Artifact Corner: 19th Century Sampler

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a beautiful piece called a sampler. This is a sewing sample done by a young woman in 1821, when she was just 10 years old. This piece was made by Susan Ketchum. She was born in Canada on August 16th, 1811, and lived in Chazy, NY. Betsey Delord was born Elizabeth Ketchum, and so Susan was likely related to our Betsey. Samplers were done by young women as a way to showcase their sewing and embroidery skills. This sampler is made using a linen backer, with silk and wool thread. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of samplers and embroidery.

The English term sampler comes from the Latin “exemplum” or from the old French term “essamplaire,” meaning an example. The sampler is an example of all of the different stitches that a child had learned up to that point. It could also be used again as a reference guide to remind the student of all the different stitches they know. Remember, young people did not have Youtube to reference hundreds of years ago. The first reference book for embroidery was published in Germany in the early 1520’s. Similar books were published throughout Europe following that, and samplers became very popular in Tudor England. Many samplers from this period included lettering and artwork, such as animals, flowers, hearts, and a variety of other motifs.

As Europeans moved across the ocean and settled on a new continent, they brought their customs and traditions with them, including samplers. The earliest known American sampler was made by Loara Standish of the Plymouth Colony about 1645. Children, almost exclusively women, started working on these pieces by as young as five years old. By the 1700s, samplers depicting alphabets and numerals were worked by young ladies to learn the basic needlework skills needed to operate the family household. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, schools or academies for well-to-do young women flourished, and more elaborate pieces with decorative motifs such as verses, flowers, houses, religious, pastoral, and/or mourning scenes were being stitched. The parents of these young women proudly displayed their embroideries as showpieces of their work, talent, and status. Being able to sew was vital for women in the 18th and early 19th centuries. There were no sewing machines yet, and so being able to sew and mend garments was incredibly important, and sewing was considered women’s work.

Our beautiful sampler has the alphabet, both in block and in cursive, upper and lower case. It also has Susan’s name beautifully embroidered, along with the date. In the lower right corner there is a heart embroidered with green and red wool thread. There are some small stains on the fabric, and some of the thread has faded, but bearing in mind that this piece is 200 years old, it’s in pretty fantastic condition. This is a beautiful piece of history, and a unique window into the life of a 10 year old girl from Chazy. Susan Ketchum spent so many hours working on this piece, which was an important part of her education. We are so lucky to have this in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,