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Meeting on Monday 10th July 2023

Pirkko Soundy - Samplers Through the Ages


We were remarkably fortunate in having Pirkko step into the breach as a speaker after a short-notice cancellation due to health issues.  We wish Clare Bullock every good wish for her recovery and look forward to seeing her as a speaker in our 2024 programme. 


Pirkko introduced her talk by telling us that the word sampler comes from the middle English word “essamplaire”, with obvious French origins, as well as having derivation from the Latin “exemplum”.  Samplers are international in nature, and although having national, regional, and local differences, also have similarities. 


Pirkko’s love of and interest in samplers started at an early age.  During an idyllic rural summer with grandparents at the age of six, Pirkko read a book about a young girl who had no interest or love for working on her sampler, and threw it away.  An outraged Pirkko really could not understand the girl’s actions at all, developing her lifelong passion for samplers from that time to this!   


At the age of 19 Pirkko saw several samplers at the Victoria and Albert Museum that impressed her, taking away the book “Samplers from the Victoria and Albert Museum”.  See also this article on the V and A website


In terms of their history, samplers are mentioned in wills of the 1400’s, indicating their importance in family history.  The V and A has a sampler from Egypt dating from this time. In terms of design, samplers were stitched with reference for their application on to household linens and clothing.  The 1500’s saw the development of the “spot” sampler with individual motifs. 


Embroidery pattern books were used by wealthy women in the 15th and 16th centuries, with embroidery providing a fulfilling and creative occupation.  Richard Shorleyker’s “Schole house for the needle” of 1632 is a well-known book of its time, the only known copy being held by the V and A Museum.   See also the Jane Bostocke sampler which predates the publication of Shorleyker’s book.   The 1600’s onwards saw the development of band samplers which were often symmetrical, and also included the spot motifs of earlier times. 


Pirkko talked about the stitching of samplers by young girls as being something of a rite of passage, and the way they often record family history.  When looking at samplers it is interesting to consider the symbolism of design features e.g., a dog for faithfulness.  Bible texts and prayers are often a common feature of historical samplers.


The talk ended with an invitation to look at the wonderful number of samplers and books that Pirkko had brought in to show us.  We were also treated to a display of samplers that members had brought in.  These included family history samplers as well as contemporary examples.  Thank you to Pirkko and all other contributors to a very pleasant evening.


Recommended sites and places to go:


Words © Sue Robinson/CETG 2023

Photos © Liz Wilmott

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