Needlework Sampler (Dechado)
- María Galindo, 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 Spanish inscription on this Mexican sampler tells us it was made in 1844 by María Galindo, under the instruction of her teacher, Doña María Díaz (“Lo hizo Maria Galindo Discipula de Doña Maria Diaz Año de 1844”). Along the top are three sets of alphabets, each worked in a different style, that include the Spanish letters “ll” and “ñ.” Below Galindo’s signature is a set of numbers (from 1 to 12), as well as various decorative, religious, and possibly political motifs. The lower portion of the sampler features four bands of repeat border patterns. These bands, as well as some of the motifs, such as the eight-pointed star seen at left, are examples of survivals of traditional patterns derived from early pattern books. The entire sampler is bordered by pink ribbon and decorated with tassels at each corner, evidence it was meant to be proudly displayed in a home or school.
--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art