Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


I would like to acknowledge the extensive research done by Textile historians, curators and collectors. I owe a huge debt to their research and all the documentation that is available. It is my hope that I can build on this strong body of knowledge and offer some new thoughts to this historic, vibrant and diverse practice.

I want to share with you a short survey of the terrain I have been cultivating on the topic of needlework and sampler making. I want to talk about how I use samplers as a pedagogical tool and as an assigned project in my first year surface design class. I want to talk about Samplers within the context of narrative and how I use them as narrative devices in the developmental process towards creating reflective selfhood in my textile arts students. My thinking and conceptualization of Samplers is influenced by narrative theory and I will depart from the simple claim that the stories we tell about ourselves construct our identities. What I want to focus on is the construction of identities through the development of narratives. It is the narration of the self, or self-writing, and the construction of these material narratives that I see as important in the development of my students as emerging textile artists. I have been assigning a Sampler Project in my Surface Design Class since 2000 and I have witnessed the creation of over 100 contemporary Samplers made by my students. What strikes me most about these Samplers is how the students draw upon their own experiences and knowledges to create works that reflect their own needs, values and interests. These needs, values and interests foreground how their subjectiviites are deeply tied to their memories and are embodied within the narrative form of the Sampler.

Before I go further I need tell you how I interpret Samplers and the meanings I make from them. I read Samplers as material, textualized objects as well as visual aesthetic objects. As if these material, textual objects were cloth pages, or remaining fragments blown out of larger, albeit incomplete, cultural text. These fragments, often read in isolation, need to be read or viewed within a larger context. Other disciplines such as archeology, social theory, history and museum practices all aid in their visual and textual interpretation, highlighting Sampler’s interdisciplinary, or, transdisciplinary nature.