Family Collections:

The Branwell/Brontė Samplers

By Lori Bell
    Maria Branwell completed her sampler April 15, 1791. She was 8 years old. Her sampler was a simple one, comprised of an alphabet, biblical text and a simple geometric border. It is worked with dark green silk and pink and ginger brown wool on canvas.
    Maria's sampler is the first of a unique family collection. The collection is not unique for the style or technical expertise displayed by the embroiderers. It's interest lies in the fact that three of Maria's daughters grew up to become noted Victorian authors; the Brontė sisters.

    Maria's sisters, Ann, Margaret, and Elizabeth Branwell each completed a similar sampler worked in the same dark green silk. Ann Branwell, later Ann Kingston, signed but did not date her sampler. Margaret Branwell signed and dated her work March 23, 1799. Sister Elizabeth finished her signed sampler on 11 October. The date has been lost due to a torn corner.

    On December 29, 1812, Maria Branwell married Reverend Patrick Brontė. In 1820 the family moved to Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, where Maria died a year later. In 1822 Maria's youngest sister, Elizabeth began caring for the six Brontė children. That same year the eldest Brontė children, Maria, age 8, Elizabeth, age 7, and Charlotte, age 6, each completed a sampler similar to that described earlier, except that they were worked entirely in ginger brown wool.

    In 1824 the three sisters, along with Emily, age 6, were sent off to a clergy daughter's boarding school. Within a few months the two older sisters became ill and died of tuberculosis. Charlotte and Emily returned to Haworth parsonage and their remaining siblings Branwell, age 7, and Anne, age 4. While at Haworth the children spent much of their time writing involved melodramatic chronicles. Traces of this early writing surface in the sister's later works.

    Time at Haworth was also devoted to needlework. Emily completed her first sampler April 22, 1828. Anne finished her first piece November 28, 1828. Both of these pieces are again similar to those of their elder sisters, aunts, and mother. The sisters each completed a second, more lengthy piece: Emily, March 1, 1829; Charlotte, April 1, 1829 and Anne January 23, 1830. All were worked with dark green silk on canvas. All of these pieces were previously in private collections. They are now in the possession of the Brontė Society and on display at the Brontė Parsonage Museum, Haworth.

    In 1831, Charlotte was sent to another boarding school, where she later taught and supported first Emily and then Anne. All worked for a time as governesses and planned to open a school of their own, but they could not attract students to Haworth. In 1846, using pseudonyms, the three published Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Gray were all published in 1847.

    In 1848, Branwell died of alcohol and opium addiction. A few months later Emily and Anne died of tuberculosis. In 1854 Charlotte married Arthur B. Nicholls, her father's assistant. In less than a year shed died of tuberculosis and complications of pregnancy.

    Additional Notes by the Author

    Charlotte's sampler is undated, but shows her age. In Samplers by Averil Colby, Mrs. Colby states that this piece was worked in 1882, which is actually 27 years after Charlotte's death. She also states that the wool is not the orginal, but restoration work. At first I thought that the 1882 was merely a typo and should be 1828, consistent with Emily and Anne's work. That would also support Mrs. Colby's statement regarding the color of the fiber. I thought that it was odd that a piece that would have to be entirely restored would be on display or even worth noting. So, I looked for Charlotte's date of birth (1816) and found that she was six in 1822, the year that Maria and Elizabeth worked their samplers in the ginger brown wool.

    Photos of the Samplers

    I have not seen any photos of the Branwell samplers. The second sampler stitched by Charlotte, Emily and Anne can be found in Samplers and Tapestry Embroideries by Marcus Huish. This book was originally published in 1913, but two different reprints are available. The Batsford version (ISBN 0 7134 6463 1) contains some color plates and the Dover version does not. The Brontė samplers are shown in black and white. Emily's second sampler and Anne's first are pictured in Sarah Don's Traditional Samplers, (ISBN 0 670 80732 X) which is out of print, but a great book if you are able to find a used copy. Emily's second sampler is again pictured in Averil Colby's Samplers. This book, originally published in 1964 is also available as a Batsford reprint (ISBN 0 7134 4647 1). There may be other books that contain photos of the samplers, but these are the ones I came across during my research.

    Lori Bell - Dancing Needle Designs

    Sampler Kits

    By Marina Salume

    All of these pieces were previously in private collections. They are now in the possession of the Brontė Society and on display at the Brontė Parsonage Museum, Haworth. And the museum will be happy to sell you kits to reproduce the three samplers! I bought one and have it completely stitched, just have to get around to framing it. I sent them my credit card information and they sent me the kit - I also got a sewing pattern for a dress and a pattern for a knitted shawl that were worn by the Brontės. Ask for the catalog of other items the museum has for sale.

    A few years ago, I saw an article in "Needlecraft" magazine that showed a couple of the samplers along with an article about the museum. I wrote to the museum and asked if I could order the kits from them. They sent me a photocopy of the front of each kit so I could chose the one I wanted (their catalog doesn't have pictures of the kits in it, it is really a leaflet with brief descriptions). All three samplers are similar, very plain and simple. Two have verses from the Bible along with alphabets and some geometric designs stitched in rows across the samplers. The third is the same except it does not have the Bible verse. They are stitched with one color of floss on a rough linen fabric. There are not pictures or figures on them - just the lettering and rows of geometric designs. These are real "schoolgirl" samplers, not "show samplers". You can't buy the patterns separately from the museum, only the kits. However, at the last SOXS festival in Sacramento, I saw the patterns in one of the vendor's booths! I don't remember the name of the vendor, unfortunately.

    Address to Haworth Parsonage
    Brontė Parsonage Museum
    Church Street
    West Yorkshire BD22 8DR

    Phone: (44) 1535 642323
    Fax: (44) 1535 647131

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