How to work an alphabet sampler

When I stitch a sampler, I like follow a plan that’s worked well for me over the years, adapting it as needed for each piece. Let me show you with a sampler I finished a few years ago:

First, I go over the pattern, making sure I can read the symbols and that there aren’t any errors. I try and start with the designer’s website (if there is one) and see if they’ve published any errata, or corrected mistakes.

Then, I go over the pattern myself, making sure I can see the symbols clearly and that there aren’t any additional mistakes. Since the pattern is just a starting point, I don’t believe I have to stitch it exactly as written, particularly when it comes to spacing. I mark any changes I want to make on the pattern, so I don’t forget about them later.

mod animal sampler
“Birds and Beasties, Ninety-second exemplary” by Sheepish Designs. Sadly, the company seems to be out of the design business, at least under that name.

Many samplers have a border or some kind of anchor that you can use as a starting point. I like beginning with this first, because it sets up your work space and makes it easier to count the rest of the piece.

This is especially true when you stitch on linen — my favorite — because unlike Aida cloth, where it’s easy to see the squares and where to place your needle, linen is uneven and doesn’t have the nice clear holes Aida does. For me, that’s why I love it; it’s a cleaner, more sophisticated look.

I try to be extremely careful when I stitch this part, since I don’t want to get it all done only to find I’m one or two stitches off. Believe me, it’s happened! I count it repeatedly while I’m stitching and several times after I’m done until I’m convinced I have the exact number in the right place. If there’s a problem, it’s better to work it out then instead of waiting till later.

With what will become my largest alphabet sampler to date, “And They Sinned,” by Vilma Becklin of Exemplar Dames, there wasn’t a simple overall border, and since the piece is so large (about 17″ x 48″) I chose to work a mini-border just underneath one of the alphabets.

aTS_alphabetHaving the strawberry vine done gave me an anchor point for counting, as did the green chevron line below the larger alphabet.

Next, I like to stitch any sayings or phrases that might be included.

"Laughter Brings Sunshine," by Dimensions. Finished 1982.
“Laughter Brings Sunshine,” a stamped piece by Dimensions. Finished 1982.

Once I finish any letters, I work on the remaining motifs centered in the sampler. Just as I did with the alphabet, I’ll find a spot to use as an anchor point (in the sampler above, it’s the flower pot) and then move on to the parts that aren’t as easily stitched in a continuous fashion.

I usually work all the stitches in a particular color for the whole section, e.g., all the dark green vines, the medium green vines, the yellow petals, etc. If there aren’t many color changes, I’ll keep a needle threaded in each one and place them on a magnet holder nearby so I don’t have to stop and re-thread.

Lastly, I’ll complete any motifs that are part of the border (again, usually stitching one color at a time) before signing my name.

My very first sampler, a stamped pattern, "Heirloom Sampler," by Bucilla Needlecraft. Finished 1980.
My very first sampler, another stamped pattern, “Heirloom Sampler,” by Bucilla Needlecraft. Finished 1980.

I hope this plan helps you complete any projects you want to stitch or already have in progress. Since my first sampler was rather large, (16″ x 20″), this method taught me early on how to look at bigger projects into manageable sections. Dividing the work up that way gives me a sense of completion when I finish a section and helps keep me going on to the next one.



2 thoughts on “How to work an alphabet sampler

  1. Dawn Bradford was the designer for Sheepish Designs. She retired shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve no idea how she’s doing.

    1. Thank you for letting me know, Terri. She was such a talented designer – I have several of her patterns waiting to be stitched. I hope she was able to beat that awful disease.

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