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A Guide to Early American Samplers: Home

This LibGuide provides an introduction to early American samplers and resources pertaining to them at the University of Delaware Morris Library, Winterthur Library, and online

 "Samplers reveal much about their makers' world, often providing details of their creators' names, ages, families, and locations. Because they are products of a particular society, samplers reflect attitudes, expectations, and changes within that culture" (Ivey, 2002).

Three Examples of Sampler Images

Sarah Skillin's Sampler from 1835, displays genealogy above pair of willow trees

Sarah Skillin, 1835

Family genealogy is centered above pair of weeping willow trees. At sides of sampler, vines with roses and buds twist around columns and continue upward forming an arch at top. One death record and worker's name at bottom, below weeping willow trees. Brown guidelines under all free embroidery. Silk embroidery thread on linen ground. STITCHES: four-sided, crosslet, cross, satin, straight, chain, stem. THREAD COUNT: warp 28, weft 31/in (Smithsonian Institution, 2018e).

Rebecca Ballinger's Sampler, 1830

Rebecca Ballinger Sampler, 1830

Two block upper-case alphabets, no "J," alternate colors. One block lower-case alphabet of alternate colors. Numbers 1 through 9. One crown. Satin-stitched sawtooth crossband; one crossband worked in Irish stitch, also basket and two large diamonds in lower half. Two weeping willow trees, each with bird in its top, and three boxes, one containing verse and two containing maker's name and date and group of initials...Strawberry border. Silk embroidery thread on linen ground. STITCHES: cross, Algerian eye, satin, rice, Irish, queen, crosslet, long-armed cross, gobelin. THREAD COUNT: warp 24, weft 34/in (Smithsonian Institution, 2018d).

Mary Shield's Sampler, 1827, two block alphabets of 26 letters with evenly spaced small motifs

Mary Shield's Sampler, 1827

Two block alphabets of 26 letters. Two rows of evenly spaced small motifs (hearts, birds, crowns, eight-pointed stars). Two small dogs in lower corners. Five whole and four partial geometric crossbands. No border. Wool and silk embroidery thread on linen ground. STITCHES: cross. THREAD COUNT: warp 30, weft 32/in (Smithsonian Institution, 2018c).

Samplers in America were usually created by girls and young women as part of their educational studies and are an area of interest for students of material culture. At the University of Delaware there are multiple programs concerned with material culture including the Center for Material Culture Studies, the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, the Department of Art Conservation, the Museum Studies Program, the Department of Art History, the Center for Historic Architecture and Design, and doctoral programs in both Preservation Studies and the History of American Civilization (Department of History. (“The Sampler Archive Project,” (“The Sampler Archive Project,” n.d.).

As the Sampler Archive Project reports, “No other university in the country has such a large cluster of scholars and students working on the history, theory, and professional practices associated with material culture” (“The Sampler Archive Project,” n.d.). In addition, the University of Delaware Winterthur Program in American Material Culture Studies, in conjunction with the University of Oregon, created and maintains the Sampler Project Archive, a “national digital archive and searchable database of samplers stitched by American girls in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries” (“The Sampler Archive Project,” n.d.).

In 2018, there were more than 7,500 students enrolled specifically in the College of Arts and Sciences in which the degree programs mentioned above, both undergraduate and graduate, are located (“UD Facts,” 2018). This LibGuide is intended to be used by these students who are learning about samplers and wish to research further about the topic, as well as for those adults in the larger Delaware community who are interested in learning more about the subject of samplers as a result of the University of Delaware’s involvement in the Sampler Archive Project.

Specifically, this LibGuide looks at resources which are available at the Morris Library, the main library for the University of Delaware, which are at the Winterthur Library, which is connected to the University of Delaware through the joint University of Delaware Winterthur Program in American Material Culture Studies, or which are available freely online. According to the 2017/2018 library report, more than 950,000 individuals entered the Morris Library during the 2017/2018 time period (University, 2018). Likely, this population included students as well as community members. There are currently over 2,780,000 books and bound periodicals available at the Morris Library and users have access to more than 76,000 electronic journals and newspapers, as well as ebooks, print journals, and more (University of Delaware Library, 2018). In addition, there are over 100,000 books in the Winterthur Library open stacks with 20,000 rare imprints in the closed stacks (Harbaugh, 2018).


"Sampler, embroidered panel of linen on which various types of stitches are demonstrated" (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019).