Quaker Samplers

 Samplers In our collection

We are celebrating our upcoming new exhibition on Quaker Samplers by highlighting a few fascinating examples in our collection.

Early Samplers

Coming from the Latin ‘exemplum’ or ‘example’, the earliest samplers served as stitching aids without a cohesive overall design or pattern. Due to a lack of available printed patterns from which to work, needlewomen would copy a short stretch of any new stitches they came across onto their sampler, which then became their ever-growing reference guide. 

In Europe the earliest surviving samplers are from the beginning of the 16th century. Even through the earliest pattern books started to also become available around this time, most women still relied on their sampler to provide examples of specific stitches or ideas for new designs and motifs.

To celebrate our new exhibition, we thought we would make a quick round-up of 5 samplers in our collection: 

Quaker Samplers

Hannah Burlingham

One of the most exquisite samplers in our collection, the verse concerning Jacob’s well is embroidered in black and surrounded by a vegetative and floral border emerging from a vase or urn at the bottom. The reflective and brightly-coloured threads of the border are almost metallic in appearance and create a striking frame.

The work is simple in design, yet ornate in execution and its sophistication belies the young age of its embroiderer, who was just 81/2 at the time. 

Quaker Samplers

Elizabeth Southall

Hannah Burlingham passed down her skills to her daughter, Elizabeth Southall. However, unlike her mother’s typically 18th-century sampler with verse and bright border, Elizabeth’s sampler reflects the new 19th-century school trend for samplers as a utilitarian learning exercise.

This work is much smaller in size and done in cross-stitch. It shows Elizabeth’s three attempts at the alphabet in three distinct styles, increasing in difficulty each time. She also embroiders the main punctuation marks and the numbers 1-9 twice. A cross-stich border and horizontal lines, create a guide for the size and positioning of the letters, not unlike a fabric ‘exercise book’. In the largest space at the bottom, Elizabeth has embroidered her name and the year, 1837. Although her age is not stated, red thread in samplers tended to be reserved for the work of younger children.

Quaker Samplers

Hannah Payton

Reflecting the earlier 18th century popularity of ‘band samplers’, the beauty in Hannah Payton’s work lies not in the backing fabric, which is rather thicker and stiffer than usual, but in the neat execution of the stylised pattern in varying shades of green. 

The narrow, rectangular strip of cloth has two central squares with different patterns, the right-hand one containing the date, 1751. Hannah as created a defined shape to the design buy cutting it off, rather than purposefully embroidering a line around the edge. She seems to have initially wanted to create a separate border pattern to encapsulate the two squares, with the beginnings of a design visible in the bottom corners and centre. However, she either rethought this idea or left the sampler unfinished. The top of the sampler has her initials ‘HP’ embedded in a cartouche.

Quaker Samplers

Ann Young

This sampler by Hannah Payton’s daughter, Ann Young, is a clear example of the famous ‘Ackworth Style’ of medallion sampler. This is the more spaced out, so-called ‘coarser’ version of that style. Unlike her mother’s green thread, a colour which remained popular in the new medallion samplers, Ann uses a mixture of bold contrasting colours, which had just come into fashion. Hannah’s stylistic influence can still be seen, however, in the vegetative elements of her work.

Quaker Samplers

Lucy Goodere

Lucy Goodere’s sampler reflects a mixture of styles. The central verse is framed by a pair of climbing roses emerging from pots and topped by a bird, however, these are simply done in black outline, like the rest of the sampler and not in colour with sophisticated shading, like Hannah Burlingham’s similar design. The alphabet in block capitals creates a top and bottom border for the verse, although the alphabet in lowercase and the numbers 1-21 also feature above it. At the bottom are some combinations of cursive lettering with Lucy’s name and age, ‘8 years’, writ large below it.

Quaker Samplers Exhibition

If you enjoyed this blog and learning more about the samplers we have in our collection, why don’t you come and see our new Quaker Samplers exhibition, opening on the 4th of May! 

Further Information

If you enjoyed reading this blog, check out some of our other blog posts:

Find out about the history of the innocent trades

Discover the fascinating story of the pioneering scientist John Dalton

Learn about how Stramongate School helped the First World War effort through gardening and land work

Supporting the Quaker Tapestry

We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog and gained an insight into the history of some of the Quaker samplers in the collection.

We couldn’t accept and care for our tapestries and other wonderful artefacts without our dedicated Care and Conservation team. However we need your help to…

– Create an improved database of the extensive Quaker Tapestry collection of supplementary items

– Develop best practice of the Care and Conservation volunteers through further training

Your donation will help us achieve our goals and ensure the longevity of the exhibition and collection. Please consider making a donation 

Quaker Tapestry Facts

The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cm x 53.3cm and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. Embroiderers around the world now use the ‘Quaker Stitch’.

World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.

The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.

Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.

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“Who would have thought a wash-day could be so much fun, I have learnt such a lot today!”

Jill, volunteer, Care & Conservation of the Collection Team