Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Hand embroidery was an integral part of female education in Europe, America, and their colonized territories until the late 19th century. All girls embroidered at least one sampler and many stitched more than one. Because needlework was part of the school’s curriculum; a sampler’s composition, technique, and text communicate a great deal about the teacher’s goals, as well as community and family expectations, including those of indigenous students. This presentation explores ways in which indigenous motifs, materials, and text were integrated into schoolgirl samplers and other girlhood embroideries, leaving visible evidence of cross-cultural accommodations. Motifs are recurring patterns or designs, often representing an object in the natural or human made world-animals, flowers, houses, etc. This presentation will share examples of sampler motifs that (a) have indigenous origins, (b) have morphed from a motif with European origins to one with an indigenous flair, and (c) are iconic to both European and indigenous cultures but contain different symbolic meanings. Materials used to make samplers reflect their geographic origins. Most American and Western European samplers were stitched on linen ground with silk threads. Where wool was produced, the ground fabric was often fine wool instead of linen. Samplers made in colonized territories also incorporated materials that were locally available. This presentation will share examples of schoolgirl embroideries made with local materials familiar to Indigenous populations such as hair, shells, and feathers. Most samplers include text in the form of alphabets and verses. Although the majority of this text is in the language of the teacher, samplers from mission schools sometimes included alphabets and verses in the language of indigenous students. This presentation will share examples of indigenous text on samplers from Hawaii, Mexico, and Ceylon, and then conclude with possible explanations for why teachers chose to include indigenous motifs, materials, and text.