Welsh Samplers - Folk Art of Wales?
Welsh Wool Samplers
From the lack of early samplers held in our Welsh museum collections it seems that sampler making came late to Wales. We see a good number made in the first half of the 19th century but after 185o sampler making became a craze and it would seem that not only did every school girl make one but so too did her older sisters long after they must have left the school room and entered service. Why? One theory is that many were made in Chapel Sunday Schools, which were not just for young children as now, where older girls and women were also educated in bible reading and sewing. This would account for fact that many woollen samplers were made by young women rather than children. It seems very much a Welsh thing as by this time sampler making in the rest of Britain was in decline.
Woollen samplers have always been at the bottom of the antique sampler league and like most of our history it was very much a class thing. In Britain in the 17th and 18th century only girls from wealthy families had the time and the means to sew samplers and it wasn’t until the mid 19th century, when cheaper materials such as wool and canvas became available that poorer girls were able to make them as part of the basic education they were beginning to receive, not only in state education but in chapel and church run schools.
Of course these samplers were not made with fine fabric, but tapped into the craze for Berlin Woolwork which had swept across Europe and America. As its name suggests it originated in Germany where extremly bright chemically dyed wool was being manufactured and specially coloured printed patterns were also being produced. This combination was marketed with spectacular success as it was easy to achieve realistic interpretations of all the embroidery subjects so beloved by Victorians such as animals, flowers and picturesque and biblical scenes. It was so popular that it soon eclipsed all other forms of embroidery and undermined the need for complicated stitchery techniques as only simple stitches such as tent and cross stitch were needed to produce a good result.