When Was it Made? Dating Susanna Dimsdale’s Sampler, c. 1611-1750, WDM-1975-S-241.2. Part One
The textile collection in the Western Development Museum covers several centuries and has some rare pieces within its storerooms. One is a sampler made in England by a young 8-year-old girl named Susanna Dimsdale. This piece represents a British tradition, handed down for generations, of teaching young girls not only how to hand sew but also how to read, spell and concentrate in the process. Instruction on sewing techniques was viewed as an essential feminine ability for women in the 16th century carried through to the early 20th century. Girls were often taught at a young age. The WDM has a collection of about 30 samplers. The one by Susanna is one of the oldest in the collection. Just how old it is, remains a mystery. Over the course of a series of three blogs, we will offer up clues to provide some possible answers about its age and origin.
In this post, we will learn about the sampler’s provenance, a term that museum professionals use to explain the chain of ownership for an item. We will also decode the embroidered text to see what we can learn.
First Clues: The Sampler’s Provenance
Our records indicate that the sampler was purchased at an antique sale in London, England in 1875 by Mr. Samuel Read, a collector. He hung it in the family’s sitting room in their house in London. Sometime after his 1907 death, his collection of antiques was sold off by his children, but this sampler was missed. His daughter, who immigrated to Canada, returned to England in her later years. Her sibling gave her the sampler as a memento of their father. She kept this artifact in her home in Saskatchewan until it was donated to the Western Development Museum in 1975.
The provenance we have on the sampler offers no clues about who Susanna Dimsdale might have been, only that her work was valued and cherished by the Read family both in England and Saskatchewan for decades.
Deciphering the Text
Accurately dating the sampler required deciphering and translating the text. The full sampler reads literally as follows;
Grow in Grace and learn apace and Heave
n shall be thy dwelling place And stri
ving still in vertve ways dovtless to
honnor well the rase – 123456789 –
Remember now they creatovr in the days of thy yovth
while the evil days come not nor the years draw
nigh when thov shall say I have no pleasure ____ when
the lose of goods is much the loss of time is more
the lose of Christ is svch no man can restore
O praise the Lord all ye nations praise him all ye people
for his merciful kindness is great towards vs and the
trvth of the lord endvreth for ever praise ye the
ID SD ID RD
TD SD WD CD TB SB MW SB
SD ID TB WB
Make vse of prasen
t time becavse thov
mvst shortly take
vp thy lodged in th
e dvst Svsanna Dims
dale – Indver ever to exceel and
never think thov dvst to well – SD-
This work in hand my friends may ha
ve when I am dead and layed in grave
Svsanna Dimsdale made this sampler
in the eaight year of her age
After the “v”s were changed to “u”s, and some spelling corrections were made, we make out the sampler to read as follows;
Grow in grace and learn a pace and heaven shall be thy dwelling place, and striving still in virtue ways doubtless to honour well the race. – 123456789 –
Remember now Creator in the days of thy youth while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh when thou shall say I have no pleasure —-
When the loss of goods is much the loss of time is more, the loss of Christ is such no man can restore.
O praise the Lord all ye nations praise him all ye people for his merciful kindness is great towards us and the truth of the lord endures forever, Praise ye the lord.
Make use of present time because thou must shortly take up thy lodging in the dust. Susanna Dimsdale
Endeavor ever to excel and never think thou dost too well – SD –
This work in hand my friends may have when I am dead and laid in grave –
Susanna Dimsdale made this sampler in the eighth year of her age.
Next time, we will examine in closer detail the quotes, motifs and symbols in the sampler for more clues!
 Krista McCracken has recently written about what we can learn about girls’ lives from samplers. She discusses how embroidery samplers are often the only records of a life lived: Krista McCracken, “Stitching History: Using Embroidery to Examine the Past,” activehistory.ca, January 6, 2020 [http://activehistory.ca/2020/01/stitching-history-using-embroidery-to-examine-the-past/, accessed January 22, 2020].
 Museums Association of Saskatchewan, Standards for Saskatchewan Museums 2016, (Regina: 2016), 110.
By: Mark Anderson, Conservator and Liz Scott, Curator