Needlework Sampler (Dechado)
- Jesús Robles, blank
- María Jesús Robles
Instruction in sewing, embroidery, and other needlework was considered an essential element of a young woman’s education in Spain and the Spanish Americas during the early modern period until at least the late 1800s. Over the course of her education, especially when undertaken in a school outside the home, a girl would typically produce at least one advanced needlework exercise called a sampler (dechado in Spanish), a panel of embroidered cloth made to show off the student’s training and skill. Like the more well-known works from Great Britain and the United States, samplers made by schoolgirls across the Spanish-speaking world often include a wide variety of stitches and other needlework techniques, alphabets, numbers, verses, as well as religious and decorative motifs sometimes drawn from printed pattern books. Girls frequently signed and dated their samplers, and occasionally included the name of the school or instructor who supervised the project.
Although proficiency in needlework was considered a practical skill, it also came to be equated with female virtue and popular conduct manuals such as Juan Luis Vives’ Education of a Christian Woman (first published in Latin in 1523) and other moralizing texts promoted textile work as a particularly appropriate type of feminine labor. In addition, the stitching of a sampler demonstrated more than needlework skills as the embroidered text and imagery often drew upon multiple aspects of a young woman’s education, including reading and writing, math, drawing and composition, religion, politics, and geography. The display and preservation of samplers by families further points to their role as a symbol of a young woman’s accomplishment, virtue, and social status. A sampler is oftentimes the only surviving record of a woman’s life. As objects of artistic and material culture, samplers not only chart the history of needlework, but give evidence of the limitations and opportunities in female education and literacy, and help to illuminate the lives of individual women, their families, and the specific cultural, religious, and political contexts in which they lived.
The Spanish inscription at the top of this sampler indicates that it was made by Jesús Robles at the National School for Girls in León in the year 1844 (“LO HIZO JESUS ROBLES EN LA ESCUELA NACIONAL DE NIÑAS EN LEON EL AÑO DE 1844”). Although “Jesús Robles” suggests a male embroider, it is more likely an abbreviated form of the female maker’s full name, which in this case may be María Jesús Robles or María de Jesús Robles. The school described in the inscription is as of yet unidentified, but may refer to a public, state-sponsored school established after Independence in León, Guanajuato, Mexico. The inscription and repeat border patterns underneath were created with the use of drawn-thread work. With this technique, certain warp and weft threads are removed from the ground fabric, while the remaining threads are grouped or bundled together to produce patterns and designs. On this sampler the remaining threads were wrapped with colored silk to give the imagery and text added vibrancy and boldness.
--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art