The embroidered samplers in this installation were chosen for their practical character: each displays skills and knowledge acquired during the educational process and preserves this expertise for future reference. While these are notably functional samplers, even with more decorative examples, the maker's skill and creativity were tempered by her adherence to traditional patterns, passed down over the years by means of earlier samplers, patterns books, or instructional manuals.
Samplers were made as part of a young woman's education, either at a formal school or under informal tutelage at home. Through most of the eighteenth century, in both Europe and America, most girls were expected to learn only practical skills—basic reading, writing, and sums, along with sewing and cooking—to prepare them for their roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers.
The Museum has more than eight hundred samplers from Europe and North America. The survival of so many of these embroideries indicates a continuing appreciation for the skill they demonstrate, for their charming variations on a theme, and, perhaps most of all, for the names of the makers, which were proudly added to many of these pieces when their work was done. For many, these samplers are the only remaining trace of the lives they lived.
This installation is designed to complement Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620, on view October 20, 2015–January 10, 2016.