A very delicately embroidered 19th Century Sampler sold for £6,000 plus buyer’s premium in Tennants Auctioneers’ Costume, Accessories and Textiles Sale on 7th May. The sampler is worked in red thread on white background in the style of the Ashley Down Orphanage, Bristol. Tiny stitches form the alphabet, numbers and numerous detailed motifs, executed using the Bristol orphanage’s distinctive format for fonts and motifs including a Bible, cow, birds, and fleur de lys. The sampler was worked by a ‘Jane Ann’ and is dated 1871. Intriguingly, she has worked three-digit numbers into the sampler fitted amongst the numerous details, which could be bed numbers of her fellow orphans or acknowledging the other girls for helping with her sampler or borrowing their patterns.
Ashley Down House was an extraordinary institution. At a time when there were very few orphanages and the only alternative was the workhouse, George Müller, a Christian preacher, built a vast orphanage that would care for over 10,000 children in his lifetime. Sewing was a vital skill taught at Ashley Down, and the Bristol and District Teachers Association created the Needlework Scheme, a comprehensive education in the skills that would render the girls employable. Samplers were produced as examples of their abilities, to show potential employers. They followed a model sampler, with red cotton on linen, working the alphabet in different fonts at the top and personalising the bottom with motifs of their own.