M993X.1.3 | Needlework

The most recent version of the Flash plugin must be installed
Get Flash Player
Creative Commons License
Elizabeth Irving
About 1860, 19th century
35 x 45 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Needlework (2)
Select Image (Your image selection is empty)

Visitors' comments

Add a comment


This needlework sample reflects the British tradition of embroidery. Unlike French works of embroidery, in which the didactic content was emphasized, British embroidery emphasized the pictorial elements and formal composition. Figurative elements, alphabets, numbers and mottos, bordered by a carefully stitched frame, are typical of British embroidery.

Keys to History

The ability to produce fashionable domestic embroidery was seen as evidence of a woman's genteel status and at the same time the proof of an industrious and generous nature. The word for embroidery was "work" and a woman's workbasket or table was highly valued. Working for love rather than recognition, a lady seldom signed her needlework; however, the juxtaposition of numerous embroideries and a sewing table left little doubt in the mind of any visitor.

As the home's most public room, the parlour played a powerful role in representing the family to its guests. The parlour and its contents, the framed silk sampler, the piano, the embroidered furnishings, the photographs, even the women, were the manifestation of the family's social status.

  • What

    Elizabeth Irving used six types of stitches and worked in costly silk and chenille thread on wool tammy. Tammy was a fabric manufactured specifically for samplers.

  • Where

    This sampler was likely brought to Canada from England or the United States. It would have served as a graduating piece from a private academy.

  • When

    The date on a sampler usually refers to its date of completion. This work was finished in 1860.

  • Who

    Schoolgirl embroideries were the only form of needlework that was traditionally signed. Elizabeth Irving also included the name of her teacher, Miss Conquergood.