By Lily Kaar
This week, Historic Huguenot Street presents a needlework sampler, completed by Elizabeth Franklin “in her 7th year.” The sampler itself is 16 inches long and 10 inches wide, framed with a 2 1/2 inch border. The entire sampler is cross-stitched — embroidery that makes a small ‘x’-shaped stitch — and features both upper case and lower case alphabets, numbers, decorative elements, and a short poem. The poem, though now aged, once read:
The Saviour who in glory reigns
Who made the earth and sea
Whose arm unnumbered worlds sustains
Was once a child like me
He stoop’d so low that I might rise
To dwell with him above
Lord send thy spirit from the skies
To teach a child thy LOVE
Samplers, especially from the 18th and 19th centuries, are an interesting kind of historical record. Young girls received only the barest amount of academic schooling, usually reading, writing, and basic arithmetic, before their instruction moved onto more ‘feminine’ subjects, such as etiquette, music, and sewing. These girls grew up with the expectation that they would take over the production and mending of the clothes and linens of their future families. As part of their schooling, they would make samplers such as this one, called “marking samplers”.
Marking samplers served multiple purposes: they taught young girls the alphabet and basic numbers, but also taught basic embroidery and gave a space to practice. Many times small poems or phrases from the bible were also included as part of her moral education. That Elizabeth completed hers at age seven is not uncommon; most basic samplers such as this one were started before the girl was ten, and could be started as young as age five. If a girl was lucky (and rich) enough to continue her education at a boarding school for young ladies, she would make a second, more decorative sampler. These usually featured more complex stitches and colors, and were hung in public areas of the home for display.
Elizabeth did a fairly good job on her sampler; all the stitches are very even, and each letter is legibly formed. You can see a few places where she ran out of space in a line and had to bunch up her words in the margin.
Samplers are a great find for record-keeping, since it’s possible that these decorated pieces of cloth are one of very few — or even the only — physical record an 18th century woman might have left.