Samplers reflect the charm of an earlier age

Posted Dec. 07, 2009, at 5:33 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:25 a.m.

Beauties in vain

their pretty eyes may roll,

Charms strike the sight,

But merit wins the soul.

Ann Young, 11, stitched those words on her sampler in the early 1800s. It is easy, looking at her work, to imagine the child at her mother’s knee, needle in hand, making the thousands of cross-stitches that make up the letters of the alphabet, the numerals and the words of the verse. Yet, it is difficult to imagine an 11-year-old with the patience to persist, perhaps over the course of a year or more, in the work it took to complete the piece.

The sampler is one of a collection owned by Dr. Burton Pearl and his wife, Linda Elder, of Sedgwick, who have collected schoolgirl needlework samplers for more than 30 years.

Pearl said he and his wife are drawn to samplers “first, because they are from Maine, and for the aesthetics.”

The samplers, worked in the early to mid-1800s, were stitched by girls and young women who lived in Maine — Eliza Tukey of Portland, Eliza Austin, Hallowell; Mahala Martin, Harpswell; Lydia Dutch, Portland; Lucia Ann Porter, Sedgwick Bay; Mary Porter, Blue Hill; Sally Morse, Blue Hill; Louisa Perkins, Blue Hill; Mary Chase, Augusta; Charlotte Sawyer, Ellsworth; Nancy Pease, Cornish; and Eliza Harden, Portland. Many of these needleworkers created their samplers at age 11.

A fascinating aspect of the samplers is that several share the same unusual stitch technique, a boxlike arrangement of tiny stitches that form the letters of the words, as in Lydia Dutch’s work.

Some of the samplers, including the one by Eliza Tukey, Pearl said, were stitched at a school of needlework in Portland in the early 1800s, and that may account for the boxlike stitch technique.

The samplers that are genealogical in nature list several generations of one family. Eliza Tukey stitched her family history sampler at age 13 in Portland. It is dated July 22, 1817. Other samplers offer genealogical information about the Leach and the Pease families.

Stitches most commonly used to make the samplers are cross-stitch, blanket stitch, satin stitch, eyelet stitch, outline stitch and leaf stitch.

Pearl said that in the past he bought samplers at shows in Connecticut and Philadelphia, but now does much of his shopping at auctions and online.

“I rarely get them in Maine anymore,” he said.

Pearl said that samplers with Maine origins are relatively rare and there is fierce competition among buyers.

“Some collectors have very deep pockets,” he said, referring to the fact that samplers in excellent condition can fetch large prices.

Pearl said he relies on Amy Finkel, a textile expert who operates M. Finkel and Daughter in Philadelphia, to advise him before he purchases samplers for his collection, which now number approximately 40.

The samplers appear to be stitched on linen with linen or silk thread. Some are simple in design and follow the traditional design of incorporating letters of the alphabet, numerals, a verse and the maker’s name; others are more ornate with satin stitch borders in silk thread. All are framed in period or vintage frames, and measure at least 14- to 18-inches square, and some are much larger.

Our infant years

like budding flowers

Require a skillful hand,

Short and uncertain

are the hours

We have at our command.

Charlotte Sawyer stitched this verse on her sampler when she was 11 in 1822. The lines, faded by time, are difficult to read, but their charm is undeniable.

Pearl and Elder exhibited some of their samplers at the Blue Hill Public Library last summer.

Snippets

— Visit http://www.quiltersmuse.com/Samplers.htm to access an informative article about samplers by Patricia Cummings.

— The Bangor Chapter of the American Sewing Guild is offering a class in making a fabric wall hanging using a “stained glass” technique at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Hampden Municipal Center. The cost is $10 guild members, $15 others. For more information, call Kathy at 941-8815.

These holiday decorating workshops will be held at Spectrum Generations Coastal Community Center, 521 Main St., Damariscotta:

— Natural Holiday Decorating, 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 11. Create a holiday wreath or tabletop decoration from scratch, using fresh balsam and natural materials. Get ideas about what you can use from your garden. Bring clippers, gloves, scissors, accessories, container, assorted greens, cones and natural findings. $5.

— Holiday Decorations without the Clutter, 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12. Learn the quick, easy way to organize holiday decor so that decorating next year will be a snap.

— Meals on Wheels Ornament and Center Decorating Party, 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 14. Create holiday ornaments for the Meals on Wheels ornament tree. Bring supplies and craft kit, and help center staff and students from area schools make nonperishable ornaments for Lincoln County’s Meals on Wheels recipients. Bring a holiday plant, wreath or centerpiece. The theme is “Creating a Winter Wonderland for Penguins.”

— Breakfast Treats for the Holidays, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15. Learning how to make jelly filled doughnuts and fritters. $5, plus $5 materials fee.

— Learn How to Knit a Scarf for yourself or as a gift, 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16. Join Andrea Hallowell and learn to make your own fashion statement. $5. Yarn, needles and patterns available or bring your own.

— Holiday Ornaments from the Ocean’s Beaches with Lynne Thompson, 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17. $10, plus $10 materials fee. Call 563-1363 to register for these classes.

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