Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Carmarthen bird samplers.

Carmarthen, the town and county have already been mentioned quite a few times on this blog and I am fairly sure they will crop up many times in the future.  It is an area in South West Wales which has a rich textile history and thousands of samplers were sewn there in the 19th century.

Many of its samplers have a pair of very large birds, sometimes the predominant motif but also accompanied by other major elements.  I am not sure where the pattern originated or what sort of birds they are but they are certainly distinctive.

These are some of the samplers - all come from around the town of Carmarthen and there are many links which can be recognised.

I have more of these on file and they will appear when I manage to digitalise the images.

This beauty has everything, the  house which is seen on many samplers from Carmarthen, also the shepherd and shepherdess and right at the top, not very distinct in this picture, cupids with bows and arrows!
Sorry about this awful picture, this is my sampler which comes from a village just north of Carmarthen called Bronydd Arms.  It too has the cupids and also some picturesque red ruins which can be found on other samplers from this area.
This one has a border of leaves and acorns, much favoured on Carmarthen samplers. 
This sampler is very similar to the first without the house, but has a version of the bluebell trees.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Yet another Church.

It seem that samplers are like buses, when one comes along, others follow. Here is another sampler featuring Wrexham Church which is full of interesting content and favourite "Welsh" motifs. 

Just look at those birds flying over the church - they look more like the "Red Arrows" doing formation flying but birds over churches is very Welsh!
Some of the birds have strayed and seem to be dive bombing the house! 
The central urn with the three over sized carnations is a favourite Carmarthenshire motif.

All pictures are by courtesy of and that link will take you to the website where there are a few more.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

From just over the Border!

I realise that sampler research isn't for everyone, just a few of us anoraks, but my intention is to record what I know about Welsh samplers so that anyone interested can learn about them with me.  No book can really compete with the Internet as a resource, because a book is restricted by the pictures that can be used, which also have to be of high quality.  The Internet allows pictures of all quality to used freely. 

So I was very excited when I found this sampler on Pinterest recently - let me try and explain its significance.

Note all the plants in line with the house and the two figures. These are favourites!

At first glance it's rather nondescript but it really made me sit up and take notice.  It was made in Dawley which is in Shropshire just on the border with England in 1745, but it contains motifs that were used regularly on Welsh samplers more than a hundred years later

I have always said that the motifs on Welsh samplers weren't Welsh but that it's their repetitive use on so many samplers in Wales that indicates Welshness. Here is some proof!

This little lady will appear again on this blog and the rosebud tree.
The shepherd with crook will also appear again and also the bluebell tree.

 This English sampler, albeit from a place very close to Wales, contains sampler motifs, mostly likely taken originally from a pattern book, these then spread across the border into Wales and were constantly repeated until they became endemic.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Berlin influence.

I have chosen this sampler by Rachel Thomas as an example of how things changed in the world of Welsh samplers around 1850 -

Note the two bell like plants in red urns. These were very popular on Welsh Samplers and occur again and again.

I am taking 1850 as a convenient date, samplers didn't suddenly change in that year but materials and motifs did alter around then and this sampler is a very good example of that transition.

In the above sampler Rachel Thomas has used two large Berlin motifs - the flower bouquet and the basket - as the dominant elements on her samplers.  She has, however, surrounded these with very traditional samplers motifs and border that appear so often on samplers stitched in Wales.

It looks as if is is worked on finer fabric than the canvas that became the favourite as the century progressed.  Samplers made in Wales before my 1850 watershed, would have been worked either on a wool or linen background but when Berlin Woolwork's canvas and wools with their much brighter colours became generally available, girls and young women began sewing samplers in enormous numbers mixing "Berlin" motifs with the motifs that had been traditional on Welsh Samplers for many decades.

Here is another less well planned in fact rather an haphazard design of around the same date -

Smaller bluebell trees are also favourite motifs on Welsh samplers.

This one has a lady feeding chickens at the centre, which is a very "Berlin" design flanked by two flower sprays from the same source, but squeezed in between are the two "bluebell" trees!  So although Berlin patterns were popular our favourite traditional sampler motifs weren't abandoned entirely.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Welsh not American

I have reworked a post which was published earlier in the year on my Little Welsh Quilts blog.  This blog was then just a vague idea, had it been up an running, this post would have been there!
My grandmother was born Mary Evans, which is a name quite commonly found on Welsh samplers and because I can't  resist a sampler with her name I have a few in my collection. Although I no longer buy, this sampler in an on-line auction earlier this year, immediately caught my attention -

It was listed as American, though I am perfectly certain it's Welsh!  I have seen so many Welsh samplers with that particular house as well as those robin type birds which are generally found on Carmarthenshire samplers.  I will return to this group of samplers in a future post and go into the similarity of style in more detail.

On the same sampler trawl I found another -

This was also listed as American but again I am pretty certain it's Welsh.

I am not really surprised to see British samplers listed as American because the antique trade isn't knowledgeable or interested in sampler history, they are in the business of getting the best price! There are a few top dealers who do their best to collect information to enhance a sale, but the of lack of well researched publications make it extremely difficult.

Of course as time goes by samplers are dispersed worldwide and stray far from their homeland, but somewhere in the USA someone maybe hanging one of the above samplers on their wall having paid an "American" price for a non American sampler!  For as you may know, American samplers are priced more highly than British!  Buyer beware!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Another Church

About twelve years ago I organised an exhibition of Welsh Samplers at Brecon Museum. As far as I am aware it was the first time that samplers from several Welsh museums, together with those from private collections had been brought together.  Unfortunately for lots of reasons, mainly financial, there is no catalogue, but they all remain in my memory and I did take photographs many of which will no doubt appear on this blog sooner or later.
My earlier post about Churches on Welsh samplers brought this sampler to mind -

Again I must apologise for the image.  I didn't take the picture but doubt if I could have done better because old glass is extremely reflective making photographing a sampler in it's frame extremely difficult.  However, and I hope you agree, I would rather have an imperfect picture than no picture!  I am interested in the content of a sampler and if it is good I want to record it and will settle for less than perfect.

This picture was sent to me by someone who had visited the exhibition and who thought I might be interested in his family sampler and I was!  It was worked in 1900 by Angharad Llewellyn and the Church is said to be Ystradfellte Church where the family worshipped. Now I am usually sceptical of such claims because very often the image on the sampler is nothing like the original but in this case it may be true?

St Mary's Church, Ystradfellte The Church building dates from the 16th Century but some parts are possibly from an earlier period.

I think this sampler is wonderful and it is also quite unusual for a few reasons.  "Angharad" is a very Welsh name and Welsh girl's names are rarely found on Welsh samplers.  Unlike now, when speaking Welsh is greatly encouraged, the teaching heavily susidised and Welsh names extremely fashionable, it used to be actively discouraged and children were given English names even if Welsh was their first language. The explanation maybe that 1900 was late in the era of sampler making, though in Wales it did go on until the first World War, long after it was fashionable elsewhere.  Which meant that the campaign against using Welsh had mellowed somewhat, because the language certainly had begun to appear on samplers towards the end of the 19th century.

The other thing that makes it a bit unusual to a sampler buff like me, is that it's format is a bit Scottish looking with its defined border.  But then it is unwise to speculate, sampler formats are extremely diverse making any theory in danger of being overturned.  There is no doubt that this sampler is Welsh and it is quite possible that there are more like it somewhere because very few, if any, were original designs, there was usually a school format that everyone followed. Unlike today, being orginal wasn't encouraged!


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Ships on Welsh Samplers

It is not really surprising why ships are favoured motifs on Welsh samplers because here in Wales we are never far from the sea, it surrounds us on three sides.  In the past, before the railway, it was the main means of transporting people and goods.  All that has changed and now once flourishing port towns have become tourist areas and their fleet of ships have long gone, even the fishing has diminished because of EU policy - but that's politics and another story!

So it's rather nice that ships are commemorated on our samplers and very often with their name -

Betsy Evans was 16 when she did this sampler, far too old to be at day school!
Sorry about the definition on this sampler - Again Catharine Davies wasn't a schoolgirl but 20 years of age.  The sampler is not fine needlework and the ship looks like one from a  pattern book.
This is a famous and stunning sampler in Carmarthen Museum. Wonderful ship and the name "Prince Royal" could be authentic!  Margaret Davies was 19 when she worked this but she doesn't look as if she was comfortable with lettering!
This is definitely folk art rather than fine needlework!
Sorry about this picture but it it gives a flavour of this wonderful folk art piece.  I wonder if the Alabama was a real ship and I love the dogs on board?
Six ships on this very colourful sampler but what a peculiar house!

I hope this selection of ship samplers informs and charms you and helps you to understand why I call them folk art.  I just love their zaniness.  The girls and young women who sewed them weren't comfortable with sewing, that much is obvious, but the samplers they produced have a wonderful naive quality.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Churches on Welsh Samplers

On my Little Welsh Quilt blog earlier this year,  I wrote a post about a sampler featuring Wrexham Church. 

This is what I said about it then -

It isn't anything like the Welsh samplers I have described in my earlier post. It was made in 1843, just  before the time when woollen samplers seem to burst on the scene and the Welsh language began to appear. The naming of of Wrexham Church is a obvious indication but images of churches were very common on Welsh samplers and are always an indication of Welshness. As are the flight of birds surrounding the church and the style of the tree and plant motifs.

What I find interesting, is that though Wrexham is in North Wales, this sampler displays motifs very much in the style of those found on samplers made in South Wales and this is unusual.

Though I lived in Wales for most of my life I wasn't educated here and so didn't do Welsh history hence my ignorance of the fact that this church was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of Wales and featured in a rhyme so
                         Pistyll Rhaeadr, Wrexham steeple, 
                         Snowdon's mountain without its people,  
                         Overton yew trees, St Winefride wells, 
                         Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.

Perhaps the fame of this church means that it was an ideal motif for a Welsh sampler - it was famous throughout Wales so it is entirely possible that this sampler could have been made anywhere in Wales and would explain why I thought that it came from South Wales.  It might also be the reason why churches were regularly found on Welsh samplers.  Here are some more -

And this is a picture of the actual church -

Could it have been the reason why churches are so popular on Welsh samplers?

Monday, 12 November 2012

A sampler by Anne Llewellin, 1837.

The sampler below is on the Finkel and Daughter site, who are well known dealers based in Philadelphia.  They sent an image to me a few weeks ago asking if I thought it was Welsh.  I was happy to confirm this because it has so many motifs regularly found on Welsh samplers and I believe it comes from Carmarthenshire.

It doesn't really fall into my folk art category because it is quite early for a a Welsh sampler - 1837 and seems to have been worked on a fine wool ground with silk.  Around 1850 things changed.  Samplers began to be worked on canvas with wool and made by older girls, making them larger, brighter and less detailed, hence my folk art tag.  This sampler was made before the divide but the same motifs were used on the later samplers, albeit more crudely and sometimes carelessly worked making them less desirable to sampler collectors!   

Well what are the motifs that convinces me that it is Welsh and why Carmarthenshire? Look first at the name.  It's obvious really, if a sampler has a Welsh surname I look at it for more clues.  This one has Llewellin which is definitely Welsh!  Then there is a Church!  Churches were very often a main motif on Welsh samplers as too were ships.  What of the subsidiary motifs?  They aren't intrinsically Welsh as many can be found on other British or even Continental samplers, but many were used repeatedly on samplers made in certain areas of Wales or sometimes to a specific school.  This sampler has many motifs found on Carmarthenshire samplers and the border is one that was a favourite in that county.

Keep tuned in and I will show you more on future posts.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Learning about Welsh Samplers

In the opening title I explain the basics of this blog.  It will be intermittent because I can only discuss and compare the samplers as they appear.  One day I might find three on an auction website and then nothing will happen for a while.

I have long been fascinated by these Welsh woollen samplers which were usually worked on canvas with Berlin Wool.  I believe that they shouldn't be judged as needlework because that are usually crudely worked.  There is nothing fine or delicate about them, they aren't skillfully stitched and many are worked by older girls who were long past school age. I am puzzled by this but wonder if they were worked in Sunday Schools because I know that not just small children went to Sunday School, older girls and women went too!

The sampler below appeared on eBay a few months ago.  It wasn't listed as Welsh but it was full of motifs that I recognised as coming from Carmarthenshire, in fact I own one which contains very similar motifs.

On this sampler, the two pairs of flower filled urns are Welsh favourites.  There is nothing intrinsically Welsh about them only that they constantly appear on samplers made in Wales.

The absence of a verse is another pointer.  My theory is that as Welsh not English was the maker's first language and though by this time Welsh verses were appearing on samplers,  in many ways, if there was a choice, it was easier not to bother and just fill the sampler with a myriad motifs!

If anyone out there has any information which can either confound or confirm my opinions please comment.
This is still a a learning process for me.