Samplers, American or English?

Samplers: American or English? Clues in the Canvas

Determining whether a sampler was produced in England or in America is not always easy. There are a few generalities that can be applied when one examines a sampler, but there are no hard and fast rules that apply each time. (Keep in mind that these tips do not apply to the beautiful silk on silk mourning pictures produced in the early 19th century.)

What to look for:

1) Upon close inspection, if one can see small scattered holes in the canvas, that are fuzzy around the edges, they very probably are the result of moth damage. If moths have eaten the canvas, one can be sure that it is a wool canvas, and this almost always indicates the sampler is of English origin. Most all American samplers were on a linen background that moths did not find tempting.

2) English samplers tended to somewhat “stiff” and constricted in design. They somehow appear to be less imaginative and “folky” than American samplers.

3) Particularly in the early 19th century, American sampler stitchers tended to become more “relaxed” in their work, while most English stitchers made very “tight”, precise and perfect letters. English samplers during this period also often are very “wordy”, with long, long verses.

4) Motifs can give undependable clues as to the origin of a sampler. For example, one can find typical English motifs such as lions and crowns on American samplers. Conversely, the heart motif, so common on American samplers, sometimes appears on English (and other European) needlework. Quaker girls whose work was completed either in England or America, might both have stitched the typical Quaker motifs (like the half medallion) on their samplers.

-Information courtesy of Sue Studebaker, April, 2005.

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