Friday, March 20, 2009


A few years ago I discovered Scarlet Letter's Margaret Gibson Sampler. I was beyond excited because my maiden name is Gibson. There are no samplers in my family's attic. It seems that on my mother's side and my father's side lots of items were lost over the years to fire. At least that's the story I always heard when my mother or mamaw would mention that this or that ancestor was a quilter or embroideress, yet their work no longer existed. Finding a sampler with my last name on it made me all tingly and happy inside. I went in search of other samplers with any of my family names on them and have tracked down two more, The Hannah Gibson Sampler by Simply Samplers(scroll down on the page) and The Laura Parker Sampler by Rose Tree Samplers(scroll down).

I love reproduction samplers. Years ago when I found the very first issue of Sampler & Antique Needlework Quarterly magazine I realized that other people "got" it. They saw the connection between today's stitchers and the past.

I have always had a fascination with life back in the old days. Especially life on the American Frontier. When I think about how much work housekeeping is today with all these conveniences at our disposal and then visualize women working their fingers to the bone doing laundry, working in the fields, cooking, making clothes, taking scraps to make quilts not because they are a pretty bedcovering and they loved nothing better than cutting fabric into smaller pieces and sewing them back together but if they didn't make time to make these blankets the family could freeze during the winter months. I could go on and on but I'm drifting away from the subject at hand-the sampler.

Samplers served many purposes, teaching young women their ABCs and 123s, recording family trees, and Bible study. Samplers were used as patterns for monograming or decorative embroidery on household linens. There were mourning samplers, stitched in memory of a loved one who has passed on. Rarely were samplers used as wall decoration as they are today.

Many stitchers today are in love with reproduction samplers but as much as they love them, and believe me when I say there are stitchers who have stitched 20, 30, 100 of these reproduction samplers, sometimes stitching someone else's name on your work gets old. Sure little Emily Jones stitched her sampler in the year 1841, but you are the one stitching it now. Stitchers don't want to add their name to a reproduction sampler, it's just not something that's widely done. I add this because I'm sure there are a few repro sampler stitchers that don't think twice about bumping little Emily's name from the sampler and stitching their own and that's fine but it's not really a repro after that.

This brings me to The 21st Century Sampler Project. Samplers are no longer a learning tool or a pattern reference for today's stitcher. Now stitchers find themselves stitching samplers because they love the traditional style. They love the often times funky artwork. They love the connection they have between the stitchers of the past and stitchers today.

What I hope to do with the 21st Century Sampler Project is to give the sampler a new purpose. After my discovery of the Margaret Gibson Sampler I began to plot out my own History of Melissa sampler. When I started searching for samplers with family names, I thought even though these samplers have our family names on them there is no real family tie to these stitchers of old.

The last few years have seen a surge in the popularity of scrapbooking. Crafters have discovered the importance of telling their family's stories, preserving them for future generations. People are tracking their family history at

I want to tell my story, my family's story, with needle and thread. It's my medium. I'm not a scrapbooker, I'm a failed scrapbooker. My family doesn't know me as mom the scrapbooker, they know me as mom the stitcher. It only makes sense that I leave my family their history written with needle and thread. Sure I've got Rubbermaid buckets full of pictures and one day they will find themselves stuck to acid free museum approved paper but only when I can no longer see the holes in my fabric.

My goal with this project is to create a Story of My Life sampler. One that my family can look at and say, we used to live at that address, or so and so passed away on this date. Sort of a reinvention of the sampler for today. Taking the tradition to the next level, giving it a new purpose.

I hope that other stitchers will join me in this project because one day when our decendants are going through our old needlework, don't you think they are going to wonder where little Emily Jones fits in the family tree? When they start sending things off to be carbon dated aren't they going to wonder why the sampler says 1841 but the carbon dating concludes it was in fact stitched in 2009?

And what about there being 550+ stitched Emily Jones samplers scattered across the country or world even? What does that say about our generation? Yes our ancestors stitched using patterns passed down from grandmother to mom to daughter, and yes there were commercial patterns available and there are stitchers who attended the same school and created similar samplers, but for the most part samplers were original works, the stitcher decided what story she wanted to tell with her sampler be it the story of Adam and Eve or being a virtuous woman, or as a celebration of everlasting life in Heaven. Whatever her choice, rarely do you find two samplers exactly alike. It's time we stitchers took back a bit of that originality.

Over the next few months, probably years, I want to share my progress as I create my own sampler. I am not in any way a designer and in all honesty I love nothing better than a chart that provides a stitch count, suggested fabric and threads all laid out there for me, but it's time to reclaim the sampler and spend a little time creating not just copying. I'll share my sources for patterns and fonts and if I end up designing a bit on my own I'll share what has inspired me.

Will you join me in this project? Let's leave future generations a piece of ourselves, our history.


  1. Melissa, what a wonderful idea!! I'd love to join you -- at least watch you, and perhaps think about how I could do my own sampler. Thank you for thinking of this!

  2. Inspired! I'd love to join you too (I'm pretty sure I've never seen a Kelso or McGill sampler out there) I'm not yet ready for a new project so I'll be watching your progress for the moment - biding my time! It's a fabulous idea and I look forward to seeing yours as you create it.

  3. I'm looking forward to seeing this grow.

  4. I'm really intrigued by this project. I want to watch your progress and hopefully it will inspire me to do my own.

  5. Melissa, what a fun idea! I am not there yet but I am looking forward to being able to watch your piece grow.

  6. You are a clever woman! I've often thought of doing something like this, too. In fact, I have a few pages of rough sketches of repro-style designs incorporating the towns and houses I've lived in, and the names & pertinent dates of people I love. I've stitched repro samplers (SANQ is my favorite magazine of all) and I always put in my own name (and sometimes tweak the design a bit). I figure little Emily Jones would be saying, "Um, why are you putting MY name on your sampler? It's YOUR sampler. Duh!"
    So, I agree, it's high time we started putting our efforts into our own designs!

  7. What a wonderful idea! I'd love to do this (like I need another project, lol) but I've never created my own patterns before. This sounds so very interesting and the concept behind it is wonderful. I'm going to give it a try.

  8. A very cool idea. I can't wait to see how your sampler evolves. Your project has certainly given me something to think about.

  9. Great idea. I am hyper personalizing my ATS as I go. Right now it's just stitches that I have changed, but I will be doing something all my own for the alphabet & verse.

    Oh and today I "carved" A.W. + M.W. (mine & the dh's initials) on the Tree of Life. ;)

    I'm also one of those stitchers who will only stitch her own name on a sampler. Even if every other stitch is true to the reproduction.

  10. The hubs is ALWAYS telling me I should create my own sampler! Maybe this will be the nudge I need! YGG!!!