Needlework Sampler (Dechado)

Needlework Sampler (Dechado)

unknown maker
Mexico, Guatemala
Silk embroidery on linen foundation
Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond L. Grimes for the Julia Wolf Glasser Collection
unknown maker. Needlework Sampler (Dechado). 1800s. Silk embroidery on linen foundation. Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond L. Grimes for the Julia Wolf Glasser Collection. 1965.235.
length: 15 in, 38.1000 cm; width: 30 in, 76.2000 cm
Textile Art and Fashion
Textile Art and Fashion-Ancient and Latin American Art

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. 

Although unsigned and undated, this sampler was likely made in the 1800s by a young woman in Mexico or Guatemala. The top half of the linen panel is decorated with scrolling floral designs and basket overflowing with flowers. The bouquet, however, was never finished and the pencils lines used to mark and compose the final image are still visible. The bottom portion of the sampler is filled with numerous strips and rectangles that demonstrate a wide variety of intricate needlework techniques, such as types of 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. Two strips, those at far left and at second from the left, are made using a technique commonly referred to as “Aztec stitch,” a type of open-work technique that may be unique to Mexican samplers, possibly based in pre-Hispanic practices.  

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