Historic Sampler: Polly Williams, Otsego, NY

Historic Sampler: Polly Williams, Otsego, NY

This splendid American schoolgirl needlework is a gift to US history, featuring explicit notation of the embroiderer’s location (both town and state), as well as graphic themes that celebrate the harmonious association of Native Americans and European settlers  in 19thcentury New York.


Silk floss on open-weave, un-dyed linen ground. The sampler features cross, eyelet, stem, satin, and seed stitches.  Natural floss dye softened with age.


The top alphabet, large angular capitals executed in eyelet cross and stem stitches, goes to the letter H.  The next two rows feature another all-capitals alphabet in three colors.  This is followed by a row of numerals 1 through 9 punctuated by a heart in place of a zero.  The final polychrome alphabet is all lower case.  


Inside a narrow serpentine border, the three alphabets, numbers and verse are simply wrought in alternating colors of black, salmon, ochre, blue green and dark green.  Below the three alphabets and numerals, are two balanced and scrupulously wrought graphic compositions.  The larger of these is an exuberant abstract design with strong Native American influence, featuring pictographs of butterflies (signifying everlasting life), a medicine man’s eye (signifying wisdom), and squash blossoms, (signifying courtship).   The smaller composition depicts a basket laden with multi-colored flowers and topped by two facing perched birds (male and female Robins?).

At the end of her signature is the initial S., which may have been that of her instructress. 

Below her name, Polly has embroidered in polychrome: “Sampler Which She Made In The 15 Year OF Her Age” and in black, “Otsego, NY”  At the bottom, in all black thread, “This I did to let you see, What care my parents took of me”  1820

Note, only 5% of all surviving samplers in the US include notation of location (e.g., town) and state.

Please click on photo to enlarge and appreciate details.