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Needlework Sampler

Needlework sampler

This sampler came from the home of an early Methodist missionary in Kansas.

Needlework samplers have a very long tradition dating back to 16th century Europe. The first American sampler may have been worked as early as the 1650s, shortly after colonists settled this continent.

American samplers from the 17th and 18th centuries were worked at home or in school by girls and young women mastering the art of needlework. They served as references for future use of the motifs, patterns, and decorative stitches they contained. The simplest samplers featured alphabets and numerals. More elaborate pieces included floral and landscape scenes and usually were made in exclusive private schools. Typically these early samplers were embroidered in silk on a linen ground.

By the 1830s, wool had replaced silk as the preferred sampler yarn. The piece pictured here dates from 1830 to 1865. Worked on a fairly coarse ground fabric, it has only a few rather simple embroidery stitches.

Although some samplers are marked with the maker's name and a date, this piece offers no obvious clues to its origins. It came from the home of Thomas Johnson, who was the founder of the Shawnee Methodist Mission and the namesake for Kansas' Johnson County.

The sampler may have been worked by Sarah Davis Johnson, who married Thomas in 1830, or produced by a Native American girl learning domestic skills at the mission. It measures about 18 inches square.

Entry: Needlework Sampler

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1998

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.