What Is a Country Sampler?

A needlework sampler, sometimes called a country sampler, is a small piece of fabric with needlepoint, cross-stitch or other embroidered designs on it. Originally, samplers were produced by needleworkers to show off crafting skills and to learn and retain advanced techniques. Modern samplers are often used to display a proverb or homily along with decorative images or accents, and they are frequently framed and hung for display.

Historically, sewing and needlework were considered highly valued skills for homemakers. A young girl would typically be taught basic embroidery by age 5 or 6, creating a "marking sampler" containing many different types of basic stitches. This served as a sort of reference guide, since a young woman could refer to her sampler if she forgot a particular technique. Later in life, a woman was expected to create and display more elaborate samplers in order to show off her skills to potential suitors. Samplers were also used by artisan guilds to train apprentices, and a sampler containing a guild's advanced techniques would be jealously guarded.

With the rise of mass-produced clothing and textiles, samplers have become hobby and craft exercises. Aspiring needleworkers can learn the craft through preprinted sampler kits of varying skill levels, and some crafters take pride in reproducing historical samplers, sometimes down to copying misplaced stitches, to show off their talents.