Caring for Historic Samplers
by: Sara J. Wolf
The creation of a sampler used to be a
fundamental part of the education of
young ladies. Control of a needle and
mastery of the alphabet were necessary
to care for and repair, as well as
mark, household linens-an important
part of a family's wealth in the 18th
A renewed interest in samplers has
brought a renewed interest in their
care and proper display, and has also
brought to light the problems of their
preservation. The sampler was generally
stitched on a linen fabric using silk
or wool (and sometimes cotton) thread.
Linen, if properly cared for, is very
durable. However, the flax fiber is easily
compressed when it is folded, and
in time can break through the threads.
The wool and silk are often very faded,
and sometimes have suffered from
insect damage. If the sampler was
framed, the framing processes may
have also contributed to the deterioration
of the textile. Some have been
pressed directly against the glass, and
without sufficient air space have suffered
from mildew. Others may have
been framed directly against a cardboard
or wooden backing. The acidity
of the cardboard or wood will have
weakened and darkened the fabric.
Some samplers have been glued into
In order to ensure that a sampler will
last far into the future, it should be carefully
cleaned and reframed using
museum-quality materials that provide
a good environment for the textile and
contribute to its long-term preservation.
The following steps are recommended
for a sampler which is in
strong condition. If a sampler is
stained and needs to be washed, or has
been glued to a backing board, or is in
fragile condition, it should be referred
to a conservator for treatment.
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Winter 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45443/. Accessed May 23, 2013.