The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 14, 2009

CHS samplers draw attention

On a Saturday in June, the Carlisle Historical Society (CHS) was host to the Mayflower Sampler Guild. You may ask, “What is a Sampler Guild?” It is a club dedicated to preserving historical samplers, educating people in the history of samplers and preserving the art of needlework. Then you may ask, “What is a sampler?” It is an example or “sample” of needlework crafted by young girls to demonstrate their stitching prowess. Using silk thread, girls stitched the alphabet, numbers, motifs, decorative borders and/or verses onto linen cloth; they usually included the sampler maker’s name, age and date of birth. These samplers were often proudly placed in a prominent location in the home to show off the domestic skills of the needle worker.

The Guild had read about our extensive sampler and textile collections on the CHS website, and on a recent Saturday morning, with magnifying glasses in hand, the guild members descended on Heald House to examine them. CHS has 14 samplers wrought (a popular 18th century term) by Carlisle girls, ages 10 to 19, between the years 1786 and 1838.

One outstanding sampler in our collection was stitched by Mary E. Monroe (1812 to 1894). Her design is of flower vines and weeping willows, and lists the births and deaths of family members. It is interesting to note that the deaths are stitched in a darker colored thread. The Guild was so impressed with this sampler that they suggested CHS have it professionally graphed to make patterns and then sell them.

These sampler enthusiasts pored over every stitch and told stories of how they can learn about the personality of the sampler maker by discovering her mistakes, her choices of colors of silk thread and how sloppy or meticulous her stitches were. They can even tell if the needle worker enjoyed making the sampler, or if she felt it was sheer drudgery.

One Guild member suspected that in several of the samplers, the shape of the alphabet letters indicates a Quaker influence. She wondered whether one of the needlework teachers could have been raised a Quaker. There were known to be three local teachers, located in Chelmsford, Groton and Billerica.

The Mayflower Sampler Guild visits sampler collections around the northeast, organizes lectures and demonstrations with textile designers and instructors, and meet to stitch together. If you are interested in the organization contact Fran Colburn or Denise De More at or by phone, 1-781-934-6107. And, if you are interested in seeing our homegrown samplers, visit the Open House at Heald House on August 16 from 2 to 4 p.m. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito