One of the main areas of focus at Special Collections is the history of recorded information. To add to our collection on recorded information, we’ve recently acquired a sampler made by 12 year old Elizabeth Herbert in the year 1778. Like most female students of the time, Herbert was required to have a working knowledge of sewing and cross-stitching before she could graduate from school and become a suitable wife.
In the early 16th century, cross-stitching and sewing were necessary parts of the feminine lifestyle. To make clothing and furniture unique and stylish, intricate colors and designs were sewn in. Because the internet, and IPads weren’t readily accessible to the Renaissance homemaker, it was difficult to find and replicate popular patterns of the time. For women to replicate their favorite stitches and patterns, they would need to quickly make an example of the design at the site of discovery. Long, narrow pieces of material were used by skilled cross-stitchers to copy miniature versions of their favorite patterns. These piece of cloth would eventually be referred to as samplers.
By the time Elizabeth Herbert was in school, the use of samplers had drastically changed. Due to the wide accessibility of print, samplers in their true sense had become somewhat obsolete; however, they still found wide usage in a female’s education. As mentioned about, most girls were required to be able to produce evidence of their ability to sew and cross-stich. Samplers proved to be the perfect medium through which they could prove their skills to both their instructors and their families.
Samplers became square shaped so that they could be easily displayed. Many sampler of Herbert’s day would feature the alphabet, several objects tactfully placed throughout the sampler, and a brief religious statement.
The different designs, and information featured on the Herbert’s sampler offer a unique perspective into the life of Elizabeth. An alphabet is etched into the top of the page. Floral designs are found in the middle, and on the bottom a scriptural reference “Commit not Sin But Fear the Living Lord” followed by a brief genealogical statement.
The alphabet Latin alphabet was chosen by Herbert. Due to its common usage in samplers during the time period, it appears as though the Latin alphabet was in vogue. The “J” is missing from the alphabet, and the “U” takes on a “V” shape in this particular sampler. When closely examining the spelling in our sampler, we find that many words were phonetically written. This gives us an interesting perspective on how English grammar was taught and practiced before it was standardized. Elizabeth Described herself as “dotor of Robert and Elizabeth Herbert”.
We are more than thrilled to have this piece in special collections, and would hope that you would stop by and take a look at this artifact and the many others that we house!