Embroidering New Stories: Designing and creating a modern sampler

“11-year-old Caitlin Stocks designed and stitched her own sampler while the Embroidered Stories exhibition was being prepared. You can see her at work in the film that is playing in the exhibition.

“It was very exciting for me as the exhibition’s curator to meet a girl with such enthusiasm for embroidery. Most of the samplers in the exhibition were made by girls around Caitlin’s age, but today few girls have these skills. Caitlin’s sampler is a wonderful modern take on the historic samplers in the exhibition, with some lovely details. Caitlin’s blog describes her experience of designing and making a sampler and her thoughts on the exhibition.”

Helen Wyld, Senior Curator of Historic Textiles

Caitlin with her sampler.

I started to sew because my gran sews lots and I started to copy her about seven years ago when I was four. I started sewing mats, and then moved onto kits and then I sewed a bag. A couple of years ago I discovered that girls in my school didn’t know how to sew so I started a sewing club at lunchtime to teach them.

I got lots of help from my grandma when designing this, my first sampler. She got loads of ideas together and helped me to organise it. Helen showed me a few samplers from the exhibit and I liked the one with strawberries so I wanted to use it for my border. The house is where I’ve lived most of my life so far and I wanted to put my two pets, Smudge and Muffin, in the picture.

Working on the sampler.

I have learned so much doing this. Making my own design. How important it is to do consistent stitches – it shows up a lot if you do them a different way. I also learned a new stitch – a French knot – that I used for my roses. Not to use too many colours so that it’s not too OTT. Also, I learned to neaten the back up.

It was interesting to see into the past, how they used to sew to learn whereas I just sew for fun. They learned their writing by sewing, but also maths and geography. I wish we still learned to sew in school.

My favourite two samplers are the ones by Jean Craigie from Montrose and Jane Hannah and Jane Murray.  The detail in the buildings in Jean’s sampler is very fine so it looks like she’s drawn a picture. The two Janes have used so many different sorts of stitches, and the text makes me feel so sad, but you can see how much her friend cared for her.

Caitlin’s finished sampler.

I’ve enjoyed doing the sewing for the museum, although it was a weird experience being filmed. I now have a nice framed sampler of my own to hang on my bedroom wall, and who knows, I may start work on another one.

Thank you, Helen, for letting me have this experience.

Get an insight into the lives of children in the 18th and 19th centuries through this unique collection of Scottish samplers on loan from American collector Leslie B. Durst.

Embroidered Stories: Scottish Samplers is on at the National Museum of Scotland until 21 April 2019.

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