From the 15th century young girls embroidered samplers – pieces of needlework depicting their skills with a needle and thread. In 1875, at the age of eight, my paternal grandmother crafted her first one depicting letters of the alphabet. In 1879 she produced her masterpiece – an embroidered 12-line poem, bordered with a circle of leaves and flowers measuring 12 inches by 16. It included her name, Grace Buckingham, age 12 and the century 18. Her birth year was not included: she didn't want visitors working out her age in later years.
My aged maiden aunt, aged nine in 1901, embroidered her own alphabet square, but never graduated to a poem, choosing instead to concentrate her talents on fine knitting, rug making and crocheting.
My mother-in-law was a 20th century embroiderer creating pictures with intricate stitchwork, scorning cross stitch as akin to painting by numbers.
In the late seventies I persuaded her, after having embroidered a barn owl for me, to create a sampler of my childhood farm. Finished over a year later, it contained the farmhouse, the fields with their names, small motifs of places and things associated with the parish of Knowstone, set in a border of 23 local flowers. In one floral square, a fox, hidden from the huntsmen. The chapel was not included, not because it had been the bane of my childhood, but because John Wesley had yet to bring Methodism to Knowstone when the farmhouse had been built.
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Today, signed Muriel Stephens 1994, the work of art takes pride of place in our dining room.