Thursday, 7 October 2010

Samplers - The Long and the Short of Them

I have been examining early samplers in close-up detail, together with early illustrations of stitchers, for quite a while now, and the evidence is now building for the stitching of samplers not from the top, not from the bottom, but from the side. And that would mean that when stitching a band the stitcher would not be working across the band from left to right (or right to left), but rather would be working up the band, away from her body. The illustration here from Rosina Furst's pattern book, though not of a sampler stitcher, will give you some idea of how the stitcher was oriented with respect to her work. This could explain why some samplers appear to be worked both from the top and bottom, having bands, particularly alphabets and signatures, oriented in opposing directions. It could also explain the reversals of Ns and Ss on some samplers since the direction of working the letter would be rotated through 90 degrees to the normal reading and writing angle. (Though confusion in the orientation of these letters is also found in carving.) There are also samplers with some interesting and 90 degree rotated infills at the edges of bands. Viewing work at this strange (to us) 90 degree rotation would not have been all that strange to a stitcher in the 17th century, since the subjects of tapestries were woven at a 90 degree rotation to the weaver. This is not to say that some samplers may have been stitched in hand or attached to cushion in the way we have previously envisioned, but it is far more probable that the work was set up in a frame and worked in the way shown in this illustration


  1. so incredible what an amazing mind you have. think of all the planning that had to be done. smart young girls.

  2. The rotation as the source of skewing on the letters is an interesting theory, but I'm not totally convinced. I spend a lot of time graphing and then stitching lots of the more complex "up and down" strapwork bands - the wide counted patterns with complex and long repeats. If one is working these, the most natural way to do them is to carefully establish one first full repeat, then copy from that repeat as you progress. The process requires a huge amount of mental flipping/mirroring and rotating. To the extent that many modern stitchers unfamiliar with the logic take a long time to negotiate it. But the period stitchers work rarely shows a major mistake - the repeats are clean and clear regardless of how complex or long they are. I don't quite understand how the rotation problem would then manifest on the alphabets and not the strapwork bands. But it's an interesting idea and one worthy of further investigation.

    -kbsalazar <- current project "Clarke's Law Sampler" for examples

  3. Yes, I am not sure that the rotation accounts for the flip of Ns and Ss either as these also appear in carvings. One might say that if a full repeat of a band is already stitched then one already has an exemplar in front of one to follow. If there was a correctly rotated N or S stitched already then one could continue to follow that also - the problem occurs when it is in the brain only.