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Sampled Lives

Museums and galleries in Cambridge will be closed to the public as part of a period of national/local restrictions.

The samplers displayed in this gallery have been chosen not to demonstrate the quality of the schoolgirl embroidery of the past, but rather to be studied as stitched documents. By analysing and interpreting the motifs and patterns, the pictorial elements and inscriptions, each sampler tells a story of female accomplishment, of a girl’s growing sense of identity, of a desire for education and the changing attitudes to, and opportunities for, employment in adult life. Each section is devoted to a particular theme, ranging from the superb skills shown by young needle lace-makers of the seventeenth century to the accuracy and practicality of the plain-sewing samplers made centuries later; anonymous samplers, in which symbolic elements illuminate young lives, to those that provide sufficient information to bring to life the particular background and status of an individual girl. With so little recorded information handed down to us about the lives of the ordinary, rather than the elite, young females of previous centuries, samplers are one of the few types of artefact that can help to bring about some understanding of the world they inhabited and experienced.

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