Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Value of Samplers 

More thoughts on the issue of the value of embroidered samplers as discussed in yesterday's blog issue.

I'm not a sentimentalist and don't ascribe personalities to bits of embroidery per se as do some sampler fans I've met over the years. Having said that however, I do put them in a special category of embroidered textiles. They are the purest examples of personal statements by stitchers available to us. They have not been (to my knowledge) been produced in commercial workshops for purchase by consumers.

From early Mamaluk examples sample/sampler motifs, bands and other devices moved into 16th century modelbuchen and then have been copied, reinterpreted, reprinted and can be found stitched on samplers throughout the documentable history of embroidery.

Until the early-mid 19th century, stitchers relied on pattern books filled with bits and pieces of patterns to create their own samplers. With the advent of teaching embroidery at charity schools, religious and public schools samplers became embroideries often designed by an authority and replicated by those learning to stitch. Books were published with graphic charts of sampler designs and very explicit instructions for both pupils and teachers of needlearts. Emphasis was placed on conformity.

However, in the same timeframe, stitchers (mostly leisure class) were stitching whimsical collections of samplers again using graphs found in books and periodicals of their day.

By the early 20th century we began to see fabric prepared with stamped samplers (complete with mottos, motifs and borders) available on the open market. The stitcher normally chose the colors and stitched these in cross-stitch and back or stem stitch. The first sampler I ever stitched was one of these (1940's). These are the samplers used by Sollins in his exhibit.

Although sampler making continues to be original and unique in many instances, today we have moved back to the concept of commercially designed samplers which are replicated by stitchers. These replications form the greatest body of work in the world of sampler stitching today.

As to value? Does age matter? Often in the antiques market yes. Does skill in execution matter? Sometimes. Does scarcity matter? In placing a dollar value on the stitched sampler, usually. Do decorative/aesthetic values play a role? Yes, depending on the fashion of the moment.

I believe the main value of any sampler however to be its value in demonstrating a portion of (usually) women's history, history of embroidery, manufacturing history, goods distribution history, fashion history, material culture and of course personal history of the stitcher.

Should we save every sampler? In the best of worlds, yes. Should we save representative examples? Definitely.

I often give a home to orphaned samplers of little commercial value simply because I can't see them destroyed and use them in teaching settings.

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