Started a mammoth project recently, its a blackwork sampler of motifs worked on a 35 count on linen using single strand silk thread. I bought this a few years ago from Ebay thinking it was quite a straightforward simple pattern, however when it arrived and I saw the pattern properly I knew it was much bigger than I had anticipated. It has 15 plus motifs plus filler patterns but I must admit now that I have started it, I'm really enjoying the intricate stitching involved.
The above photo is of the central motif which unusually has a second colour. This is the only place it appears in the pattern, the rest is worked in black cross-stitch.
It was designed by Martha Pollard who was a pupil at the Quaker School of Ackworth (1809-11). It was common practise for girls leaving school to make such samplers for friends or instructors. It was also a way to practise and record their stitching quality, so they could use this skill when they went into service and needed this skill to embroider monograms onto linens
Stitching and embroidery was certainly a skill that its makers wanted to pass along to their children. There was a problem, though. Centuries ago, there were no printed books available to record needlework stitches and patterns. Therefore, accomplished embroiderers began to work the stitches on small pieces of cloth for use as "samples" of what the stitches should look like. Young girls would practice their stitches and techniques by making samplers. And when they grew up, those who were poor or orphaned used their samplers to help them obtain positions as embroiderers, in much the same way as artists today use portfolios.
As books grew to be more commonplace samplers were no longer needed as teaching aids, and they became more decorative than functional. The stitches used to make them also changed, from embroidery, drawn thread work, and cross stitch to only cross stitch.
Today's samplers are almost all cross stitch as is this one I am now working on.