This is the third in our series of MTS Blogs about samplers we have conserved from the New Hampshire Historical Society. Sarah’s sampler is a simple upper and lowercase alphabet stitched with silk thread on a piece of undyed linen. She stitched only the numerals 1 through 4 but spent quite a bit of time perfecting the decorative floral border--perhaps nine- or ten-year-old Sarah adored flowers more than numbers. According to the NHHS digital catalog, Sarah Folsom Cochran lived from 1811 and 1844 in Pembroke and Epson, New Hampshire. Although she did not record the date she made her sampler, she did include her exact birthday as August 26th, 1811. So happy 204th birthday anniversary Sarah! (August 26th also happens to be Director Camille Myers Breeze's birthday, though she's a bit younger.)
In the early 19th century, all the dyes used to color Sarah’s bright silks would have been made from natural substances like madder for pinks and reds, and indigo or woad for blues. Many natural dyes, and the natural fibers of silk and linen, slowly degrade over time, losing their intensity and saturation as a result of things like light and heat. However Sarah's sampler is almost the same color on the front as on the back, indicating that it has been well cared for.
We know that Sarah's sampler was once framed because it came to Museum Textile Services glued onto an acidic board. Moisture in the top-left corner had caused soil and discoloration to migrate, but fortunately not the dyes. Prior to cleaning, Conservator Cara Jordan removed as much of the cardboard and adhesive residue from the reverse with mechanical action. Director Camille Breeze then used the suction table to flush deionized water through the sampler and control any potential dye bleeding. The first blotters showed a great deal of discoloration coming out of the sampler, which was exhausted after several rinses. The sampler was allowed to fully dry on the suction table beneath a piece of blotter. It was then hand stitched to a fabric-covered mounting board for display at the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Sarah’s gift to history was her sampler, and Museum Textile Services is pleased to restore some of the light and delicacy back to her work. If you are concerned about your own historic textile being damaged due to light exposure, pests, or acidity, take a look at the our MTS Handouts on Choosing Storage Materials and Displaying Textiles, located on our website.
Nine-year-old Junia Bartlett stitched this sampler of the alphabet in large bold letters around 1819. She chose pinks and blues to start her alphabet but over the years her brilliant pinks have faded to pale beige, and the blues and greens have lost some of their lustrous vibrancy. Luckily conservation allows us to peek at the back of the sampler to see the silky pink, sea-foam green, and Prussian blue she chose for her composition. Junia’s stitching techniques include the common satin stitch in blue, and a less common open work Alsatian stitch in pink. The sampler was gift in 2012 to the New Hampshire Historical Society by Gift of Klaudia S. Shepard.
Junia’s famous grandfather, Josiah Bartlett, was the 4th Governor of New Hampshire and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The family’s wealth and status afforded Junia opportunities to learn and write, and she went on to become the wife of Maine US Representative, Francis O.J. Smith. Junia’s correspondence with her brother Levi Bartlett is part of the Maine Historical Society collections, and--most unusually--she was given author credit alongside her husband on many legal and political documents in the Library of Congress catalog.
It is easy to imagine Junia sitting in the parlor, or on the front porch, stitching away at her sampler, with no idea her writings and work would be saved for almost 200 years and counting. Junia’s sampler is just one of the many pieces of her legacy that museums, libraries, historical societies and conservation specialists are working to preserve.
Museum Textile Services conservator Cara Jordan humidified Junia Bartlett's sampler to deacidify it and allow it to be safely blocked to square using pins. She then hand stitched the sampler to a fabric-covered, archival support to allow it to be safely displayed by the New Hampshire Historical Society.
Museum Textile Services has been conserving a selection of samplers from the New Hampshire Historical Society over the last few years. Each one of these beauties will be featured on the blog. First up is Bridget Walker’s 1795 sampler, so let’s dive in!
Bridget, as she proudly states in her work, was 12 when this sampler was finished in 1795. Young Miss Walker was growing up as one of the first generation of Americans born after the revolution in her town of Concord New Hampshire. In 1795 Concord was a bustling town, about to be named New Hampshire’s state capital. With industry, wealth and success in a city, education for children usually follows, and this sampler is a testament to educational values of the time.
We can see Bridget’s eye for color and form along with her alphabet, numbers, and a well-known sampler rhyme. The rhyme is slightly different in the groundbreaking 1921 compilation American Samplers by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe. As you can see from this excerpt, Bridget chose to alter the full rhyme to suit her taste and ideas of correct spelling in 1795 Concord.
Bridget’s fine sampler was stitched carefully on natural linen in silk thread, and then carefully saved through the generations. As you can see from the wrinkles and fading before conservation, it was in need of some skilled care. Museum Textile Services conservator Cara Jordan surface cleaned, humidified, and blocked the sampler before stitching it by hand to a fabric-covered archival board for storage and display. These conservation measures will improve the visual qualities for viewers and aid in the preservation of this beautiful sampler for generations to come.
Check out more details on Bridget and her sampler at the New Hampshire Historical Society.