Dating antique sampler
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Although there are a number of references to samplers in 16th-century literature, surviving examples are exceptionally rare.The central motif on the Italian sampler, with a design in reserve on a red embroidered ground, was first published in the Esemplario di lavori of Giovanni Andrea Vavassore in 1530 and it is surrounded with border patterns typical of those used in the 16th century for personal and household linen.
Both of these types are well represented in the Museum’s collection, with over one hundred English examples from the 17th century.It was a source for her to refer to, of patterns and stitches, before the introduction and growing availability of printed designs.The first printed pattern book for embroidery was published by a textile printer, Johann Schönsperger in Augsburg, Germany, in about 1523, and it was followed by others in Germany, Italy, France and England, borrowing extensively from each other with or without acknowledgement.It also features creatures taken from Richard Shorleyker’s pattern book of 1624, A ‘schole-house, for the needle’, in which he advertises ‘sundry sortes of spots, as flowers, Birdes and Fishes, &c’.Part-worked areas and evidence of unpicking in some of these samplers underline their use in trying out new effects, and they frequently display a wide range of stitches, as well as many colours of silk and different metal threads. The small range of dated examples, covering a wide span of years, indicate that they were made through most of the 17th century.So-called 'spot' samplers, characterised by the randomly placed working of individual motifs, appear closest in intention to the earlier reference pieces.
The one illustrated on the right shows a typical range of motifs, with areas of repeating pattern, some suitable for the decoration of linen or such costume accessories as purses.
Such stitch and pattern collections may have been assembled in a number of cultures where embroidery for decorative effect was widely practised, our knowledge of early examples depending on the few pieces to have survived in rare cases.
The earliest examples in the Museum’s collection, which were found in Egyptian burial grounds, probably date from the 14th or 15th centuries.
Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by unknown maker, Germany, 1500-50. T.114-1956 Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by unknown maker, Italy, 16th century. T.14-1931 Linen sampler embroidered with silk and metal, by Jane Bostock, England, 1598. T.190-1960By the 16th century, in England samplers had a particular identity which the considerable number of references in contemporary literature and inventories suggest was readily understood.
A sampler was, in the definition of John Palsgrave’s Anglo-French dictionary of 1530, an ‘exampler for a woman to work by; exemple’.
With the composition of band samplers comes the first clear indication in England of the form being used as a method of instruction and practice for girls learning needlework. The first is a lively band sampler in multi-coloured silks, embroidered when she was eight, the second, more subtly patterned and technically sophisticated, with bands of cutwork and needle lace stitches, and whitework, when she was a year older.