Flannel. Worked with light green silk to show dressmaking, mending, and some simple embroidery techniques. Edges hemmed, buttonholed or bound with cream silk ribbon; cotton band along top right edge. 39cm. (max.) x 26.5 cm. (max.). T.8-1991.

This strangely shaped sampler was a format quite widely adopted in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because it allowed a young needle-woman to demonstrate her ability to perform a variety of dressmaking, plain sewing, and decorative techniques. A gusset, pocket, tucks, pleats, patches, darns, buttonholes and hand-made buttons were usually included. Minutely hand-stitched seams and hems were often decorated with simple embroidery stitches. The ground material could be flannel, cotton, or linen. Needlework continued to be an important part ofa girl's school curriculum through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Young women, who were either training as pupil teachers or were at a Domestic Science College, would be expected to produce work ofthis standard, and, in turn, to instruct the young to a high level of competence. Most samplers of this type are dated, the greatest number falling into the years 1890-1920. They are usually initialled by their maker, in this case 'E A F', and this one is also inscribed '4th Yr. 1896'. It is known that the maker was a teacher and that she was called Ethel French, but it is not known whether she trained at college or as a pupil teacher. Her sister, Amy French, made a similarly shaped sampler of white cotton, worked in white cotton thread and dated 1900. It was not until well into the twentieth century that the domestic sewing machine was firmly established with the consequent decline of hand sewing. From the 1920's the making of school and institutional samplers was almost completely abandoned.

(Text and photo taken from 'Samplers', a book by Carol Humphry in the 'Fitzwilliam Museum Handbooks' series.)