Pieces of Our Past
March 14, 2014
Artifact: Needlework Sampler
Significance: The Institute’s framed object collection contains many examples of nineteenth century needlework, from samplers such as this one to religious mottoes and decorative pictures. This sampler was made in 1838 by 11-year-old Elizabeth Juliana Tirmenstein.
About the Sampler: The sampler has the alphabet in various fonts, including both uppercase and lowercase letters, and Arabic and Roman numerals. Elizabeth stitched her name and the year she made the sampler, along with a handful of images such as crowns, flowers, a wreath and a home. Her sampler is an excellent example of this type of needlework, common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Samplers such as this, often called marking samplers, had a dual purpose—to teach a young girl basic embroidery techniques along with the alphabet and numbers. It was all a part of a girl’s education to prepare her for her sewing responsibilities in her future home.1
About Elizabeth Tirmenstein: Elizabeth was the second child of Samuel and Christine Tirmenstein. She was born on October 12, 1827, in Saxony and came to America with her family, who were part of the Saxon Immigration. Elizabeth’s father, a coppersmith from Dresden, his wife and eight children—ranging in ages from 13 years to 6 months—crossed the ocean on the Olbers in 1838 and then transferred to the steamboat Selma to finish their journey to Saint Louis. Though it was not recorded as such, it is certainly possible that Elizabeth used her time on board the Olbers to stitch this sampler, since it was made the same year. If it was made prior to the voyage, then it was something she prized enough to bring with her. Elizabeth died at the age of 21 on July 13, 1849.2
1Peck, Amelia. “American Needlework in the Eighteenth Century”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/need/hd_need.htm (October 2003).
2Walter O. Forster, Zion on the Mississippi: The Settlement of the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri 1839–1841 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 552.