Needlework samplers provided a place for young girls to practice stitching and create a variety of motifs, from alphabets and numbers to houses and animals. One popular motif for decorating samplers was flowers. Found almost everywhere and in many varieties, flowers offered girls the chance to create from nature, while incorporating their own sense of style.
Needleworkers chose a variety of styles and designs for their floral samplers. Sally Stiles chose stylized flowers, simplifying the shapes and using mostly straight lines. Esther Rowe Tuttle used silk thread to create a naturalistic floral vine at the top of her sampler, while Elizabeth Potter Moore combined the two and created a very realistic, but simplified interpretation of thistles to decorate the top corner of her sampler.
Hannah Punderson’s sampler from around 1780 incorporates both naturalistic and stylized versions of flowers on one sampler. The iris in the top half of the sampler is a very realistic flower that almost looks like it could be plucked and put into a vase. In contrast, the two bands at the bottom of Hannah’s sampler feature the stylized flowers more typically seen on samplers. Working on a square grid for sampler designs tended to result in unnaturally symmetrical and simplified interpretations of flowers.
For some needleworkers, flowers were something added to fill space, but others gave them a starring role. Lydia Church surrounded her 1791 sampler with flowering vines and included flowering bushes beside the house depicted. Sally Lawrence used a small vine of flowers to finish a line after she completed her upper-case alphabet. Both Lydia and Sally used flowers to embellish their samplers, but in very different ways.
If you’d like to see more flowers from the Connecticut Historical Society’s collections, you can go to e-museum (http://emuseum.chs.org:8080/emuseum/) and explore the collections online, or come in to the Research Center at One Elizabeth Street, Hartford, CT 06105. For hours and more information go to http://www.chs.org/