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Antique Schoolgirl Samplers - A showy presentation of early schoolgirl sampler keepsakes unearthed from an old trunk.  Author’s collection.
A showy presentation of early schoolgirl sampler keepsakes unearthed from an old trunk.  Author’s collection.
It was a
beautiful, warm spring morning with rays of sunlight peeking through the fluffy clouds onto every field and tree.  Anna awoke with a start to her mother's voice calling her to come downstairs for breakfast.  As she dressed while gazing out of the window she immediately took notice of the beautiful flowers kissed with crimson, buttercup and lilac hues that seemed to pop up overnight, hugging the landscape flanked by majestic trees.  Springtime was her favorite time of year and her memories of life on the farm were stored and released like a gentle waterfall which sparked the creative talent she carefully worked into each stitch at her school.  As she came down the stairs, her eyes focused on the beautiful sampler she created which her mother had proudly hung on the wall.  The colors in the intricate flowers resembled posies on the farm and when given the chance by her teacher to either use a pattern or design a sampler on her own, Anna knew she would choose the later.  She was quite proud of her work as she was only ten years old.

Antique Schoolgirl Samplers - This style of a school girl sampler is often referred to as the “Quaker style” and sometimes Shaker style even though there is no history that could be found on this particular piece.  This example signifies a common pattern that was implemented during the 1830’s and 1840’s period.  The linen chosen to create this sampler has an open weave pattern which suggests this fabric was used for sampler making.  Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”.
This style of a school girl sampler is often referred to as the “Quaker style” and sometimes Shaker style even though there is no history that could be found on this particular piece.  This example signifies a common pattern that was implemented during the 1830’s and 1840’s period.  The linen chosen to create this sampler has an open weave pattern which suggests this fabric was used for sampler making.  Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”.
Antique Schoolgirl Samplers - Beautiful schoolgirl sampler with an acute emphasis on design and a story that reads:  “Lydia Abbot the Performer of this 9 years Born November 4, 1800. My life is a compound of Freedom & I go where I will and return when I please I live abov(e) Envy also above strife And wish I had judgement to choose a good life. This sampler was began may 24<sup>th</sup> and finished July 31 This wrot at Miss Phebe Abbot’s School in Andover (Massachusetts)”.   Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”.
Beautiful schoolgirl sampler with an acute emphasis on design and a story that reads:  “Lydia Abbot the Performer of this 9 years Born November 4, 1800. My life is a compound of Freedom & I go where I will and return when I please I live abov(e) Envy also above strife And wish I had judgement to choose a good life. This sampler was began may 24th and finished July 31 This wrot at Miss Phebe Abbot’s School in Andover (Massachusetts)”.   Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”.
School girl samplers or "examplar" (derived from Latin means "a piece of work by young girls for improvement") are one of the most highly prized worked textiles of today and are sought after by collectors because of their individuality, artistic expression and creative form.  Basic samplers that portray the alphabet and numbers (normally up to 10) were simplistic and called "Marking Samplers" done at a very young age.

Each stitch was executed usually in the most common cross-stitch pattern and taught children patience along with learning their numbers and ABC's.  These early worked samplers would act as a prerequisite for children to become adept at the needlework skills which would serve them well in the future when they got married and set up fundamental housekeeping.  Each "Huswife" would have to keep track of her highly prized linens and this was accomplished by marking them using a cross-stitch pattern with her initials and a number.

The earliest known American sampler was fashioned by "Loara Standish" around 1645 in the Plymouth Colony.  By the late 1700's and first quarter of the 19th century "dame" schools (small community schools) and boarding schools were available for well-to-do young ladies.

These schools incorporated teaching the art of needlework on a more extensive and sophisticated level as decorative motifs were implemented using verses, flowers, houses, pastoral designs, religious teachings from the bible and mourning scenes.

Antique Schoolgirl Samplers - A close up representation of Lydia’s sampler showing a stylized fruit tree with two hearts underneath the raised branches.   One heart is larger than the other possibly representing her mother and father. 
Two large flowers that lend folk art flavor appear on either side sporting hues of cornflower blues and crushed oak bark.  Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”
A close up representation of Lydia’s sampler showing a stylized fruit tree with two hearts underneath the raised branches.   One heart is larger than the other possibly representing her mother and father.  Two large flowers that lend folk art flavor appear on either side sporting hues of cornflower blues and crushed oak bark.  Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”
The symbolic motifs and representations chosen were not only aesthetically pleasing but had deep rooted meaning as well.  In regards to the Pennsylvania needlework, a pair of birds or animals facing each other (and sometimes opposed) symbolized good and evil, day and night, summer and winter, et cetera.  The classic "tree of life" with branches raised sanctified new life.  However, if the tree branches were depicted in a downward position this represented the end of life.  Wavy or zigzag lines were frequently used to act as bold and stylized elements to border samplers and symbolized flowing water and the changing of the seasons.  An oak leaf represents strength while a star motif dates back to the prehistoric era and seems to refer to Pagan worship (belief in more than one God).

Early samplers depicted different lettering styles and some of the letters were excluded altogether.  The ancient Latin alphabet only consisted of twenty three letters and the English were greatly influenced by the Roman's.  The letter "W" and "Z" were seldom used.  However "U", "V", "J" and "I" were interchangeable.  The letter "J" began to form its own distinctive look in the 1820's while the lower case "s" could be mistaken for an "f".  Another tricky letter was the "Q" as it was worked as a reversed "P".

Antique Schoolgirl Samplers - This plain and simple example of an 1830 Marking Sampler executed on homespun linen with blue thread would have been kept in a sewing basket and used as a guide for initialing linens and sheets as well as pillow cases, clothing, hankies, etc…..so the initials would always look alike.  Note:  The letter “q” is worked as a reversed “p”.  Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”.
This plain and simple example of an 1830 Marking Sampler executed on homespun linen with blue thread would have been kept in a sewing basket and used as a guide for initialing linens and sheets as well as pillow cases, clothing, hankies, etc…..so the initials would always look alike.  Note:  The letter “q” is worked as a reversed “p”.  Courtesy of “Pat Hatch Antiques”.
These old examples of samplers really played an integral part in establishing the evolution of our alphabet.

School girl samplers can be described as charming and quaint as they are expressive forms of art created by adoring children that have been passed down as memorable keepsakes.  It is truly amazing to imagine their nimble little fingers busily executing each stitch with their best efforts.  I am quite sure these children would be honored to know their efforts are appreciated as these cherished heirlooms proudly grace our walls in most collector's homes.

Antique Schoolgirl Samplers - This endearing and bright Marking Sampler (not dated) is of French origin and boasts two opposing folk art birds near the bottom.  A contemporary grain painted frame fashioned by Noreen Taylor of Delaware accents this sampler lending vivid detail.  Author’s collection.
This endearing and bright Marking Sampler (not dated) is of French origin and boasts two opposing folk art birds near the bottom.  A contemporary grain painted frame fashioned by Noreen Taylor of Delaware accents this sampler lending vivid detail.  Author’s collection.


Source: Michelle Gardner @ Gundy Farm in Pennsylvania, is a freelance writer / photographer who also is an antique dealer.  She has a website you can visit by clicking on the link below:

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