The cultural value of textiles

The cultural value of textiles

I have had a bit of an ongoing conversation with Tao who left a comment on on this post . I thought I would highlight it and come to the defence of valuing, studying and collecting needlework samplers.

People find the destruction of these cultural objects offensive because they are part of women’s history. The history and making of samplers has held a long fascination for me and Teo you are obviously unaware of it. I have an article on samplers also online There is also this article on history of samplers . The Caron site has a very good article on Samplers Through the Ages by Rita Vainius. Dutch Samplers by Lucy Lyons Willis is a good article about the tradition of Dutch needlework samplers.

Also Teo infers that nobody is interested in these embroideries that they simply clutter up the place so its perfectly valid to reuse them in another way. I want to point out that as cultural artefacts samplers are studied and valued take a look at this up and coming symposium . Exemplum Samplers run by Rob Firth who not only deals in antique samplers also provides information about the history, the meaning of motifs, the care and value of samplers in this fascinating area of textile practice. The site also houses a showcase of samplers with their background information.

The Victorian and Albert Museum has a huge collection of samplers in its textile collection. Other examples of samplers held in collections are here and at Powerhouse here is another and yet another at the National Heritage Museum . A casual search of the Cleveland Museum of Art textiles collection revealed this 17th century English Band sampler and another beautiful example from the same period. These were found on just a quick google search there are many collections held throughout the world of samplers.

I don’t like to measure the value of things according to what people will pay for. Equating cultural value with dollars is dangerous but people pay big dollars for samplers according to this report . These are quite hefty sums for samplers.

People collect, study and deal in samplers. Witney antiques are well known for this and samplersandneedlework.com also deal in samplers.

For a mirad of reasons I was disconcerted by these deconstructed works as it is using the term in an unethical manner. Take a look at Jerry’s post on deconstruction

I really think the original pieces can not be dismissed as being of little value so easily.


  1. Alright, I am probably leaving myself open to murder by needlework, but here goes. When that first article was written about that guy who was reconstructing samplers, reusing the original threads, but reinterpreting them into his own communication, my first reaction was neither nice nor in English! But now, weeks after the fact, I’ve thought about the situation, read others’ views, and perhaps (*gasp*) considered rethinking my own reaction. I think, although I don’t necessarily agree with him, that reinterpreting a work which would otherwise end up unappreciated somewhere (ok, in a landfill, as someone mentioned!)is maybe ok, particularly in the manner in which he reinterpreted the samplers. And really, what piece of art has been liked, or even accepted, automatically by all? Well, that’s an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. A piece of art is a communication from the artist to the public, or even to himself or herself. It’s not necessarily designed to be liked, it’s designed to be.

    So I humbly submit that perhaps reconstituted samplers are not so bad after all!

  2. I have seen both quilts and books deconstructed and altered. My original impulse is “what the hell are you doing? and how dare you!”

    But I have had time to reconsider this issue. I think, if the original is something that will otherwise hit the landfill, it can be repurposed into new art.

    That’s a big caveat though. Is the original really valueless? You have to have some education on the subject to be able to judge.

  3. First of all -and I’ll say this again- I thought we were not talking of women’s history versus men’s history. Apparently, I am in the wrong forum.

    Second, you run a site about samplers, quilting, embroidering, stitching, etc. Thus, I am aware of your fascination with the subject -tough I find amusing your effort to discredit me.

    Third, yes, you have quite a nice list of book titles, and museums , and people, and whathaveyou’s. But I am not infering that nobody is interested in these embroideries. What I was trying to infer is that Mr. Sollins was, in the end, the only one interested in these embroideries -certainly no the relatives of whoever made them, no the person who sold the pieces him, not any of those museums or authors you mention.

    By the way, did you ever saw any of the samplers before Mr. Sollins worked on them? Cute, I’ll give you that. Have you ever seen any of the reworked pieces? I won’t say that they are better than the old ones, or even simply good -though I may like them. But I’ll say that the new pieces will succeed where the old ones failed.

  4. This is a timely post. If you go to


    you will see the cultural textile that is currently at my place.

    It is a very degraged signature cloth, on an equally degraded back, with very degraded sides.

    The dilemna I face (and I have a little museum theory behind me), is what do I do?

    If the cloth is merely a document, I should maybe very carefully photograph and document all signatures, and then just throw it out. (I can hear screams).

    If, however, it is an artifact, not just a document, that people will seek to interact with, I should preserve/conserve (but not restore) it.

    To a degree I can do this by carefully stitching it to a supportive backing (with the interestingly hodge-podge back covered). The stitches should be able to be seen, so that it is obvious this is a modern protection. But the thread should blend. I think. Or I might go the full way and actually stitch straps of bias on top, as thread will just rip the already rotton cloth.

    Or, I should carefully take off the back (if it is possible), and stitch both front and back onto separate supports, using bias tape. Then both can be seen and supported.

    And the red edges? Very badly degraded, nothing to document – if I remove them I can better preserve the centre. But that removes some of the history of the object. I don’t think putting new red edges on is an option.

    The whole gets stored on an archivally correct cylinder, and archivally covered – but it sure is poviding a real headache as to what happens with it.

    And I have typed so much now in what was going to be a short comment, that I think I will go copy it to my blog!

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