the mid 17th Century, alphabets were beingadded, and from the Commonwealth period in the 1650s religiousinscriptions were also added. Samplers were becoming signs ofvirtue and achievement, and the teaching of needlework was ac-tively encouraged.

From the 18th Century onwards samplers lost there randomnature, and in complete contrast to the ‘spot’ and ‘band’ samplersof earlier times, samplers began to take on the proportions of paint-ings with symmetrically placed motifs of birds, small animals, flow-ers, and trees, all arranged to produce a balanced picture. As thecost of printing had come down considerably, pattern books wereno longer prohibitively expensive, and so samplers lost their origi-nal utilitarian function and became ornamental and a display ofwomanly achievement. They were considered an excellent way ofteaching, and so schoolgirls produced needlework exercises of al-manacs, mathematical tables and maps, as well as numbers andletters. A long way from the original mediaeval craft of embroidery,which was practiced by both men and women and was the equalof painting and sculpture as an art form.

Jersey Heritage has over 90 samplers in its textile collection, theoldest of which dates from 1736 and the most recent 1944; thevast majority of the collection dates from the 19th Century. Mosthave been worked by girls between the ages of 5 and 11, but un-usually there are four worked by boys, three of whom were from theGossett family. Many have the same border pattern of roses andleaves, suggesting the same needlework teacher, but show somevery different levels of skill and, I think, interest. There are obvi-ously those for whom needlework is natural and those who musthave shed a few tears over their canvases.

Because in most cases the samplers are signed and dated, theycan be an interesting addition to family history research. Finding astill existing piece of embroidery that was worked by a child morethan 200 years ago can be very exciting, and it can bring our an-cestors to life in a very different way.

Samplers from the Jersey Heritage CollectionAs well as being Registrar with Jersey Heritage, Val Nelson is also a well regarded costumemaker. In this article she casts a well trained eye upon the needlework skills of yesteryear.

A test of skill

This sampler worked by Elizabeth Anna Marett, who proudly declared that she was 7 years old whenshe did this peice (sic) April the 22 1736, is in coloured silks on a backing of fine even-weave linen. Thereare examples of Florentine stitch and cross-stitch while the larger letters have been worked in eyelet stitch.Although showing signs of wear, even after two-and-a-half centuries, the colours are still bright and thestitching is remarkably fine and even.

Elizabeth Anna Marett, aged 7 years in 1736, 290 x 190mm.

Esther Boudier, aged 11 years in 1781, 470 x 390mm.

This verse and motif sampler worked in silk on a backing offine even-weave linen by 11-year-old Esther Boudier was made in1781, the same year as the Battle of Jersey. This sampler has beendamaged and then darned at some point in its long life and hastherefore lost some of the lettering in the verse.

On voit da….a chute de ces deux personnes combien il est dan-gereux de ne pas croire ce que Dieu…..t preter loreille aux tentationset de suivre les desirs de la chair et avec quel …oin nous devons veillersur nous mêmes et obeir a toute les loix du Siegneur name (?) dans leschoses qui paroissent de la moindre importance ce qui arriva a Adamat a Eve apres leur pechê et la punition que Dieu leur infligea en lesa….ttaisant (?) aux miseres de cette vie at a la mort et en les chaisant(?) du jardin d’heden fait …oir que les menaces de Dieu ne sont jamaisvaines et quil ne peut laiser la desobeissance de l’homme impunie

The verse translates as We see from the fall of these two peoplehow dangerous it is not to believe what God . . .. and to lend an ear

to temptation and to follow the desires of the flesh and with . . . . wemust keep watch on ourselves and obey all the Lord’s named laws inthe things which seem of the least importance. That which happenedto Adam and Eve after their sin and the punishment that God inflictedon them in . . . . them to the miseries of this life and to death and inchasing them from the garden of Eden makes us see that the threats ofGod are never idle and that he never leaves man’s disobedience un-punished.

Surprisingly this is one of only two samplers in the Jersey Her-itage collection on which the verse is in French. There is a seriesof holes around the hemmed edges of the sampler where it wouldhave been nailed to a wooden frame, while the tell-tale dark marksfrom fire smoke and the very faded colours of the silks indicatethat this sampler would have been proudly displayed on a wall inthe living area.

This large and beautiful sampler worked by 10-year-old Eliza-beth Hamptonne in 1826 has been sewn completely in cross-stitch. The wide border has been worked out mathematically as inall cross-stitch patterns, and the shading in the rose petals is veryskilled. The verse pays homage to John Wesley, the Methodist

preacher, who made such an impact on Jersey. The religious themecontinues with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the treeof knowledge taking centre position. The small rocket-like men fig-ures are actually angels carrying horns of plenty.

Elizabeth Hamptonne, aged 10 years in 1826, 760 x 650mm.

These samplers were worked by Jane Mary Barreau and are twoof five samplers worked by her in our collections all of which aredated 1826, three of which state that she is aged six, and the othertwo that she is aged five years and eight months. It is an extraor-dinary body of work for such a young child. The samplers are allvery neatly done, three are simple band samplers of alphabets andnumbers, while the other two are more pictorial.

Jane Mary Barreau was born in 1820, the daughter of a Barn-abé Barreau and a Jeanne Gallichan. Jane Mary Barreau’s brotherFrancois seems to have married another one of the sampler girls,Elizabeth Hamptonne. They were the parents of Emmeline AugustaBarreau, of the legacy and Société art gallery fame. So our 1820Jane Mary was Emmeline Augusta’s aunt and her godmother!

Jane Mary Barreau, aged 5 years and 8 months 1826, 310x 315mm.

Mary Laffoley, aged 10 years in 1829, 575 x 520mm.

Jane Mary Barreau, aged 6 years in 1826, 203 x 202mm.

A beautiful verse and motif sampler worked in silk thead on fineeven weave linen and completely in cross stitch. The edge motifsare all placed symetrically on either side of the central motifs of ahouse and the tree of knowledge. The verse is titled ‘On Youth’and reads:

‘Fragrant the Rose is, but it fades in Time;

The Violet sweet, but quickly past the Prime;

While Lilies hang their Heads and soon decay.

And white Snow in Minutes melts away;

Such and so with’ring are our earthly Joys;

Which Time or Sickness, speedily destroys;’.

Writing each noun with an initial capital letter appears quitestrange to us now, and the message of the verse is quite aharsh one.

10-year-old Mary Ann Vautier’s band and motif sampler is afairly complex and colourful design, worked in fine wool on acourse even-weave linen. The motifs in the lower section are ran-domly placed, but the alphabets and lettering in the upper sectionare very carefully worked out. It is quite large for a sampler andthe lettering and stitches get progressively bigger towards the bot-tom, giving the impression that Mary Ann discovered quite early

on in the process just how long it would take to complete if shecontinued with the same small letters that are in the very first row.There are a great variety of stitches in this sampler, cross stitch,eyelets, Hungarian stitch and straight stitch. The simple borderdoes not quite work out in the corners and small extra motifs havebeen used as fillers.

These two samplers were worked by Ada H Lucas who wasborn in St Ouen on 20 January 1883. The first made in 1894 whenshe was 11 years old, is a typical alphabet band sampler designbut with a fantastic use of colour. Worked in fine wool yarn oncourse linen, it clearly shows her abilities as a needlewoman. Thereis a good variety of stitches, cross stitch, satin stitch and eyeletsused in lots of different combinations to form borders and linesbetween each row of letters.

In the second sampler made in 1895, Ada works only in crossstitch on an open even weave linen canvas and uses only a brightpink wool yarn. She signs and dates it, but also stitches StandardVII at the end, so perhaps this was a piece done for a leaving examthat she could use to show potential employers?

Patricia Bell was one of the deportees sent to the internementcamp at Biberach in Germany during the Occupation. Patricia - in-ternee No.51 - would have made this as a way of passing time asmuch as anything else. This sampler depicts trees, flowers and adeer hunt which are all very English scenes, and I am sure wouldhave been reminders of home. This sampler also reflects the trendin the last 100 years or so for samplers to be worked by adults ascommemorative pieces.

Val Nelson is the Registrar with Jersey HeritageTel: 01534 633324E-mail: [email protected]

Top left - Ada H Lucas , aged 11 years, 260 x 260mm.

Below left - Ada H Lucas, aged 12 years, 270 x 205 mm

Sampler worked in 1943 by Patricia Bell b.17/02/1914