French samplers (marquoirs) from the second half of the 19th century are usually very large and often nearly square. They were worked almost exclusively on stramin or large weaves with wool as the embroidery thread. Large embroidered borders and alphabets with particularly richly decorated uppercases are seen on many cloths of this period.
Marie Marguerite Claire Brun at 9 years old had stitched one such patterned cloth which is extremely impressive, measuring 57 x 53 cm (approximately 22 inches x 21 inches). She attended a convent school, Ecole des Sœurs de St. Charles, in Angoulême which lies northeast of Bordeaux.
On this cloth you look in vain for the richly decorated uppercase letters – here, the 7 different alphabets and 3 digit series are a typical school exercise. Alphabets in continuous rows worked in cross-stitch were usually stitched first because they were easier for beginners to deal with as opposed to polychrome motifs.
But on this cloth the alphabets are worked in half cross stitch (tent stitch or petit point) over one thread and are grouped in vacant spaces on the cotton canvas and so cannot have been worked first.
Regular borders were often used as outline. Here again there is a special difference: beautiful, natural-looking roses and other flowers encircle this patterned cloth. The main subject is a large parrot perched on a branch which has been stitched in the centre of the cloth, while on many earlier and later French samplers it is usual to have a religious motif, such as an altar, pierced heart or church, placed centrally. Why did the 9 year old Marie in her Convent School chose a parrot? Certainly, he had a special appeal for her. That the parrot and rose in pattern form were available to her at all is perhaps best explained by the fact that both are symbols of Mary. (See: Knaurs Lexikon der Symbole by H.Biedermann, München 1989.)
First the border and parrot were stitched in polychromes in tent stitch over two threads (gros point). Next the alphabets, digits, name and date were worked in half cross stitch over one in the remaining spaces. This shows that Marie, despite her nine years, was no beginner but had experience in stitching. Her final stitches were the date of completion.
Still the word flea remains a mystery to me.
by Gisela Creutzberg
(errors in translation are entirely Jacqueline's fault)