Bread and Thread Samplers

Liz

Hello and welcome to Bread and Thread, a podcast about food and domestic history. I’m Liz.

Hazel

I’m Hazel. We’re two friends who studied archaeology together and love history. So what’s going on what have you been creating at this time?

LIZ

Mostly just granny squares at the moment. Quarantine has just been nesting.

HAZEL

I get that feeling you just want to create business.

LIZ

If I'[m going to be stuck in this house I’m going to fill it with as many blankets as humanly possible.

HAZEL

I don’t think there’s a critical mass of blankets you just pile them on until your entire surroundings are soft and cuddly.

LIZ

We have an empty ottoman that’s being used for blanket storage so I can fill that up.

HAZEL

You have a blanket chest?

LIZ

We do.

HAZEL

That’s great.

LIZ

And I learned you can use plain flour instead of white bread flour… So we made sourdough pizza.

HAZEL

What kind?

LIZ

Chicken and ham and sweetcorn with a sourdough base from lovely Doughrian. That was my day.

HAZEL

That is a good day, yeah. I haven’t baked in a while I should get back to that, I’ve been distracted by like… You know when you get into a mood for a certain thing or a certain craft and you think that’s what I’m doing for the next weeks and then after two weeks you go ok I guess we’re doing a different thing.

LIZ

Gotta love hyperfocus.

HAZEL

haha yeah. So I’m on a bit of an embroidery kick now.

LIZ

You’ve had some new arrivals too.

HAZEL

Yeah we’ve had some chickens and I love them so much we have three chickens they are mottled leghorns they are a fairly new breed.

LIZ

We should do an episode on chickens.

HAZEL

We should! We studied them in domestication didn’t we?

LIZ

Yeah, they did. We could pick what we wanted to do I did goats and oats cause of the rhyme.

HAZEL

Remember because in that class the tutor would do the thing where she gave out a present for the best fact in certain homeworks I won a book about turkeys for an interesting fact about chickens that I found.

LIZ

Wasn’t her specialism turkey domestication?

HAZEL

Yeah, that was wild.

LIZ

I got a bookmark I got from her somewhere.

HAZEL

Aah the good old days of studying the history of cannabis.

LIZ

And now I’ve got to write a dissertation about autism and museums. But I’m always in danger of teetering into a rant.

HAZEL

If it’s a well researched rant.

LIZ

Yeah I need a well sourced rant.

HAZEL

That’s what I’m going to do next time I get into an argument just get notes on my phone here’s the harvard reference.

LIZ

I’ve started a commonplace book where I put quotesthat interest me but it’s just stuff I like no facts yet.

HAZEL

Is that like a diary for random stufff or

LIZ

It’s a book where you write down… It’s a quote you like or a fact it’s a scrapbook of words. Or at least that’s the impression I get from nick, but nick has an english degree so I hope they know. Also it has moomins on the cover.

HAZEL

Nice. It does sound like something an Elizabethan poet would have.

LIZ

I think some Georgian and Victorian authors had them. Specifically thomas hardy had one. And he wrote some good stuff. So what are you teaching us today?

HAZEL

Today, kids, we are going to learn about samplers. Now that might seem a bit of a dull topic at first but let me tell you I have found out some wild things about embroidery samplers.

LIZ

I’m trying to think of what I know about embroidery samplers but all I can think of is they often have the alphabet and you use it to show your future husband how good you are at embroidery.

HAZEL

Pretty much. If you’ve never seen a sampler you probably have. Like a stereotypical things on the wall in period dramas.

LIZ

When the episode goes up I’ll tweet some.

HAZEL

There’ll definitely be some sampler pictures because there are some great ones. So a embroidery samplers is a bit of embroidery usually done by young women to show their skills at embroidery. They were often done in school because women’s education was historically not great. But you would get taught embroidery. I guess that was one of the ways of expressing yourself. I got a quote from NOrthanger Abbey.

LIZ

I got really excited because I really love that book.

HAZEL

Yeah I’ve been listening to audiobooks before I go to sleep and I love it. Northanger abbey p;ublished in 1817 one fo the characters of the novel says to the heroine who is a 17 year old girl: consider how many years I have had the start of you. I entered my studies at Oxford when you were a good little girl doing your sampler at home. Good reference to the convention of girls and young women doing their samplers at school or at home. So samplers often a lot of them are in cross stitch because that’s a fairly easy stitch to learn especially if you’re a kid.

LIZ

I think I learned that.

HAZEL

We did too we had a victorian day.

LIZ

We just did it. We got this plastic ida and made bookmarks.

HAZEL

Quite fun actually. But there are other things like… Chain stitch, cross stitch, french marks. They often have a representation of the house and the family. They often have sayings on them, sentimental or religious sayings. The earliest dated sampler or english sampler… That’s what I’m going to be talking about, cause embroidery is one of the oldest things and has styles all over the world, but here I’m going to be talking about english style. So the earliest dated one we have is from 1598 and yeah I know, good, and it’s pretty well preserved I’ll link on the twitter there’s a video of some of them being presented by an antiques dealer. It’s got some heraldic beasts that elizabethan style ones and there’s a lot of blackwork on it which is an elizabethan embroidery style with a lot of outlines.

LIZ

Is it a silhouette or just black lines?

HAZEL

Kind of like knotwork and stuff and filigree type patterns but done in very fine lines it doesn’t have to be black but it was. That'[s how far it goes back though of course embroidery as an artform is very ancient and the earliest kind of samplers are just that really samples of embroidery. From the 16th and 17th centuries you get these long thin hand samplers like short bands of embroidery samplers on a really long ball of cloth. They weren’t made to be displayed they were references. If you wanted embroidery on your dress you’d unroll it and go I want that one. If you wanted to embroider the hem of your dress you’d unroll and use it as a reference to do the embroidery. They could also be used to teach embroidery as well to young women and samplers became really popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Going back to women’s education unless you were super rich in the medieval era your female children weren’t educated basically. A lot of women were illiterate a lot of men too. The samplers, the early samplers, they didn’t have the alphabet on it’s just pictures and the examples of bands of embroidery but as you go on you start to get sayings appearing the alphabet and so on, it’s a neat record of women’s literacy being reflected in embroidery.

LIZ

What I like about the early ones though is I might not be able to read but by golly I’ll sow a tree.

HAZEL

I’ll express myself somehow here’s a dog.

LIZ

Better than interpretive dance.

HAZEL

Anything’s better than interpretive dance.

LIZ

No offence to people who do interpretive dance but I don’t get what you do.

HAZEL

Yeah so I foud some cool sayings. A lot of them are religious a lot are morals as well, moralising stuff as well, there was one that had cross stithced on it the sorry – can edit this bit out cause I’m trying to find it again…

LIZ

I guess having bible quotes says I’m good at embroidery and also a nice meek girl who will make a good wi9fe.

HAZEL

Yeah cause they were often done in school by young girls it wa sa way of drumming in the whole how to be a good little girl.

LIZ

I like the idea of a modern sampler and just “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”

HAZEL

There are a lot of things like that. I’ll get onto sampler embroidery in a minute actually. Yeah, here we go. Fairest virtues never shined so bright as when shy modesty does shade the light ills add to beauty and the more we mean to court contempt the more we gain the same.

LIZ

Very definite moral there.

HAZEL

Don’t expose your ankles, ladies.

LIZ

Don’t show off in any way ever.

HAZEL

They’re not all like that. I found some pretty political samplers. There’s one from 1836 by an Ester Stuart. Was an anti slavery sampler. It was two years before slavery was abolished in England. It’s got an African slave in chains and [inaudible] which is pretty cool.

LIZ

What’s the text on that one?

HAZEL

I can’t make it out unfortunately, but I’ll try to get the picture and put it up on twitter. But samplers and embroidery could be a medium for political expression. We don’t know anything about the family could be quaker or abolitionist family..

Pod 9 plug, followed by a Probably Bad Plug. One’s a bad film podcast, the other is an rpg discussion podcast. They’re good. Check them out.

LIZ

I was just wondering if it was not the “am I not a man and a brother” thing cause it was very popular.

HAZEL

I don’t think it was, although the figure of the man does look a lot like the wedgewoods figure so it could be it was based on that. No wait, yeah.

LIZ

There’s a statue of that figure at Dunham Massey near Warrington with that text around it. It’s not really relevant but I find that image being around a lot quite interesting as a thing. It was a thing for abolitionist rich people to have as a motif or as a cameo wasn’t it?

HAZEL

Yeah. They were kind of ceramic weren’t they.

LIZ

That’s what Wedgewood did. Still do.

HAZEL

I forgot they were still around.

LIZ

Yeah I went on a factory tour.

HAZEL

Living history. So while we’re on the subject of political samplers let me talk to you about mary queen of scots.

LIZ

She of the marmalade.

HAZEL

Maybe not quite a sampler definitely using the same techniques. But mary when she was imprisoned by elizabeth as a threat to her throne. She was imprisoned for 7 years at least. She didn’t have a lot to do in prison. I say in pri8son she was in a house. But one of the places she was kept was not great and she got ill from it. Later on she was transferred and got better conditions and was able to get embroidery supplies. She was always able to do embroidery and would embroider in meetings in scotland.

LIZ

Yes that’s great I’m a woman doing womanly things I’m also in charge.

HAZEL

I like the image of off with his head, I’ll sign the warrant in a moment I’ve got to finish this flower. She didn’t have a lot of time for embroidery when queen, but when she was locked in her house she was able to do more which some of us can relate to. She did a lot of embroidery there’s over 100 pieces done that survived the V&A museum has a lot, I’ll send some out.

LIZ

Rather than individual links we should put them in the show notes.

HAZEL

Good idea, I’ll do that. A lot of the themes at mary queen of scot’s work are quite symbolic so yeah just to let you know how much embroidery she did. There’s a quote from an envoy of elizabeth I – all the day she wrought with her needle and the diversity of colours did make it less tedious and continued so long at it until the pain did cause her to give over.

LIZ

I’ve been there.

HAZEL

When you’re so into making a thing you go oh my wrist hurts. So they have symbolic themes and they were quite treasonous. So there’s the marian hanging which is many panels she and her household made. Curiously the jailer’s wife the famous bess of hardwick would sit with her and embroider.

LIZ

That’s wonderful.

HAZEL

There’s a symbol of a phoenix, rising from the ashes, a ginger cat toying with a mouse, obvious reference to the ginger elizabeth, one of the more obvious ones, maybe less obvious if you’re not elizabeth, but the marian hanging centre is a grapevine, a hand holding a pair of scissors at a grape vine, supposed to symbolise the pruning off of a dead fruitless branch. With queen elizabeth having no children mary’s like get rid of this one so the rest of the tree can flourish. In fact some of the evidence in the case against the babbingdon plot which led to mary being executed, one of the evidence against one of the conspirators was a cushion cover mary sent him as a present, which had scottish symbols and mary being the rightful heir to the english throne.

LIZ

That’s not even treason adjacent that’s just treason at that point.

HAZEL

That is embroidered treason. There are also english style samplers in other languages at mjission schools in various places cause colonialism apparently sometimes the um people who wanted to get ahead a bit during the occupation would send their daughters to a mission school, their daughters would learn to be nice young christian ladies and then convert back.

LIZ

Pretend to like their god, steal their knowledge, go back. I love it.

HAZEL

Yeah! There’s samplers in hindi, bengali languages…

LIZ

I love that as a form of rebellion.

HAZEL

Yeah, I’ll do it in my language. A lot of people collect these historical samplers nowadays. They can often go for large sums of money at the moment. The V&A have a lot, and Edinburgh have a lot of Mary’s embroidery. You can occasionally find them in boot saleds and things because there were a lot of these made obviously and a lot of them would have them in their homes and people wouldn’t know. You can sometimes find them at car boot sales or charity shops and they can be quite valuable. Sampler embroidery the style of samplers is popular in modern embroidery.

LIZ

Like pieces of fabric with a sampler pattern drawn on in haberdashery shops.

HAZEL

I think you can get stamped ones. People will do zapped copies of samplers so there’s a lot of embroidery patterns or cross stitch patterns which are copies of really old samplers and people like that personal line, and there are also more modern designs that use sampler motifs from old samplers but in new ways and just done in that style. I’m doing one at the moment just before quarantine came down I thought I should get a project that’ll carry me through this so I got this gigantic pattern that is called death by crossstitch and it’s by a UK designer called Longbrook Samplrs, got all these heraldic beasts and it’s supposed to be based on dutch samplers. It’s an alphabet but with letters missing bgecause they didn’t use them in dutch. There’s little animals hidden in there. Sorry going to have to pause the landline’s ringing.

LIZ

What is… Landline?

HAZEL

That brings us from 1598 to the present day.

LIZ

That’s cool I didn’t think there’d be political ones but of course they won’t all be yes I’ll sit here and do what I'[m told.

HAZEL

Yeah and I think if you’re spending that long on something of course you’re going to put something of yourself into it. And that does I don’t know I can say this on this podcast but I’ll post a link there’s a great tumblr that makes a sampler out of memes and they’re fantastic and you can get patterns. I’m doing one with a raven where the text says if I want your opinion I’ll read it on your entrails.

LIZ

We may have to skip the local larder this week because there was a lot to say about samplers.

HAZEL

Oh no!

LIZ

It’s ok, it just means something we can do at a future one.

HAZEL

I got really interested.

LIZ

I was fascinated. We hope you were too. If you have a suggestion for an episode or local larder you can email us at breadandthreadpodcast@gmail.com

HAZEL

You can find us on twitter @breadandthread

LIZ

You can support us on patreon,com/breadandthread get access to videos and recipes and we will see you next time.

HAZEL

See you then.

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