Ellen Mahon’s sampler book was made between 1852 and 1854. It shows off her embroidery skills, and includes some exquisitely made dolls clothes, such as a tiny knitted glove and a stocking.
Although not a toy, samplers have been part of the education of young women for centuries. Working class girls would have been encouraged to learn the valuable skills of embroidery and lacemaking as soon as they could, to earn an income for the family. Their sample books were tools of their trade. In the 1500s and 1600s, sample books of designs were often passed down from one generation to the next.
More decorative samplers were produced by the daughters of middle and upper class families. Embroidery was one of the few permitted pastimes for women in the 1700 and 1800s, and from a young age girls were schooled in the techniques of tatting, buttonholing, quilting, seaming, crocheting, lace-making and knitting. Their samplers would showcase all these skills, in elaborate compositions of borders, geometric and floral patterns, and lettering. By the 1800s, samplers were used as part of a wider moral education, and examples showing maps, religious inscriptions and maths tables were common.