Museum's May 2001 Exhibit
Four Antique Pennsylvania German Hand-Decorated Towels
from the collections of
Kathy Barrick-Dieter, Hagerstown, Maryland.
The counted stitch sampler collection
includes pieces from the early 1800's up to 1886 with one undated Swedish
sampler that probably dates from the mid to late 1700's.
Also on exhibit are four Pennsylvania German
hand-decorated towels. Decorated towels were worked by the Pennsylvania
German population from 1735 to 1850 and reached the peak of their
popularity between 1820 and 1850. Primarily made by young, unmarried
women, decorated towels were not practice pieces as were samplers, but
were display pieces that were made to add beauty to a home. These finely
stitched linen panels were hung on the backs of bedroom doors. The
dimensions of the four hand-decorated towels are 18" x 60", 16
3/4" x 36", 14 1/2" x 64", 17" x 40".
Kathy Barrick-Dieter began collecting antique samplers
in the early 1990's. Her love of samplers dates back ten years earlier
when she began stitching antique reproduction samplers. In 1997, Kathy
began designing samplers and publishing her designs under the name of
"Barrick Samplers" through which she markets her charted
reproduction sampler designs. She has about 65 designs published to date,
all with an antique look. Her talents have also been featured in
"Early American Life" formerly known as "Early American
Homes". Kathy lives in Hagerstown, Maryland with her husband, Art,
and her daughter, Liz, who also recently began designing samplers.
In England, an entry in the account book
on July 10, 1502 of Elizabeth of York is the earliest mention of a
sampler. She bought an ell of linen cloth on which to make a sampler. The
poet, John Skelton, about the same time in Norfolk wrote, "The
sampler to sowe on, the lacis to embroid." By the middle of the
sixteenth century, the sampler had become very popular.
In the 1600's, embroidery was used to
embellish almost anything including table cloths, sheets, towels, napkins,
pillow cases, handkerchiefs, clothing, household linens, and much more. At
this time in history, there were very few books with patterns on
needlework, hence the sampler became each young lady's pattern book of
stitches and designs.
The looms of the day were narrow which
accounts for the shape of the earliest samplers - narrow and long (some
three feet). Samplers were often pieced together with fine needlework. The
top half of the samplers were decorated with elaborate, colorful, running
designs of flowers, the "tree of life", or geometric designs -
alone or in combination. Occasionally, human figures were used. The lower
half of the samplers were decorated with drawn and cut- work designs in
white. The first samplers were probably continuous works in progress and
therefore were not dated and contained no names. Being long and narrow,
the early samplers were rolled for convenience. They were also not made by
children but by girls and women.
The alphabet rarely appeared on a
sampler in the 1600's. In America, by the end of the 17th
century, samplers became broader and shorter and less interesting, in some
people's opinions, because the elaborate embroidery became less prominent.
But, if you think about it, the settlers in America had a new wilderness
to conquer and the need for elaborately decorated linens and clothing was
not a necessity to them. What was common luxury in "civilized"
England was not important in the new land thus causing changes in the
style of samplers as well as the importance of even making a sampler.
Therefore, very few American samplers were worked in the 1600's.
It took about twenty years at the
beginning of the eighteenth century before American samplers came into
their own style and the English sampler characteristics disappeared.
American samplers consisted mostly of alphabets, numbers, and verses
separated with rows of much lesser quality patterns. But a lot of thought
and planning gave them form and coherence of design that was lacking in
English samplers of the same time period.
New England was the most prolific in
producing samplers followed then by Long Island, New Jersey, and
American samplers fall into two classes
along the lines of the schools of the eighteenth century. The very young
(ages five and six) were taught in the Dame School very simple samplers -
alphabets and numbers with a simple verse. Older girls, then in finishing
schools, produced a more elaborate sampler with more originality. Well to
do girls would have the opportunity to make two samplers. The average age
of girls who made samplers after the seventeenth century was thirteen.
Early in the eighteenth century a
decision was made that defined what was a sampler and what was a
needlework picture. If the piece was "signed" and dated it is a
sampler and if it was not, the piece is considered a needlework picture.
Needlework pictures covered the all the linen canvas by using either
petit-point or cross stitch, or, occasionally, the tent-stitch. These
pieces, as well as samplers, were used to decorate the walls of their
Until 1730 samplers consisted of
alphabets separated by simpler horizontal borders with very few designs.
Some had framing borders. About this time Pennsylvania gave us another
form of sampler. Its form consisted of two lines of verse, then an
elaborate cross border, two more lines and another border, etc. and then
maybe framed in a simple all around border. Pious verse and religious
prose quotations were common. Pious verse on a sampler was especially
popular in the period beginning in 1760.
In the 1740's Adam and Eve and the snake
and heavily laden apple trees appear.
In the 1750's the sampler designs became
freer and more original as compared to the first half of the century. The
young ladies looked to nature (flowers, trees, fruit, animals, and birds)
for their inspiration. They often included a likeness of themselves,
family members, their house or their school. There was no perspective and
the samplers have the same childlike style as in the artwork of
present-day elementary school children. From "American
Samplers", "Perhaps that is the secret of the charm of samplers,
that they were distinctly the expression of the mind of the girl or of her
mother or her teacher, and so they are pretty nearly as varied as the mind
Genealogy samplers appeared in the late
part of the eighteenth century. Some samplers contained full names and
dates of births while others only marked their family by initials.
By the end of the eighteenth century the
variety of sampler work was infinite. Pious verse, prose, and alphabets do
not always appear. The borders are not repeat designs but the free
imagination of the needle worker. Houses begin to sit on terraces with
nature still included in the forefront of design.
The revival of embroidery during the
first decade of the nineteenth century produced a large number of
samplers. Perhaps the revival was due to the renewed interest in the arts
during the period of peacetime after the Revolutionary War.
The majority of American samplers were
stitched on linen of a coarse, loose weave with threads that pulled
together when cross-stitched. Finely woven material for background was not
readily available on which to do very fine needlework. The silk was quite
often home-dyed and was probably thickly twisted causing the crinkle often
seen in the embroidery of solid areas. Pen or pencil was usually used to
draw the design onto the linen. Occasionally though, the design would be
drawn on paper and laid under the linen. The design showed through the
material allowing the girl to stitch the sampler to the paper and later
pull it away after completion. As the lady grew older, the more valuable
her sampler became to her. She often bequeathed it in her will.
At the beginning of the nineteenth
century, samplers served as decorative needlework and a record of family
births, marriages, and deaths. This seems to have been peculiar only to
America. Some of the genealogy samplers were very plain with names only
while another form added design.
One of the most attractive type of
samplers in the early nineteenth century was the one depicting the girl's
own house. Imaginations were permitted to runaway allowing antlered dogs
and sheep to graze beside gigantic strawberries. Their fantasies still
living on for us to see.
The quality of workmanship and the
number of samplers produced noticeably dwindled soon after 1830. The
decline was probably due to a couple of factors. One, the education of
girls was expanded slightly and there was less time to give to the needle
art. The greatest influence though may have been Berlin wool-work that
became a craze coming from across the ocean. It was new and modern. Eva
Johnston Coe writes, "Whatever the cause, the custom gradually died
out, and so ended the most prolific and characteristic period of American