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From the Desk of Christine Merser: Samplers: Those needlework pieces you never thought about


Photo Credit: Cynthia Hochswender, The Lakeville Journal

I have a friend, Alexandra Peters. We’ve seen each other twice in thirty years, but no matter. When we speak, it’s for hours. When we text, it has nothing to do with our latest ailments; it’s cheerleading for the many things each of us seeks to do with our lives. She is my staunchest supporter, read my book in one day, and spent hours going over her notes. And, vice versa. She is a better writer than me, a true talent; I just tell interesting stories. Anyway, enough about us. That is not the point of this.


I interviewed her for my Vlog, Alexandra Peters & Samplers, about her collection of Samplers (you know, those needlework pieces on the walls of so many homes years and years ago) that she has amassed for the past few decades. She has spent countless hours, weeks, and months researching those she has purchased and understanding the enormity of samplers in our history and in the world. This has made her collection one of the best in the country, and her one of the foremost experts on samplers, and more importantly, their place in our history. Yes, women’s history. Our stories. Our past.


You see, for a long while in this country, samplers were our only way of communicating our histories. The thoughts we had. The plans we had. Quotes that mattered to us. Our family story. We weren’t allowed to write books, which of course is why history is taught war to war, but that’s a tangent that we can all agree I should leave for another time. We were allowed to do needlework, and we were judged on it as well.


Photo Credit: Cynthia Hochswender, The Lakeville Journal

Girls sat for hours and worked on the craft of doing their samplers. Fine needlework, hunched over, gently laying out what we wanted our sampler to include, and then spending sometimes years sewing them. You will find the story of our past in samplers in attics still uncovered. You will find messages in samplers as we were smuggling slaves out of the south. You will find hopes and dreams in samplers, and you will find your family’s ancestry in the samplers our great-great-grandmothers did when they were young girls. Sometimes very young. And, Alexandra’s collection has samples of them all.


We were judged by the samplers we created. Fine work was applauded, and girls who provided samplers their parents could hang with pride were showing their only opportunity to "score" 1800 on the SATs of their time.


Samplers were the diaries we weren’t allowed to keep. They are our history and deserve a larger place in museums, books, and schoolrooms, and my friend - my dear, brilliant friend has amassed a collection that I believe belongs in the Smithsonian.


Photo Credit: Cynthia Hochswender, The Lakeville Journal

Ok, here’s the payoff for you. She has a show, which she has guest curated, that opens on Friday, April 26th, in Litchfield Connecticut. Don’t miss it. Put your daughter in the car and take her there. Go with friends and then have lunch. Attend her lecture on May 5th (I will be there) and then let’s celebrate this incredible exhibit. Read about the stories as you gaze at the work of some truly talented girls from our past, and some that were less proficient, but for example, said things like, “We’s free,” which of course says it all.


Cave women used the walls and blood of the beef they slaughtered to tell our stories. Others painted in secret, while still others wrote with initials as the author signature, or a man’s name, so they could be published. And, then for a few hundred years, in our country that is still trying to find a place at the table for the ‘hers,’ we used needle and thread and linen and cotton and our history is forever carved in these precious pieces of art and history.


- Christine Merser, Founder, Blue 2 Media


Read this review from The Lakeville Journal.


Attend the Opening:

  • Exhibit Opening - "With Their Busy Needles" Date: April 26, 2024 Time: 6:00 p.m. Location: The Litchfield History Museum (7 South Street), Litchfield CT FREE and open to the public Kindly R.S.V.P. by Email at registration@litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org or online. Please join the Litchfield Historical Society for the opening reception of our newest exhibit "With Their Busy Needles: Samplers and the Girls Who Made Them" on Friday, April 26 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Samplers are more than thread stitched through cloth. As objects of art, samplers tell stories of creativity, instruction, and skilled work. As historical records, they document the lives and experiences of thousands of young women, histories that might otherwise remain unknown. 


The opening is free and open to the public. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres will be served.


With Their Busy Needles: Samples and the Girls Who Made Them showcases works from the sampler collection of Alexandra Peters, displayed alongside examples from the Litchfield Historical Society’s textile collection. Peters, a sampler historian and collector, serves as guest curator of the exhibit.


Kindly R.S.V.P. by Email to registration@litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org |

Phone at 860-567-4501 | or Online

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