National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Sampler Sampler
Rendered by Sarah F. Williams (artist), c. 1938
watercolor and graphite on paper
overall: 44.7 x 26.6 cm (17 5/8 x 10 1/2 in.) Original IAD Object: 15" wide; 18" high
Index of American Design
Not on View
From the Tour: Textiles from the Index of American Design
Object 6 of 17

Although many articles were woven at home throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, professional weavers and itinerant journeymen relieved American women of many of these chores. Housewives could think beyond providing the sternest necessities to adding touches of grace and luxury to their homes. For this, they turned to needlework. Needlework was a practical necessity from colonial times onward, for clothes and other articles had to be made, marked, and mended. Yet, for American women, needlework was also a luxury that permitted them to embellish their homes and to express their love of beauty. Moreover, needlework provided an opportunity to preserve the decorative traditions brought from their native lands as well as a means for displaying their sewing skills. Proficiency in needlework was commonly demonstrated in samplers made by young girls when, in the course of their education at home and at school, they had mastered the art of embroidery. The earliest samplers were actually collections of different stitches and served as needlework guides. By the mid-eighteenth century, samplers had become showpieces. They generally included a central scene, several types of alphabets, quotations from the Bible or pious verses, the maker's name, the date, and her age. Here a young seamstress had used silk embroidery on linen to depict a house, possibly her own, and outbuilding. A variety of stitches are demonstrated in the pictorial forms, and still others compose the rows of flowers and plants that separate the alphabets, numbers, and biographical information. Samplers like this were proudly displayed by the girl's parents and, after she married, in her own home.

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