Needlework Sampler (Dechado)

Needlework Sampler (Dechado)

María Deig
Barcelona, Spain Valencia, Spain
Silk embroidery on linen foundation
Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond L. Grimes for the Julia Wolf Glasser Collection
María Deig. Needlework Sampler (Dechado). 1847. Silk embroidery on linen foundation. Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond L. Grimes for the Julia Wolf Glasser Collection. 1965.230.
length: 13 1/2 in, 34.2900 cm; width: 26 1/2 in, 67.3100 cm; length: 13 in, 33.0200 cm; width: 26 in, 66.0400 cm
In register at upper right: Written in Catalan/Valencian: “ES.FET.DE. / MARIA.DEIG / ANY.1847.” English translation: Made by María Deig in the year 1847 In register at upper left: “ABCDEFGHIJKLLLMNÑOPqRSTVXYZ.123456789.” “ABCDEFGHIJKLLLMNÑOPqRSTVXYZ.123456789.” “ABCDEFGHIJKLLLMNÑOPqRSTVXYZ.MARIA”
Textile Art and Fashion
Textile Art and Fashion-European

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 inscription at upper right on this sampler is written in Catalan, a language spoken in northeastern Spain, a region that includes the cities of Barcelona and Valencia. The inscription indicates it was made by María Dieg in the year 1847 (“ES FET MARIA DEIG ANY 1847”). At upper left, three rows of Spanish alphabets (including the letters “ll” and “ñ”) and two rows of numeral are neatly stitched in green-colored silk. The lower left half of the sampler is filled with numerous symbols associated with Christ’s Passion. To the right, a small altar is depicted, upon which sits a pair of gold candlesticks and what appears to be a statue of the Christ child. There are at least four known samplers related to this one dated to the early- to mid-1800s. All are long and narrow, feature the same distinct green thread and Passion symbols, and either include text in Catalan or the names of girls commonly used in Catalan-speaking regions. Two of the samplers include vesting prayers and other texts related to the Catholic liturgy. Thus, it is possible they were made in part as practice by schoolgirls at a convent where embroidered priestly vestments were made. 

--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art

Known Provenance
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