About The Scarlet Letter
Fine and Rare Needleworks
Since 1979, THE SCARLET LETTER has been producing reproduction sampler kits of the world's finest antique and historic samplers, found in museums, and private collections. Exquisite materials are assembled to recreate these masterpieces of needlework, and kits are complete with detailed instructions and stitch diagrams, enabling the modern needleworker to reproduce these pieces exactly as they were originally made in centuries past. THE SCARLET LETTER collection encompasses four centuries and many different ethnic, social, and artistic groups, from seventeenth century aristocratic England, to nineteenth century rural America. Over three hundred samplers are available as kits or chart packs, all detailed in our extensive color catalogue.
The inspiration for our samplers is drawn from the actual handwork of our foremothers. In addition to reproducing works from museum collections we also actively buy and sell high quality authentic antique needleworks, some of which are reproduced as kits in this catalogue. The stock of antique samplers and related textiles that we offer for sale is ever-changing. Current stock can be reviewed in the antiques section of this website. Although all items shown are one of a kind, and subject to prior sale, we make every attempt to keep the website current.
Working the sampler was a common exercise for seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century schoolgirls and women, to learn their basic and more advanced stitches and techniques and the elements of needlework design. A girl who was expected to go into service had to learn to mark her mistress's linens with the family initials, as well as to mend clothing. Girls in higher ranks of society, at finishing schools, were expected to impress potential husbands with their prowess at needlework, as exemplified by their sampler.
The sampler was also made and kept as a record of stitches and patterns for future reference in a time when pattern books were scarce and expensive. Older women as well as young girls kept "samples" of their needlework on hand. Work of this sort was not usually intended for display.
Antique collectors today realize the escalating prices of good quality samplers, making them unaffordable for many connoisseurs. This is both good and bad: good in that this art form is finally being recognized and better appreciated in antique as well as artistic circles, but unfortunate in that it has become nearly impossible for a beginning collector to find good examples to purchase. By carefully studying examples of many of the various sampler types-the materials used, original color schemes and techniques - THE SCARLET LETTER has designed counted thread and silk-screened embroidery kits that, when completed, very closely resemble these early samplers. Whenever possible, very similar materials are used, primarily pure flax linens and silk threads. These materials are used either in their natural color, or hand dyed to achieve the color of naturally aged homespun. Cotton, silk, and wool yarns are selected in shades matching the originals, some faded, some gleaned from still-bright remnants at the back of the sampler, where ultraviolet rays have not touched them over the centuries. The combination of these subtle colorways, traditional sewing techniques, and carefully selected and/or dyed linen grounds, result in a new sampler that has the very essence of the old one, and blends harmoniously with antiques.
Unlike many needlework kits that have flooded the market over the past fifty years, THE SCARLET LETTER does not use modern evenweave fabrics; nor do we simplify or depart from the design of the original sampler. Consequently, some of the kits use archaic and arcane stitches such as Gobelin, Montenegrin Cross, Bullion, Queen, Arrowhead, Croatian Flat, and Herringbone, to name just a few, all of which are clearly illustrated and described in the instructions accompanying each kit.
Not all of THE SCARLET LETTER's designs are difficult and challenging, however. Some have been designed specifically for the beginning needleworker. It is important to remember that girls as young as nine or ten worked some of these original samplers, so they are not beyond the skill level of today's young people.
Most of our samplers are graphed (i.e. counted thread embroidery) as were the original samplers. Exceptions are noted in the descriptions as STAMPED (the design silk-screened onto the linen) kits.
Each SCARLET LETTER kit comes complete with linen (cut to size with at least a two-inch margin on all four sides), ample sewing floss, detailed instructions and easy-to-read stitch diagrams, clear graphs and finishing instructions, a needle, a color photograph of the finished piece, and its historic background.