Needlework Sampler (Dechado)
- Josefa de los Santos Molina y Mancilla, Spanish, blank
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 text stitched inside the two banderoles along the top of this sampler proclaim: “Josefa de los Santos Molina y Mancilla made me” (“ME HIZO JOSEFA DE LOS SANTOS MOLINA Y MANCILLA”). Probably worked in the late 1700s or early 1800s, the sampler features elaborate demonstrations of densely worked silk embroidery and intricate drawn-thread work, a technique in which 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. In the top portion of the sampler, Josefa stitched several religious and political motifs. Between the inscriptions is a crowned monogram of the Virgin Mary bordered by four putti heads, worked in metallic thread and further adorned with metallic sequins. Below, a small image of the lamb of God can be seen above a blue, double-headed eagle. Although the precise origin on this work in unknown, it was most likely made in a convent school in New Spain. These specific motifs, as well as the vertical format with patterned squares in the lower half are seen on samplers from Guatemala, suggesting the possibility that this sampler was made there as well.
--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art
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