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Maine Memory Network

Samplers: Learning to Sew

Text by Vicky Gannon

Images from Maine Historical Society

"There is no accomplishment of any kind more desirable for a woman than neatness and skill in the use of a needle," advises L. Maria Child in A Girl's Own Book, first published in 1834.

Most girls took their first stitches on samplers, a woven piece of cloth embroidered with alphabets, verses, flowers, a genealogy, and other designs.

By the 1830s, samplers became more elaborate, as girls stitched images of headstones, local scenery, human figures and even local landmarks like the Portland Observatory onto their work.

When textile mills and industrialization came to Maine in the mid 1800s, women were no longer responsible for all the sewing needs of their families. As the scope of their lives broadened to include pursuits outside of the domestic realm, their greatest accomplishment was not limited to neatness and skill in the use of a needle.

By 1850, samplers ceased to be a rite of passage into womanhood.