Have Your Say

16th October 2020

Samples of Samplers

Antique samplers provide a source of endless fascination for most stitchers. For some, they are the connection with a distant past, personal or otherwise. For others, they represent the excitement of discovery and the pleasure that comes from uncovering a mystery or a long-forgotten story.

Busy Fingers’ by Christine P. Bishop from Inspirations issue #50

After featuring the story of Kathleen Weston’s discovery of Sarah Howell’s Antique Sampler in All Stitched Up! issue #251, we received some terrific emails in response. Adrienne Forsyth shared with us her incredible story of a sampler that came into her possession. Adrienne is from a town called Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan, Canada. She was gifted a historic sampler by a friend who had discovered it at a church jumble sale. Adrienne had the piece framed and then she had begun her ‘sleuthing’.

Adrienne’s Sampler, stitched by Martha Ann Coutts in 1881

It turned out that the sampler had been stitched by Martha Ann Coutts in 1881, when she was just 9 years old. Adrienne soon discovered that a child of that very name had been born in Loreburn in 1872, some 130km from Moose Jaw. Historically, the two towns had lain upon the same rail line, which could have provided an explanation as to how the sampler came to be in the church in Adrienne’s hometown.

Martha, it seemed, had never married. And then, purely by coincidence, Adrienne was visited by an acquaintance who had not only known the Coutts family, but whose sister-in-law had apparently known Martha herself. The adult Martha had been a midwife, but the sister-in-law claimed that she was unaware of Martha ever being an embroiderer.

If this was the same person then, Adrienne speculates, the sampler might represent the only stitched output of an individual who had lived, worked and died in the nearby community. As Adrienne says,

‘I enjoy having this touchstone to the past… I feel a connection with that 9-year-old and to the people who found [her sampler] precious enough to be kept throughout the years.’

Helen Bertram was lucky enough to win an auction for an amazing sampler, filled with unusual animals worked in stumpwork, some with fine metal threads.

Helen Bertram’s amazing sampler, c. 1630-1650

This incredible acquisition now has pride of place in her home. Helen states that she doesn’t know much about it save that it was probably stitched circa. 1630-1650, although she loves looking at it and wondering. Perhaps one of our readers might have more information on it?

A love of samplers and historic needlework doesn’t just lead to collecting, but also to the pleasure of re-creation, as Leanne Atkins attests. Like many of us, she constantly collects patterns ensuring that her project basket is always overflowing. But Leanne also took part in a historic project in her home state of Tasmania, namely the Convict Bonnets project

Her involvement helped her gain a deeper understanding of the skill and contributions made by local convict women whose stories, if it weren’t for their needlework, would undoubtedly have been forgotten.

We’re sure that many readers have experiences and advice to share when it comes to historical needlework. Jackie Williams is just at the beginning of her journey after becoming aware that her local primary school has discovered an old sampler in the school loft.

Unfortunately, the sampler itself is quite stained due to poor framing, so she has requested we put the word out asking whether anyone has advice on how to go about trying to restore it. Email your suggestions to news@inspirationsstudios.com and we’ll pass them on to Jackie.

Pioneer Girl’s Book Etui’ from the book Willing Hands by Betsy Morgan

While not all of us will be fortunate enough to secure a historic sampler, like Helen, or discover a little hidden gem, like Adrienne or Jackie, that doesn’t mean we won’t continue to get excited when we hear these stories. And maybe, just maybe, in a forgotten attic of a distant relative or much-loved neighbour, we too might be lucky enough to discover a piece of stitched history with a fascinating story just waiting to be told

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