Monday, September 30, 2019

Sewing Sampler Books

Miniature apron with instructions as how to make one

I've been doing a little research for my sister who volunteers at the town historical society. They have an unidentified item, a needlework sampler booklet that is labeled "Chicago Training School for Sewing, class of 1901."

They are no where near Chicago and we can't figure out why it is even in the collections---except that small museums used to collect anything old.

I figure it is a school girl project made during a sewing class. I couldn't find the Chicago Training School for Sewing but I did find reference to the Chicago Industrial School for Girls, which had over 500 students (residents?) in 1915 ages 3-18. They were taught sewing, embroidery and other skills deemed useful for girls who had fallen into the juvenile justice system of the era. The booklet probably came out of that school or something similar.

UPDATE: See the comments. SusieQ found a reference to the Methodist institution Chicago Training School for Home & Foreign Missions, founded by Lucy Rider Meyer and Josiah Meyer in 1885. I bet this is it because in the back of the booklet are clippings about foreign missions.

They decided to de-accession the sampler book to another nonprofit, so I am
bringing it to AQSG's seminar this week to sell in the silent auction.
Money to AQSG.

Typical American schoolgirl sampler 1790 by an 11-year-old
from M. Finkel & Daughter who specialize in samplers.

There is a long history of stitching a pictorial sampler of needlework as a teaching tool. We are most familiar with "samplers," a single piece of stitchery, often done by young students.

Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum
But there is also a long tradition of samplers of
sewing stitches---no pictures. This one 1600-1650.

Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum
Eliza Broadhead learned useful darning stitches at the Ackworth School

What we are discussing here, though, is a booklet rather than a single piece.

Darning samples in a book

Here's an early 20th century version, a handmade book.
The student has clipped the typed instructions for the stitches

and glued them into her booklet.

A gathered sleeve,
examples of plain sewing

An old-fashioned seam butting two selvage edges together.

In the Chicago example she handwrote the instructions.

Crochet motifs stitched to a fabric page

and bound together with a hand stitch.

This one looks to have been printed just for the purpose
of inserting samples.

Notice the tiny bootie knit for a china doll

The Victoria & Albert has a great example made by Ellen Mahon
at the Boyle School in Ireland, 1852-1854
The miniature clothing!

Lace samples from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England

Another from their collection, dated 1835

Ireland 1833
It looks like samples have been glued into an instruction book., probably
printed just for that purpose.

Some of these might be commercial---samples of pattern
one could order from a workshop, perhaps.

My favorites are the handmade cloth books, which
seem to have inspired artist Mandy Patullo at Thread & Thrift

Here are instructions on making one as a teaching tool today.


  1. Not so different from sampler quilts. We make a block to learn it, to figure it out, to have it as a reference, to, perhaps, decide if we want to make an entire quilt from it.

    My aunt, Pauline Hanson Cleary, was born on a farm in Nebraska in the mid-1890s. She was well-educated — she was a school, teacher — but she preferred to “sample” a crochet pattern rather than simply write down the directions. One Christmas she gave my sister a doll afghan; the piece was a sample of a pattern she’d encountered on a trip. She came home and made a couch-sized afghan, then gave the sample to my sister for her dolls.

  2. There were also distance learning sewing workbooks. Examples were pasted into the book after each lesson.
    Some “finished” books were also used as portfolios for employment when coursework was finished. Small clothing pieces are sometimes mistaken for doll clothes.
    I will be showing some in my study center at AQSG.

  3. I have made sewing sampler books (really in binders) myself, one when I was learning how to use my serger, another in a tailoring class, and probably at least one more, for general sewing. They are useful, for example when I was trying to remember how to make a bound buttonhole! Now we have the Internet to look up things, but not so back in the day. I still have mine. And I am planning on making a another one for the many stitches my sewing machine makes, one of these days.

  4. This was very fascinating! Your research is a gift for us all and I thank you.

  5. I love this little treasure! Thank you so much, Barbara, for sharing so many wonderful examples of needlework from history. Not only the needlework, but also the stories.

  6. I have a large collection of sewing samplers and sampler books. They are such treasures. Many were made in Belgium, Netherlands and UK but we see more American samplers post Civil War when school curriculum became more standardized. Many were done like band samplers with the different seams, etc neatly identified by the students. Books tend to appear more towards the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. My mother made sewing samplers in elementary school in the early 1930s and I made a sampler book of sorts in 7th grade home ec in the 1960s. Just love them!

  7. Some of the samples with the page you mentioned as crochet are actually bobbin lace and tatting.

  8. I poked around some and found this..... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Training_School_for_Home_and_Foreign_Missions

    may not have been academic.