It is with great pleasure and grateful thanks to Claudia Dutcher Kistler of Dutch Treat Designs that I am able to present to you the reproduction of Mary’s enchanting Bristol Orphanage sampler. Regrettably, Mary did not record her surname on the sampler she so diligently stitched. The only clues she left behind are the year she finished her sampler “1869” and the number of the bed she occupied “395.” Each orphan has a heart-wrenching story to tell but our little girl, identifying herself by a bed number, has touched me deeply from the first moment I saw her.
With the help of the George Müller Charitable Trust we are going to tell you within the booklet the story of a Mary in their care that was the right age, at the right time, to make her the prime candidate to have stitched this sampler.
Claudia Dutcher Kistler of Dutch Treat Designs is a Bristol sampler collector and lecturer on Bristol orphan needlework. You can see more examples of Bristol orphan samplers at www.bristolsamplers.com.
I am the proud owner of Mary 395 and am happy to have Nicola Parkman of Hands Across the Sea Samplers reproduce her for you to stitch.
There are similar characteristics featured in every sampler that was stitched by a girl living in George Müller’s orphanage in Bristol. These samplers all share many of the same alphabets and motifs, but each girl made her sampler unique. It is by these similarities that we know these pieces are Bristol orphan samplers. Mary 395 contains many of the elements that confirm that this sampler was stitched in the orphanage.
Mary’s sampler was done in plain cross stitch with red cotton thread on high-count fabric. Most of these samplers were worked only in cross stitch which filled up most of the girl’s fabric. These samplers might not showcase the most challenging needlework techniques, unless you agree that doing cross stitch on fabric where the common thread count was 70+ threads per inch presented enough of a challenge. The format of many earlier (1860 – 1870) Bristol samplers was similar to how Mary stitched hers: alphabets at the top with motifs at the bottom. Her sampler is a pattern source for documenting many Bristol motif patterns because she stitched so many of them.
The one thing Mary did not stitch was her last name on her sampler. The number “395” was her bed number at the time she stitched her sampler. The George Müller Charitable Trust still has the records for the children they cared for, but none of those records include their bed numbers. The children were moved within the houses as they got older, so they did not keep the same bed or number. Mary left us no other clues. Sometimes girls stitched the initials of their friends or relatives after the alphabet rows. Mary left us her intricate motif filled sampler which was her resume with a needle.
So who was the girl that stitched this sampler? With the help of the George Müller Charitable Trust we have made an educated guess as to who our Mary was. If Mary Stead did not stitch this sampler, she stitched one similar to it. All of the girls had to stitch a red thread sampler before they left the Homes. Mary Elizabeth Stead was 15 years old in 1869, which would have been the right age to complete a sampler. She shows up on the 1871 census, age 17, living at the orphanage. She was released from the orphanage in 1872 at the age of 18. The story of the life of Mary Elizabeth Stead, that we have been able to find, is shared elsewhere in this booklet.
Every sampler has a story. The stories about the lives of the girls before they entered the orphanage are provided from the orphan records available from the George Müller Charitable trust. You can learn more about the amazing work that Mr. Müller was able to do for the orphans of England on their website at www.mullers.org. ~ Claudia Dutcher Kistler
With grateful thanks to Linda Clews who exquisitely stitched the model for Mary’s sampler and to Claudia Dutcher Kistler of Dutch Treat Designs for allowing us to reproduce a sampler from her private collection. At the very core of Hands Across the Sea Samplers there is a team of needleworkers who are passionate about antique samplers and being able to share those samplers with you.