Allison-Antrim Museum 

                                     Greencastle, PA




Allison-Antrim Museum's May 2001 Exhibit

 Fifteen Antique Samplers
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 Pennsylvania.

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 homes.

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 of man."

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 samplers."

TIH, 1848 - This small sampler was stitched with wool on a linen ground and is probably of Pennsylvania origin.

Small Quaker Sampler: Unsigned and undated, believed to be from early 1800's. Worked with silk on homespun linen. Possibly, but probably not from West Town school due to lack of initials and small size.

Large Quaker Sampler: It is probably from West Town School and believe it to be stitched in 1809. Worked with silk on linen ground. The many initials are indicative of a school project.
Sally L. Weed, 1837: This large alphabet sampler is of unknown origin. It is worked with silk thread on a linen ground.
1804 Parrot Sampler: This unusual sampler was worked in wool on a canvas ground. Its origin is unknown. Though it is dated 1804, it appears to be a later work.
Mary Prentice, 1831: This Pennsylvania sampler was worked in silk on a dark linen fabric. Mary added her family's initials to her sampler, and another set of initials that could be her teacher's, or a friend's.
Eliza South, 1822 - This large sampler is worked with only a single thread color, but a variety of stitches, including four-sided stitch, eyelet stitch, and Algerian Eye stitch. This sampler is probably of English origin.
Abby Appleby, 1886: This Pennsylvania sampler is worked in wool on perforated paper. It is unusual to find Adam and Eve motifs worked on a relatively "new" sampler.
S.W., 1832: This Pennsylvania sampler's verse makes it quite charming. S.W. reversed her "d" in the word "guide", rendering her verse: Take God to be Your Guibe. This sampler was worked in silk on a linen ground.
C.C., 1874: This small marking sampler is from an unknown origin. It is stitched with silk on a tightly, woven linen.
Ruth, 1823: Ruth never finished stitching her name! Although we know little about this sampler, its primitive charm makes it quite appealing.
Swedish Sampler: This large, unfinished sampler is neither dated nor signed, but is believed to be of Swedish origin. It is worked with silk thread on a tightly, woven linen ground. It was probably made in the mid-to-late 1700's.
Rachel Harrell, 1807: While this sampler is in very poor condition, it was at one time, a stunning piece. Rachel worked her large flower motifs in several stitches and she was an accomplished needle worker. Rachel's sampler is worked with silk threads on dark, homespun linen.
Sarah Scotney, 1864: This small English Sampler is charming in its simplicity. Sarah worked her sampler with silk threads on a linen ground.
Elisabeth Gutin, 1807: The Pennsylvania-German sampler is from Northeastern Berks County, Pennsylvania. Elisabeth's choice of horse motifs tells us she may have lived on a farm.
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