Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Imitation and Improvement: The Norfolk Sampler Tradition

In the city of Norwich, Norfolk, almost 200 years ago, twelve-year-old Anna Mallet sat and stitched her sampler.  After several rows of alphabets and a bible verse, she stitched some motifs she'd seen on other samplers from the area:  a set of three linked octagons with her name and the date, separating a pair of facing deer on small hillocks.  Under the octagons, she stitched some pine trees.  These are among the last of the of clearly "Norfolk Tradition" motifs that were stitched by little girls in this area.  Many years later, this sampler has come to live with Julie, and she feels very honored to have "her".

Over a period of about 100 years, the girls in Norwich and the surrounding English countryside, developed a stylized pattern for samplers that is truly unique and very beautiful.  Between 1790 and 1820, the classic Norfolk style flourished and there are many wonderful samplers showing this gorgeous sampler tradition.
Kezia Hawkes, English, born Norwich 1794
Sampler (“Virtue's the brightest Gem a Maid can wear…”), 1803
Silk threads on wool ground
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Gift of Mrs. James W. Packard (Elizabeth Gillmer, class of 1894), 1960.9.51
Conservation treatment of this sampler was made possible by a grant from the Stockman Family Foundation.

A classic Norfolk sampler is easy to spot - one of the main components is the diamond-shaped cartouche made up of saw-tooth lines that takes up the central part of the sampler - it's very large, expanding from top to bottom and side to side.  Inside the cartouche you will find rows of alphabets separated by decorative bands in the top third.  The center is filled with a bible verse - the most common being:

            Next Unto God dear Parents I Address
            My self to you in humble Thankfulness
            For all your Care and Charge on me Bestow’d
            The means of Learning unto me Allow’d
            Go on I Pray and let me still Pursue
            Those golden Arts the Vulgar never Knew

The bottom third has a set of linked octagons with facing deer (sometimes dogs or lions) on hillocks and pine trees.  The name of the stitcher and the date is often in one these octagons, or just below it. 
Elizabeth Larter, English, born Norwich 1778
Sampler (“Next unto God…), 1792
Silk threads on 48 count wool ground
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Transfer from Vassar College Libraries, Special Collections, Martha Clawson Reed Collection, 1997.7.74
Conservation treatment of this sampler was made possible by a grant from the Stockman Family Foundation.

The diamond cartouche may or may not have side panels (some call them "ears").  In the side panels you will find a stylized urn of flowers.  All of this is done in counted cross stitch, with perhaps a very little satin stitch in a dividing band.

None of this prepares you for the splendor of the floral borders.  In the four corners left by the diamond design, you find free-embroidered bouquets of flowers in grand disarray!  The sheer beauty of these flowers, emanating sometimes from a cornucopia and sometimes from a satin-stitched bow, is breathtaking and the skill of these little girls is evident!

 Image courtesy of M. Finkel & Daughter

Joanne Martin Lukacher first noticed this lovely set of design elements when she curated a sampler exhibit for Vassar College some years ago.  Since then, she has found others with the same elements.  She became intrigued, and ten years of research followed.  Finally, she felt she had traced the designs from their origins and understood why these samplers were unique to a very small geographic area and a short era in history.  Her findings are presented in a new book:  Imitation and Improvement: The Norfolk Sampler Tradition. 

In the Company of Friends are very proud to have been  able to publish this significant scholarly work.  Over 100 girls and their samplers are featured with beautiful color photographs.  Each girl was researched for her genealogy and  design influences are discussed at length.   This is a book you will find yourself reading like a story, as well as coming back to it again and again for information.  Over 350 pages long, this is a beautiful addition to any needlework library.

The book is $92.95 plus shipping and handling, which varies depending on where the recipient is.  For international orders, we can refer you to a few stores/online resources where you can order and save a bit on the postage:

In Canada, you can order from Amy Mitten Designs, The Essamplaire, or Traditional Stitches.  In England, The Sampler Guild is expecting their books to arrive soon and can begin shipping.  We will keep you apprised of other shops in other countries as they "come aboard".  

Check out the sample pages on our website:  Imitation and Improvement.

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