Among the textile traditions brought to Mexico following the Spanish conquest in 1519 was that of samplers. As in Europe, the creation of samplers by young girls of genteel families was an important component of their education; in addition to learning a range of stitches that could be used for both decorative and practical sewing purposes, girls were also expected to acquire values associated with femininity including patience, obedience, and diligence. Although most surviving Mexican samplers date to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the motifs were established in the sixteenth century. Pattern books, one of the primary means of circulating designs for samplers in Europe, were less available in Mexico, and, instead, needlework itself served to both record and disseminate motifs and stitches. As this hanging demonstrates, girls and young women using a standardized repertoire nonetheless produced samplers that reflected a sense of individual expression.
The nine complete samplers and smaller pieces of embroidery (all with linen grounds) that have been joined to form the hanging illustrate the motifs, colors, and stitches typical of many nineteenth-century pieces. The pictorial samplers are worked in two main techniques: white-on-white embroidery featuring padded satin stitches, stem, buttonhole and chain stitches, drawn and cut work (known as deshilado), and French knots worked in linen thread; and polychrome silk embroidery executed in shaded satin, split, stem, brick, eyelet, and running stitches, with French knots. The samplers with geometric patterns and stylized plant, animal and bird motifs are worked in silk tent and cross stitches and drawn work. Colored glass beads, purl, and sequins, the latter introduced by the Spaniards, add sparkling glints to both pictorial and geometric samplers. The sophisticated needlework and compositions in some of these suggest that they represent a "master sampler" or were embroidered by a young woman with accomplished sewing skills.
Provenance: Found in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the hanging was assembled in 1921 by a family of American missionaries who fled China in 1912 and settled in Oaxaca, where they collected the samplers.
For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg 2015 catalogue.