Author: Dr. Lynne Anderson
In celebration of the fourth annual New York Textile Month, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month of September. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.
This long and colorful band sampler was stitched in 1694 by a young English girl named Mary Milner and represents what was undoubtedly a significant educational achievement for her. The sampler is 30 inches in length, but only 8.75 inches in width (76.2 x 22.3 cm). As is true for all 17th century English band samplers, Mary used linen for the ground fabric and multiple colors of silk thread for the richly embroidered decorative bands she placed at the top and center. The other bands, in which Mary displays her skill in whitework embroidery, drawn work, and needle lace, are executed with linen thread.
Mary’s needlework is one of 30 known band samplers (or sampler fragments) that share a recognizable set of features, suggesting all were made in the same location and under the instruction of the same teacher or teachers. Although some of the features are common to many English 17th century samplers, others are unique to this group. Created over a period of at least 50 years (1661 to 1711) most of the samplers have a combination of polychrome and whitework bands as seen in Mary’s work. The specific band patterns are repeated frequently across the group and represent a small, but consistent, subset of all known 17th century patterns. For example, Mary’s three wide colored bands appear on many of the other samplers in this group, often in the same order, with the simpler bands at the top and more complicated ones in the lower registers. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the colored bands are stitched using a variety of highly decorative outlining and filling stitches to leave an eye catching, sumptuous record of the girls’ needlework skills. This technique is in stark contrast to many 17th century band samplers that rely heavily on simple outlining stitches such as the double running stitch.
The most distinctive feature of the samplers in this group, however, is the presence of alphabets and verses stitched in between the embroidered bands. Indeed, it is this feature that has been used to identify objects belonging to the “Integrated Text” group of band samplers. The practice of alternating text with embroidered bands was not common in 17th century needlework, and probably represents an intentional effort by the teacher to integrate more literacy instruction into the girls’ curriculum. Mary Milner stitched one alphabet (in white, just above her first panel of drawn work) and two verses. Her first verse begins with the words “Dear child delay no time…”. Shared by four samplers in this group, the verse exhorts the sampler maker to recognize that time on earth is short and therefore she should “to virtuous acts incline.” Mary’s second, and much longer, verse comprises two stanzas from a 14-stanza poem written by Abraham Cheare (1628-1668), published posthumously in a book of collected works entitled “A Looking Glass for Children.” Cheare was an early Baptist minister in Plymouth, England who was repeatedly persecuted for his non-conformist views and refusal to cease preaching. He spent the last three years of his life in an island prison, much of it writing letters and spiritual poems. The poem that Mary excerpted for her sampler is entitled “Remember Now Thy Creator in the Days of Thy Youth” (inspired by Ecclesiastes 12:1) and was a popular choice among sampler makers in this group.
Twenty-one of the 30 samplers are signed and dated, facilitating research on the girls and their families. Where the girls have been identified with certainty, all were daughters of families living in London and all the families were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to locate Mary Milner or her family. However, we can assume a few significant things about her: Mary’s parents were Quakers and probably lived in London; she was born between 1678 and 1685, making her nine to fifteen years of age when she stitched this sampler; in 1694 she was going to school in or near London with the daughters of other Quaker parents; and Mary worked her sampler under the instruction of a very skilled, and demanding, needlework teacher.
We also know that Mary was a close contemporary of three girls who stitched very similar samplers at approximately the same time: sisters Alice and Margaret Jennings (whose 1692 and 1695 samplers are in the Goodhart Collection at Montacute House) and Mary Wilson (whose 1695 sampler is in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. ) All four samplers share the same richly embroidered polychrome bands as well as many whitework bands; all four have simple signatures with just the girl’s name and the year worked; and all four have lengthy verses stitched in red or rust colored silk alternating with the decorative bands. Mary Milner and Alice Jennings both stitched the verse beginning “Dear Child delay no time…”. Mary Milner and Mary Wilson both stitched the same two stanzas from Abraham Cheare’s poem “Remember Now Thy Creator.”
At this time, it is difficult to say with certainty where Mary Milner and her peers received their needlework instruction. Of the thirty known samplers in this group, only one names a location. Ten years before Mary completed her work, Hannah Downes signed her “Integrated Text” sampler by telling us she “wrought this at Shacklewell 1684.” Shacklewell was a hamlet northeast of central London and the location of a Quaker boarding school for girls. Launched by George Fox and the London Quarterly Meeting in 1667, the first schoolmistress was the widow Mary Stott who, in spite of financial difficulties, was still in charge in 1677. She was apparently succeeded by Jane Bullock, who died in 1687. It is unknown how long the school continued at the Shacklewell location or who taught needlework to London’s Quaker daughters in the mid 1690s when Mary Milner was a student. The Quaker practice of alternating the stitching of literary verses with decorative bands was clearly well established long before Mary attended school and continued into the first quarter of the 18th century. Mary Milner’s sampler is a testimony to the importance of decorative needlework instruction to 17th century Quaker families in London, as well as the long-lasting commitment of early Quaker leaders to literacy and learning for girls as well as boys.
Dr. Lynne Anderson is Director of the Sampler Archive Project at the University of Delaware, working with museums and historical societies across the country to create an online database of early American schoolgirl samplers and related girlhood embroideries. She is also co-founder of Sampler Consortium, an international organization promoting scholarship on historic girlhood embroidery.
 The same patterns have been stitched with sufficient frequency on other 17th century English band samplers that they have been given names, derived from their appearance. From top to bottom, the names are: (a) Grape, three arcade, doubled with leaves; (b) Dianthus knot, five arcade doubled with flowers and curls; and (c) Rose quincunx, three arcade twisted. Along with other common band patterns, they appear in Jacqueline Holdsworth, “Pattern Catalogue,” in Mary M. Brooks, Elizabeth Feller, and Jacqueline Holdsworth, The Micheál and Elizabeth Feller Needlework Collection: I (Needleprint, 2011), 201-207.
 Abraham Cheare, A Looking Glass for Children: Being a Narrative of God’s Gracious Dealings with Some Little Children. Re-collected by Henry Jessey in his lifetime., 2nd edition (London: Robert Butler, 1673), 23-26.
 Research conducted by Lynne Anderson for a book in progress entitled ‘To Virtuous Acts Incline:’ Quaker Female Life, Literacy, and Needlework in 17th Century London. For a discussion of some of the samplers and sampler makers in this group see Carol Humphrey, Sampled Lives, Samplers from the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum, 2017), 171-182.
 Discussed and illustrated in Dorothy Bromily Phelan, Eva-Lotta Hansson, and Jacqueline Holdsworth, The Goodhart Samplers. (Needleprint, 2008), 132-137.
 Mary Wilson’s band sampler. Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (1985.179).
 Hannah Downes’ band sampler. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England (T.39-1935).
 William Beck and Thomas Frederick Ball, The London Friends’ Meetings (London: F. B Kitto, 1869). Reproduced in William Beck and Thomas Frederick Ball, The London Friends’ Meetings (General Books, 2009), 100, 275.