Girls, sometimes as young as five years old, were often taught skills needed to keep a family sufficiently dressed by, in part, making cross stitched samplers. The word sampler comes from the French word, examplair – a model or pattern to copy or imitate – and originally samplers were more important as a way for women to […]
Girls, sometimes as young as five years old, were often taught skills needed to keep a family sufficiently dressed by, in part, making cross stitched samplers. The word sampler comes from the French word, examplair – a model or pattern to copy or imitate – and originally samplers were more important as a way for women to keep a record of the various stitches they were able to employ in making, mending, and decorating clothing and household fabrics than as a teaching tool. In Shaker families girls were often put to work doing basic sewing as they were watched over by the older Shaker sisters. One of the tasks assigned to young girls may have been the marking of clothing and household linens with someone’s initial, a building name, their Shaker family name, or room number. With such an identifying mark, items could be returned to the proper person or place after they had been mended, laundered, or misplaced.
The sampler featured here was created by Mary Louisa Young, born April 19, 1831, who came with her mother and brothers to live with the Shakers in the fall of 1842. She and her brothers were born in St. Martin Provence, County of Terrabonne, in Lower Canada. Louisa, or Loiza, as her name appears in early Shaker records, was placed at the Church Family, Mount Lebanon, on November 21, 1842 – a place that would remain her home until her death on March 26, 1906. Her sampler was apparently acquired from the Shakers at Mount Lebanon by Edward Deming Andrews and Faith Andrews and given to the Shaker Museum by Faith in 1966.
While the sampler is typical of other samplers found in Shaker collections – having a limited color palette and minimal amount of decoration – it is extraordinary in one respect: Sister Louisa had learned not only to form her letters, but had learned to make them in such a way that on the reverse of the sampler the letters, formed by a series of “x’s” on the front, were formed in mirror image by a series of perfect squares on the back. It was typical, as it is with Sister Jane Cutler’s sampler from the museum’s collection, for the back side of samplers to show threads that were used by the sewer to move from one letter to the next. On Louisa’s sampler, there are no such threads. This means that after forming each letter, she had to tie off the thread and start anew on the next letter.
As unusual as this technique is, it is not unique. Sister Betsy Crosman from the Church Family at Mount Lebanon made a sampler using the same technique. Sister Betsy was born February 27, 1804, and was 38 years old when Sister Louisa came into her family. While it is not certain that Sister Betsy was responsible for teaching Sister Louisa her technique, Sister Betsy, as the family deaconess, may have had charge of instructing young girls in such skills.
Sister Louisa Young’s mother, Amelia Young, described by the Shakers as “a Doctoress,” joined the North Family Shakers, “confessing her sins,” on November 3, 1842 and placed her two sons, Henry Lewis Young, age six, and William Young, age 17, with them. Both children “confessed their sins,” on November 4, 1842. On November 6th, Amelia bound her son Henry to the Shakers and took William with her to Albany to retrieve two other children – one of whom was likely Louisa. Henry was sent to the Church Family where Louisa would eventually be placed, and William was sent to live at the Lower Canaan Family where he lived only until he decided to “go to the world” on April 17, 1844. Sister Amelia performed some medical care among the North and the Canaan Families before she eventually left the Shakers sometime between 1845 and 1848. In a story yet to be told, in 1858 she wrote Madame Young’s Guide to Health; Her Experience and Practice for Nearly Forty Years; a True Family Herbal …. Dedicated Exclusively to her Sex. Sometime after his mother left the Shakers, Henry left his Shaker home to be with her, leaving Sister Louisa as the sole member of the Young family to live out a Shaker life. Sister Louisa continued to demonstrate her hand skills throughout her Shaker life – making brushes, knitting, sewing, spinning, and weaving – as well as doing housework and other necessary domestic chores.
Fig.1: Cross Stitch Sampler by Sister Louisa Young (front), Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840s. Shaker Museum: 1966.15873.1. John Mulligan, photographer.
Fig 2: Cross Stitch Sampler by Sister Louisa Young (back), Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840s. Shaker Museum: 1966.15873.1. John Mulligan, photographer.
Fig. 3: Cross Stitch Sampler by Sister Jane Cutler (front), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1863. Shaker Museum: 1966.15867.1. John Mulligan, photographer.
Fig. 4: Cross Stitch Sampler by Sister Jane Cutler (back), North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1863. Shaker Museum: 1966.15867.1. John Mulligan, photographer.
Fig 5: Cross Stitch Sampler by Sister Betsy Crosman, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, date unknown. Hancock Shaker Village: 1980.60.1. Paul Rocheleau, photographer.