Lavenia Compton 1838

An antique reproduction

Lavenia came into my life unexpectedly. I couldn’t believe I found her, sitting quietly and demurely, unnoticed and unclaimed. I understand now why antique samplers are always referred to by their stitcher’s names, as if they were a person themselves: I feel like we met that day – over distance and over time. By reproducing this amazing piece of art, I feel as though I’ve made a link with Miss Lavenia from nearly 200 years ago.

This is one of the reasons I love samplers so much. Women in the past were so often erased in history: we’re lucky if we find a birth record and a death certificate. Anything else is an abundance of richness. Women’s history is full of gaps and forgotten wonders and a sampler is a tangible, oh-my-gosh-I’m-holding-it-in-my-hand link to a woman that might otherwise be hard to reach.

There is some information about Lavenia in the historical record: birth, sadly young death, marriage(s) (including to a cad), and some information about where she lived. I’m privileged to have been led to this by a friend who is a genealogical whiz (shout-out, Alison!), but I’m also informed about her through her stitching.

She was clearly a dedicated and skilled needlewoman. Her stitching is minute (the whole sampler is only about 12 inches square), and she may have had trouble stitching in poor light. Many stitches are carried over three threads and there is some errors in the border. I find this charming and reassuring: I never get borders to meet either!

I wonder about her imagery as well. I’ve never seen a sampler with such big grapevines! This seems to be a way to evoke abundance, harvest and warmth. And the tiny deer peeking out beneath these massive vines are too sweet for words. Her choice of motifs is lush and warm, an abundance of flowers, tall trees, hiding birds and overflowing fruit baskets. Her colour palette also is rich and warm: full of burnished browns, golds and greens.

A detail from my reproduction.

It was the flowerpot in the centre that first caught my eye: that looks original to me. Where lots of sampler motifs were copied from a girls’ teacher, some have the ring of being created by the stitcher themselves. I think Lavenia created these blooms and I thank her for it. Her choice of sentiment is also something I align with: a call for more empathy and mercy is always welcomed.

Lavenia’s sampler was the first that I reproduced, and I learnt a great deal by doing so. Much in the same way that original sampler stitchers learnt by copying and adapting the motifs from their teachers, Lavenia has taught me. I might make a few different choices now if I was reproducing her again, but I think we all learn from each piece we complete.

I hope you enjoy meeting Miss Lavenia: you’ll find more details about her life in the chart. You can find her in my Etsy store or in shops that stock my designs. She is a calm and quiet presence, much like that tiny deer – peeking out and ready for a run.