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Needlework Samplers

Part of a sampler including embroidered lettering, birds and flowers

Detail from a sampler made by Mary Queensborough, 1800 © Skipton Town Hall

Needlework Samplers


Textiles and embroidery.


What is a sampler?

A sampler is a piece of material which showcases different types of needlework and stitches.

Examples of samplers can be found throughout the world. In Britain, they were used extensively in the 1500s as reference works. Embroiderers could use samplers to learn and reproduce patterns as part of their trade. They were also a place to test out new patterns and stitches. Samplers were often used to demonstrate their own particular work and style.

Detail of an embroidered sampler with butterglies, flowers and books

Example of Berlin woolwork by Emma Butterfield, 1867 © Skipton Town Hall

Embroidered section of a map of England showing the north and midlands

Detail of an embroidered map of England, by Mary Strother, Skipton, 1815 © Skipton Town Hall

Continued history

During the 1600s and 1700s, the purpose of samplers seems to have shifted. More frequently they were used as educational tools. Children would produce them to practice their needlework, and as examples of their skill.

By the 1800s educational themes were very evident, with the alphabet regularly featuring along with maps of the world.

Why are they important?

Samplers are very important, as they show us the changing traditions in needlework and stitch types.

However, they are also an interesting example of craftwork produced by ordinary people. Later samplers often include the name, age, date and location of the embroiderer. These details can help us to find out more about the sewer. Sometimes they record life events, being produced as memorials or christening pieces.

As samplers were also traditionally created by women, they offer a unique insight into their lives. They frequently contain text such as moral messages, mottos or biblical verses, which give us an idea about what was important to the sewer.

Embroidered message in memory of a deceased relative surrounded by angels and trees

Sampler in memory of Sarah Birtwhistle, who died 24 December 1885 at the age of 3 © Skipton Town Hall