Samplers have a long and rich history, exhibiting different styles and functions according to the culture, place, and time they were made in. In Mamluk Egypt, artisans used samplers to show potential customers various stitches and patterns they could choose from to decorate custom pieces. In Medieval England, spot samplers developed as a tool for needleworkers to collect and reference the stitches they learned over time. In colonial America, samplers became a popular pastime for schoolgirls as a way to demonstrate proficiency with the needle, but also as an educational tool for learning the literacy and mathematics.
When it came to designing the Hand Lettered Alphabet Sampler, I wanted to honor that rich tradition but also create something that was fitting for the time we live in. It’s wonderful to see so many fiber arts flourishing once again thanks to the handmade movements of the 1970’s and today. While a handful of needlework organizations keep a wealth of information alive, I’ve found that the contemporary patterns that appeal to many modern stitchers tend to only feature the most basic techniques. This is great for beginners, but thanks to the continued appreciation of handmade in recent years, I think it’s the right time to highlight the next stepping stones in that development.
This sampler incorporates 29 different stitches and stitch combinations so that you can start with the fundamental stitches and expand your stitch vocabulary all in one project! It also embraces a love of sophisticated hand lettering to give it an updated vintage aesthetic—making it appealing to stitch and display for the contemporary stitcher and a great learning tool. A complete list of the stitches you’ll find in this sampler is provided below. This is also the general order in which I recommend completing them if you are looking to build your skills as you progress:
Basic Chain Stitch
Isolated Chain Stitch
Fill Stitches/Laid Work
Turkey Work (Ghiordes Knot)
Long and Short Shading
Cross and Feather Stitches
Basic Cross Stitch
Isolated Chain Stitch
Stitch Combinations, Variations, and Effects
Padded Stem Stitch
Feathered Chain Stitch Variation
Raised Stem Band Stitch
Remember that you can also personalize a pattern with your own decisions about stitch length and thickness, colors, as well as thread type. You can even swap out stitches for different ones to experiment and test your skills.
Along with the pattern itself, I recommend the following materials to get started on your own sampler:
- Embroidery needles (I like size 5)
- Canvas twill fabric (this will provide better support for your heavier fill stitches than plain linen or cotton and is comparable to the type of fabric used in early crewelwork too)
- Carbon transfer paper and stylus or heat transfer pen
- 3–5″ hoop
- Small embroidery snips
- Cotton floss
The pattern is currently available in my etsy shop. It’s a 7 page PDF that includes a large example photo, a color and stitch guide (not stitch instructions), a basic black version of the pattern in forward and reverse (depending on how you prefer to transfer it), and instructions for my two favorite transfer methods. The completed sampler will fit a standard 11 x 17 inch frame.
If you have any questions about getting started, please feel free to leave a comment on this post and I’ll reply there and update this post with any FAQs. All of the stitches can easily be found in almost any book on embroidery and I’m currently at work on developing some stitch tutorials in addition to the embroidery classes I teach here in Boston (you can check out my calendar for current offerings or contact me to schedule one for you or your organization today. I love customizing them to compliment your setting, museum collection, or audience!