The Best Cross Stitch Samplers Through History

A few weeks ago we wrote about what makes a cross stitch sampler and in it, we featured some of our most loved samplers. However, we didn’t speak about them. So I’ve decided to do another roundup post, this time of my favorite samplers, but instead of stitching with modern samplers, I thought I’d do a journey through time, and give you some details on the best samplers history has given us.

The Oldest Surviving Sampler

How could I not include the oldest surviving sampler? This example by Jane Bostocke is the quintessential example of a sampler from the 1500s, and basically stands as the example all other samples are compared to. Mostly containing cross stitch and backstitch, it also includes beads, meaning that this was also a very very very expensive sampler for the time.

The oldest surviving sampler. Jane Bostocke, England, 1598 (source:
The oldest surviving sampler. Jane Bostocke, England, 1598 (source:

The Intimate Passage Cross Stitch Sampler

This cross stitch from Elizabeth Parker is probably the most intimate work you have ever seen. Its open words of “As I cannot write I put this down simply and freely as I might speak to a person to whose intimacy and tenderness I can fully entrust myself.” gives you a shocking portrait of the mind of a 17-year-old girl, who continues to write about her treatment that is “cruelty too horrible to mention” and her thoughts on suicide.
These words are so shocking to read, however, the well placed, thoughtfully cross stitched letters in blood red on white linen makes the words so much more poignant. After reading her thoughts, the sampler ends early, with “what will become of my soul” followed by a large blank space, as if the worst has happened.
Thankfully, in 1998 some closure was gained as we found out that Elizabeth grew up in moderate surroundings and died at 76. This lasting sampler acts as her diary, and possibly her only outlet.

Linen sampler embroidered with silk, by Elizabeth Parker, Ashburnham Forge, Sussex, England, about 1830. (Source: Victoria & Albert Museum)

The Nazi Defiance Cross Stitch Sampler

From one horror story to another, my next sampler of choice is Alexis Casdagli’s Nazi defiance piece. Stitched from fibers of his bedding while he was held as a prisoner of war in World War 2. Alexis clearly appealed to the Nazi’s sensibilities by stitching what appears to be a fully-fledged pro-third reich sampler. The Nazi’s loved it so much they took it around other prisoner of war camps to show others, not knowing its true brilliance. Stitched into the border in morse code, are fairly anti-Nazi phrases like “God Save The King” and “F**k Hitler”.
Having seen this sampler in the flesh, the sheer audacity of Major Casdagli to stitch this amazes me, but his cross stitches are perfect, made with shockingly imperfect tools. A true marvel.

World War 2 sampler by imprisoned POW Major Alexis Casdagli (source: V and A website)

The Iconic Ikea Cross Stitch Sampler

In 2016 Ikea launched a simple idea “homemade” and it chose to use cross stitch as its poster boy. Whilst this sampler is very much unlike the others in this list, it stands as one of my most cherished samplers, as it shows something the others don’t. Machine cross stitch.
Created using a cross stitch robot the sampler marks a change in the cross stitch world, a change where technology and cross stitch are combining.
Want to know more about the iconic Ikea cross stitch?

Ikea Lida cross stitched email close up (source: Lida)

The Ultra Modern Cross Stitch Sampler

Finally, I’ve chosen to pick this cross stitch, stitched by samapictures. It was actually designed for the Star Trek Cross Stitch Book I worked on, however it wasn’t picked for its ability, design, or even its history.
I picked it as it shows where we’ve come from. Throughout history we’ve seen cross stitch samplers that show honest truths, that stick it to the Nazis and that buck the trend of tradition. However, despite that, we choose to cross stitch samplers that reflect the history and reflect where cross stitch comes from. Even with super modern themes, like Star Trek, we choose to stitch traditional counts, on traditional fabrics on traditional styles. In cross stitch, we explore new worlds, not like Star Trek, but new worlds of art, and truly make it one of the most varied hobbies around.

Star Trek Sampler Cross Stitch by samapictures (source:

I’d like to thank every museum out there for recording cross stitch samplers and making sure these examples live on long after their artists have passed.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. george voegel

    Interesting stuff!! Was looking forward to seeing what you had to say about the Whitman Smler box of chocolates.

  2. Kerry Aggen

    I want to thank you for this article on samplers! I used to inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) flinch when I heard or read the word “sampler” w/r to cross-stitch projects and designs – I thought that meant the kind with 1-2-3… and a-b-c… and a variety of stitches. I didn’t understand that basically every project and design is a sampler!!! I actually feel relieved to know that! After all, we’re all “works in progress” ourselves – so, why wouldn’t the works we do be the same, samples of what we can do and have done?