Textile Tales: Message in a Sampler

Victoria & Albert Museum

I’ve been a student of textile history for over 20 years, and have never encountered anything quite like this extraordinary sampler from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Stitched by Elizabeth Parker in the late 1820′s, it tells of her unhappiness and suffering at the cruelty of the family that employed her as a nursery maid. Embedded within the text is this compelling statement: ‘As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely as I might speak to a person to whose intimacy and tenderness I can fully intrust myself.’ She then proceeded to set down in tiny cross stitches her feelings of despair and her suicidal thoughts.

Elizabeth’s life did change for the better when she became a teacher. A fuller account of what is known of her life can be found at the V&A website.

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13 thoughts on “Textile Tales: Message in a Sampler

  1. Natalia says:

    WOW! That is amazing at the same time sad a different way to show the emotions inside. good thing she had a peaceful life at the end.

  2. Lisa says:

    that is amazing – at least she had a bit of an outlet for her feelings. everyone who thinks that things were simplier and better in those days should read about this

  3. Wow! Imagine, though, if it takes so long as embroidery does for Each word, how well thought out those words would have had to be? She must have sat thinking out her tale for hours every day, for an awful long time.

  4. Kimberly says:

    Whoa. Thanks for sharing that historical treasure. I have a sampler done by a ten year old girl which has the alphabet and her name followed by a short verse:

    “There is an hour when I must die-Nor do I know when it will be-Thousands of children young as I-Are called by death to hear their doom.” I thought this was an unsettling poem for a child to put into stitches, but Elizabeth Parker’s handiwork takes the cake!

  5. Kimberly says:

    Aww, Kat, I couldn’t afford to buy a sampler either! I aquired this one when my mother-in-law’s 96 year old
    mother passed. I was given a few boxes of linens,
    and other odd items; tiny gloves- crushed velvet bucket hat, and handmade fur muffs. But included in the linens was an old stationery box containing antique photos, some unused greeting cards and a neatly folded sampler. Now, if I was into geneology I could find out if the sampler-maker is a relative of my children. I’m guessing that it’s not just random but significant, and as such, it’s something I cannot give away or sell. But the message done in thread is grim and so it is an interesting conversation piece. :-)

    Not quite as strange as the jar I found buried in the desert with a letter inside it, though. And, although it had a postmark and stamp from the 1930s, it was written in pale pencil and –in another language (possibly scandinavian) so I have only to ponder on why it was buried…and what the letter actually says-

    Aren’t life’s little mysteries fun??!

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