Afternoon in the Garden

An antique reproduction

The mysterious origins of this sampler

Some samplers are a mystery. This piece, reproduced from an original in my collection, tantalises with its enigmatic initials and charms with its details – that little dog hiding under the table laid out for refreshments in the garden, that rooster standing proudly, and that figure underneath a parasol.

With only initials and a date, we can’t be certain where this piece originated, although some clues lead us in a particular direction. Initially, I was fairly certain that this was a European sampler: not only from where it was located, but from the colour palette, the heavy use of florals and the type of house. With further study, I felt it was somewhat like a French sampler, but not quite. While I am far from an expert, in my experience, French samplers do tend to be very floral, but do not typically include houses.

There are two main clues to learning more: the style of the house (which seems very specific) and a letter after the ‘Z’ in the first alphabet, which looks like a ‘T’ and an ‘S’ superimposed. I wondered if this was possibly an early form of a letter in German for a double-‘s’. And the house seemed somewhat reminiscent of Swiss or Austrian styles – but again, not my area of expertise. With all this and the general ‘vibe’ of the sampler, I thought it might be a French sampler, but perhaps from a region that had a lot of German influence.

So I asked for help from this wonderful community of stitchers in my first Flosstube video (more about that in a later post), and we have some suggestions. The wonderful Deb suggested that the letter might be an early form of an ampersand (‘&’) – and the placement would support this idea. Lots of samplers place the ‘and’ symbol at the end of an alphabet. The lovely Alison mentioned that she had seen this letter in an old German dictionary as a consonant. Intriguingly, she also mentioned that the house seemed very like houses she’d seen in the Alsace region – a region of France bordering Germany and Switzerland. This would match perfectly with my initial ‘vibe check’ – and I will report back if and when we find out more.

The antique original and it’s bedraggled condition

I have a particular fondness for samplers that, shall we say, need a bit of love. This one came to me unframed, with numerous holes, and with some colour bleed. It appears someone tried to wash it at some point (PLEASE don’t try to wash antique samplers?!!!) and there’s some green bleeding onto fabric.

The antique original – in its faded glory…

The fabric itself is interesting; it appears to be a very finely woven wool – it’s extremely scratchy. It is stitched right up close to the side borders of the fabric (which is common for antique samplers – fabric was too precious to waste), and these borders have a blue edging and one thin stripe. The horizontal edges have been cut from a longer piece and are roughly whip-stitched, which has not kept fraying edges in check.

The stitching has been done in very small, and very neat cross-stitches, using a single strand of what appears to be silk. It is somewhat faded on the front, but not enormously so – the original was quite a gentle palette. And this palette was one of the reasons I was drawn to this piece – I absolutely adore the gentle blues and creams, the pale browns and those vibrant greens.

The reverse of the antique original

Stitching suggestions

I just loved stitching this sampler and it’s such a joy to prolong its life by sharing it with you. I hope you enjoy adding it to your sampler collection. And feel free to personalise it – add your initials and date if you like.

My model was stitched on 40-count ‘Weak Tea’ by JaysXStitch on Etsy – this colour matches the aged ivory of the original very well. I used 40-count to come close to the size of the original and to capture the density of colour. However, you could stitch it on anything that you prefer. Keep in mind that if you use 1 strand on 36-count, it will appeal paler and the density of the greens around the house will be less pronounced. You could also use 2 strands on 32-count for another way to capture that beautiful colour.

In my model, I used 1 strand of floss over 2 threads of linen. And being full crosses only, you could stitch this in linen, evenweave or Aida. The threads I used are a combination of Gentle Arts, Weeks Dye Works and Classic Colorworks overdyed cottons, and the chart has a full DMC conversion. It would also look lovely converted to silk, but I’d pass on stitching it on wool fabric – that sounds much too itchy to me!

A word about the greens in this design… The beautiful sweep of greens around the house took a lot of experimenting to reproduce. When reproducing an antique sampler, it is generally the aim to reproduce the original antique as closely as possible, in modern, accessible materials. I must have tried 30 greens in my model – trying to best reproduce the greens in the original! In the end, I chose 4 Gentle Arts colours: Grape Leaf, Baby Spinach, Chives and Cornhusk. However, the Baby Spinach that I used was a recent (2022) dye lot – one that was quite different from an older dye lot in my stash.

Hand-dyed materials can vary a great deal! On the left is the Baby Spinach that I used, on the right is an older dye lot.

While these changes in colours can always happen with hand-dyed materials, I mention it here as something to keep any eye out for. However, you can use any 4 greens that you like, just as long as they are in a smooth gradient from dark to light. Message me if you have any problems, but feel free to experiment with what you have in your stash.

These are the greens I chose to use – you can use others – just keep the same gradient from dark to light.

I do hope you enjoy stitching this piece – I found it be very calming, wondering where the lady with the parasol was walking and what she was having to snack on under the trees. The chart can be found from needlework stores now and the hard-copy chart and PDF will be available in my Etsy store from next week (mid-September 2002).