The Cottage Orné Quilt

The Cottage Orné Quilt
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Friday, 13 January 2012

Welsh woollen samplers

I am particularly fond of the large woollen samplers that were made in great numbers here in Wales in the second half of the 19th century, long after sampler making had faded away in other countries.  Samplers something like this one -

It certainly isn't a conventional sampler design, but isn't it fun?  Quite zany - zaniness being something that these large woolly samplers have in abundance and something they share with many Welsh quilts.  Here is a detail of a teapot -

This sampler is actually for sale - for more details click here.

When the craze for Berlin woolwork swept across Europe, canvas and wool became more affordable and girls from poorer backgrounds could then make a sampler.  Welsh girls took up the challenge with enthusiasm using these new bright wools and the large meshed canvas instead of the more costly silk and linen.  They sometimes included a new Berlin motif on their samplers, but they usually stuck to the traditional motifs that had been used on earlier 19th century Welsh samplers. 

These large woolly samplers are the Cinderellas of the sampler world.  Most collectors want fine needlework and these Welsh woollies don't fall into that category.  They really are folk art and look extremely decorative in a "country look" setting, especially combined with quilts!  
I have great fun hunting for Welsh samplers on websites and in catalogues because, unless they have some words in Welsh, they are usually credited as English and then I  try to correct this.  Welsh was banned in the schools of Wales for many years, but in the latter part of the 19th century you begin to see Welsh quotations and biblical verses appear on samplers.  As speaking Welsh is fashionable again and has been heavily subsidised by government, many of the new Welsh speakers now favour samplers that include words in Welsh.

When I  study the one above for Welshness, the easiest and most obvious clue is the name  - Mary Hopkin or Hopkins, this being a very Welsh surname.  Then there is the very large naive flower at the base of the sampler which is a Carmarthenshire favourite and the two pairs of figures on either side of the house also appear on other samplers from this county.  So the chances are that this is a Carmarthenshire sampler.  It can't be proven until another similar one turns up with maybe a place or school name stitched on it .  This will then help identify any other ones that appear and then perhaps a group from a certain place can be identified.

I have doing this detective work for many years and have more than enough material for a book, but despite trying very hard to find a publisher, all my writings and photographs are languishing in a deep drawer in my desk.  However, there are now many new ways to share information, blogging being one of them.

When I began writing this blog I did a piece on Welsh samplers and showed some that I own, strangely that post has disappeared from my archive?  Blogger has obviously had a glitch but I may well show them again in the future, but I don't want to bore you with too much in one post!


Karmen said...

Thank you for letting us know these important details about Welsh samplers. I appreciate getting to know about them. I love the stripes in that teapot! Karmen

regan said...

Bore us? Are you kidding!?! We'd love to see those samplers.....and I think a book about them and their history would be wonderful!

Diane-crewe said...

not bored here! Thanks for the tea pot!!

Sue Wild said...

I could not believe that the first sampler was that old - the design would not look out of place in today's world with the fashion of tea and cupcakes - it's just amazing.

amanda white said...

Wonderful stuff Mary.
More please!

Vivienne at Vivebooks said...

Great to see you back to top blogging form Mary. I do love the idea of your detective work. Perhaps we should turn those languishing writings into an ebook. I wonder what your readers would think of that idea?
Vivienne x

MulticoloredPieces said...

Hi, Mary. This is a really interesting post. The sampler with the teapots is a marvel. The teapots and the colors make it appear more contemporary. Very interesting!
best, nadia