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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.[1] 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.[2] 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

Lord

     ID          SD      ID                                                   RD

TD      SD            WD    CD    TB    SB     MW    SB

      SD                  ID      TB                                  WB

                                                                                    ID

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!

Read Part Two.

_______________

[1] 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].

[2] Museums Association of Saskatchewan, Standards for Saskatchewan Museums 2016, (Regina: 2016), 110.

 

By: Mark Anderson, Conservator and Liz Scott, Curator

  • thanks for interesting messages about the sampler. By chance I’ve just turned up the rhyme about the “loss of christ” in a 1790’s ms inscription in a book in our special collections here in Aberystwyth – seems to have been quite widely employed in 18c and 19c samplers/religious books.

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