A Marking Sampler by Anna Gray 1853
Something new to Grey Roots is a cross-stitch embroidery marking sampler, signed “Anna Gray 1853”. The natural linen ground has a basted and whipstitched hem, while the right edge is somewhat closer to the margin, and finished with a tight line of dark pink whipstitching. There is a dark blue zig-zag border surrounding the text, and nine other samples of border designs. The top row and bottom rows are worked in dark blue thread that matches the outer border. Two shades of paler blue silk thread are also employed, as well as green, and pinkish and yellowish threads. It has the alphabet, as well as numerals (up to sixteen). The letter “I” was omitted in the blue capitals line. There is also a gap where a capital “S” likely should be, and no “W” is present, but a symmetrical, almost butterfly-shaped design is located where one would expect a “W” to be. Unfortunately, Anna did not add her age or place of residence, which would have been helpful when researching her. There was an Anna Grey (sic), age 8, born in Upper Canada, listed in the 1851 census at Galt, Waterloo County, Canada West. The Galt area provided some Scottish settlers to Grey in the 1840s-1860s. The Byers family were there for a while before they came to Normanby Township and settled in the Hampden area in the 1860s. There were a number of people with the Gray/Grey surname in Normanby Township as well. However, we need more proof to verify if “Anna Grey” of Galt was the embroideress of this item. There was an Anna Gray (b. 1856-d. 1938, Mrs. John W. Bogle) of Normanby who was too young to be the maker, but I wonder if she was a namesake or relation? It is not known yet where the earlier Anna was after 1853. Did she die young? Does anyone know her story, and why the sampler showed up in Normanby, or is its full provenance lost now? It last belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Hudson and Julia Byers (nee Seim).
Marking samplers were often small and usually have a coarser weave to their grounds than samplers intended for wallhangings. They were not held in hoops while they were worked, and they were a means for a young girl to practice her stitches, so a scrap of linen would be okay for her to work. The sampler could later be used by her as a visual aid when she was older and in charge of marking her household linens, especially items that might be sent to a nearby laundress and needed to be returned to the proper owner. Knowing how to embroider monograms also was a good skill to have for personalizing handkerchiefs, and embroidery skills in general were prized by Victorian women for embellishing textile items. Next fall, Grey Roots plans to exhibit several samplers in a folk art exhibition, as part of a discussion on “What is Folk Art?” that will be addressed as part of the interpretation. It would be nice to know a bit more about Anna, if we show her work.