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Samplers, Learning to Sew

This Exhibit Contains 13 Items

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Item 5545

Zilpah Wadsworth sampler, Portland, 1786

Zilpah Wadsworth sampler, Portland, 1786 / Maine Historical Society

Zilpah Wadsworth of Portland, later the mother of poet henry Wadsworth Longfellow, made this sampler when she was eight years old.

Embroidered onto it are "Zilpah Wadsworth/her Sampler aged 8" and "1786", "Remember now thy Creator/in the days of thy youth."

Samplers often included inspirational phrases.


Item 5522

February Fashions 1840

February Fashions 1840 / Maine Historical Society

A sampler was a testament to a woman's proficiency in needlework. This evidence of her ability increased her desirability as a wife, for it showed she could accomplish her family's sewing needs with care and efficiency.


Item 5723

American sampler stitches

American sampler stitches / Maine Historical Society

From a young age, girls were set upon the task of learning varied stitches involved in needlework, like cross stitch, and tent stitch, eyelet, chain, stem, and two sided line stitch. There were over a dozen stitches used, each one with a different purpose and appearance.


Item 5509

Polly Warren sampler, Gorham, ca. 1800

Polly Warren sampler, Gorham, ca. 1800 / Maine Historical Society

The earliest and most common motif on samplers was the alphabet and seamstress' name, as on this sampler by Polly Warren, of Gorham.

Polly did not record her age or the date she finished her sampler, information many girls embroidered into their work.

Other text might include their own poetry or verses from the Bible.

The sampler was made is about 1800.


Item 4205

Mary Jones Sampler 1755

Mary Jones Sampler 1755 / Maine Historical Society

Mary Jones of Falmouth completed this sampler in 1755 when she was 14 years old.

Using silk thread primarily in cross stitch, she embroidered a stiff floral border and rhyming verse on a piece of tammy cloth, a type of wool.

The verse reads:



Item 5654

Beauty of the Island

Beauty of the Island / Maine Historical Society

The process of making a sampler involved more work than its small size would suggest.

Many New England families were "obliged to spin and weave their cotton, wool, and flax," writes Joseph B. Felt.

The spinning wheel in this sketch by George Appleton is the type used to make wool thread. Most samplers were made of homemade linen, or for girls from wealthy families, imported silk.


Item 5581

Unfinished embroidery, ca. 1800

Unfinished embroidery, ca. 1800 / Maine Historical Society

This unfinished piece of needlework provides a glimpse into the embroidery process.

The fabric has been attached to a frame by pieces of muslin to which it was sewn. The muslin is bound to the wood by string.

In most cases the pattern was drawn on the fabric before sewing began, but there is no pattern here. A small portion of the sewing has been done.

<em>The Ladies' Guide to Needlework,</em> published in the mid-19th century, assures that once this process is "understood [it] is accomplished with great rapidity, and never becomes tedious."


Item 5722

Lincoln Academy, Newcastle, ca. 1890

Lincoln Academy, Newcastle, ca. 1890 / Maine Historical Society

In the Union schoolhouse, sampler making was taught between recess and reading class. In this school in Newcastle, girls were assigned samplers as an exercise that taught needlework and the alphabet.

According to Ava Chadbourne in Leeds, girls made "samplers, having the alphabet, figures, their age, and sometimes even a couplet in rhyme or a verse embroidered upon them."


Item 5555

Worumbo Mills, Lisbon Falls, ca. 1882

Worumbo Mills, Lisbon Falls, ca. 1882 / Maine Historical Society

Textile mills, like this one in Lisbon Falls, became common in New England by the early 1800s. When fine fabrics could be made and purchased locally, women did not have to rely on crude homemade fabrics for their needlework.


Item 5510

Moore Memorial embroidery, Portland, 1838

Moore Memorial embroidery, Portland, 1838 / Maine Historical Society

The ornate samplers made by girls at Maine's academies in the 1820s reflect this change in textile production.

At academies in Portland and Augusta, students were taught a refined style of needlework using satin, silk, and chenille threads.

Using such high quality materials, samplers like this one by Sarah Moore were as decorative as they were instructive.


Item 5721

Jane Wentworth sampler, Brownfield, 1828

Jane Wentworth sampler, Brownfield, 1828 / Maine Historical Society

Many early families continued to make their own fabrics and thread even after textile mills were common in Maine.

For example, in 1828 11-year old Jane Wentworth of Brownville, used homemade materials to create a sampler. Through this, she learned a few stitches and practiced her alphabet.


Item 1136

Clothing store advertisement, Bath, ca. 1886

Clothing store advertisement, Bath, ca. 1886 / Maine Historical Society

After 1850, more and more of a family's needs could be met outside the home, as this advertisement for "Fancy Goods" suggests.

At school, girls received a more academic education than earlier in the century. Women practiced needlework as necessity demanded and leisure time allowed, but the skills that samplers taught were not considered as vital as they once were, and by 1850, samplers had become a lost art form in Maine.


Item 4206

Unidentified sampler

Unidentified sampler / Maine Historical Society

Works Cited:

Chadbourne, Ava. <em>A History of Education in Maine.</em> The Science Press Printing Co., Lancaster, PA. 1936.

Child, Lydia Maria Francis. <em>A Girl's Own Book.</em> Old Sturbridge Village and Applewood Books. Chester , CT. 1992.

Felt, Joseph Barlow. <em>The Customs of Early New England.</em> Press of T.R. Marvin. Boston. 1853.

Unknown. The Ladie "M" Guide to Needlework. J. and J.L. Gihon, Philadelphia. No date.



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