Case 1 of 3: Early American Needlework    



Wool embroidery, or Berlin work, was a popular pastime during the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. The craft began to fall out of favor in the mid-nineteenth century as crochet and fancy knitting became more fashionable.

Book of Common Prayer. Oxford: [n.p.], 1719. Lent by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Stereotype edition, signed "Sidney Stevenson presented by her friend George Malin, 1834."Embroidered cover with spine that reads "Holy Bible 1867."

The Holy Bible. [Oxford: T. Baskett], [ca. 1755?]

This Bible includes manuscript records of the Lewis, McWilliams, King, and related families and a newspaper obituary of Hetty Taylor King, great-great-grandmother of the donor. "The Bible, Rebecca Lewis, 1757" is embroidered on the spine.


Book of Common Prayer Lent by The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Charles Butler. The American Lady. Philadelphia: Hogan and Thompson, 1836.

The frontispiece of this instructional text of female duties "to be regarded imperative and inevitable" is the earliest known image of a woman knitting in the Library Company's collection. Heralding the need to elevate the standard of American women, the author suggests that idle hours should be filled with "the useful and elegant arts of female industry."


Charles Butler. The American Lady.

Crochet Sampler, [c. 1880]. From the collection of Gwen Blakley Kinsler, founder of the Crochet Guild of America.

Before pattern books became widely available, crochet samplers provided an alternative source of instruction and inspiration. Passed down through generations and added to year after year, samplers were stitched together or placed in albums such as this.


Crochet Sampler

Thomas Gisborne. An Inquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex. [Philadelphia]: James Humphreys, 1798.

Intended for women "placed in the higher or in the middle classes of society" this treatise proposes to guide the moral activity and vigilance of the female mind away from temptation. At the turn of the nineteenth century leisure began to emerge as the subject of instructional literature on a grand scale. The economic prosperity and convenience of manufactured goods, resulting from the industrial revolution, provided hours of leisure for more women.


Homework Sampler. Moravian Schoolwork of Emily Bell, [c. 1830s].

Emily Bell probably attended the Bethlehem Female Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Moravian boarding schools offered a broad curriculum including arithmetic, language, knitting, and plain needlework. By the turn of the nineteenth century many Moravian schools had opened their doors to students of all religious denominations.


Homework Sampler

Jane Cunningham Croley. Jennie Juniana: Talks on Women's Topics, By Jennie June. Boston, Lee and Shepard, 1864.

In a chapter entitled The Spinning-Wheel, the author comments on the temporary resurgence of this device among elderly New England women due to a scarcity of cotton during the Civil War. "Modern young ladies who find it impossible to occupy themselves long enough at a time to accomplish, in months, a piece of crochet, will doubtless contemplate the idea of the spinning-wheel with horror."


Needlework Sampler, [n.d.].

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries samplers were a part of a young girl's early education that allowed her to showcase her recently acquired knowledge of both needlework and the alphabet.


Needlework Sampler