The Samplers Room presents a selection of the museum's collection of over 120 samplers, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of these were donated by the late Eveleen Perkins in her will.
Samplers take their name from the French essamplaire, referring to work that has been copied or imitated. Initially samplers were created to show off an individual's embroidery work, and to try out patterns or stitches copied from others. From the 18th century onwards samplers became part of a girl's school education, and as a school exercise they often combined a range of needlework skills.
In 1986, thirty five of these samplers were conserved and reframed, and now form the main part of the Samplers Room display.
Conservation of the Samplers
Many of the samplers in the collection are still awaiting conservation. The conservation process involves no stitching repairs, and the embroideries are preserved as they are.
First, any damage is identified, described and recorded, and threads colour-tested. Next, each side of the sampler is washed in a spray of de-ionised water with a non-ionic detergent, and the surface cleaned with a soft brush. The sampler is rinsed, and surplus water is removed with a sponge roller. It is gently stretched into shape and pinned on absorbent paper.
When completely dry the sampler is stitched with fine polyester thread onto a thin cotton backing material, which is then sewn onto an acid-free board. It is then ready for framing. The wood used for the frame moulding and back is also acid-free and treated against insect invasion. Plain glass is used for the front of the frame, and the conservators are careful that the glass does not touch the sampler.
The Samplers Room embroideries are kept in low lighting to protect the colours. Those not on permanent display are stored under carefully controlled conditions in the museum collections, to prevent deterioration.
The Counties, 1790
This impressive work displays the counties of England and Wales in the late 18th century. It was sewn by Sarah Lea in 1790. Several examples on display were created by girls of just seven to twelve years of age.
Bees and Ants, 1809
This beautiful embroidery by Elizabeth Silton in 1809 would have obtained full marks, but the lettering about bees and ants has gone askew. She was, however, only seven years old when the work was completed!
"Strive To Excel", 1781
This sampler was created in 1781 by Mary Lucas, and includes a wonderful poem. The rhyme is certainly of its age: "Go on my dear, strive to excel / Improve in work and reading well / For book and needle both contend / To mak[e] a housewife and a friend."