I discovered map samplers while doing research about girls’ lives during Caroline Abbott’s time. I knew right away I wanted to include one in Caroline’s stories! One of the fun things about writing historical fiction is the chance to spotlight interesting but little-known aspects of the past.
You may be familiar with traditional samplers from the 1700s and 1800s. Often, girls were expected to practice fine stitching by creating a sampler of embroidery stitches. They usually included the alphabet, and sometimes included pictures made of thread as well.
Map samplers were less common. When a girl created a map, she was practicing fine stitching and learning a geography lesson at the same time! Examples of map samplers date from about the 1770s to the 1840s. Some historians believe that current events, such as the American Revolution and the War of 1812, made people especially curious about geography during that period.
Most girls drew the map on pale background cloth, and then stitched over the lines. Later, printed patterns became available. Some map publishers began to print maps on cloth and paper intended for needlework.
Often such maps were part of the lessons at girls’ schools. Students at one such school in Pennsylvania even embroidered globes! Caroline, though, lives too far away from a city to attend a formal school. She has learned needlework from Mama and Grandmother.
Since Caroline loves to sew, and loves the place she lives, I decided to have her stitch a map that shows the east end of Lake Ontario. In Meet Caroline, the project is well underway.
Caroline plans to finish her map and make it into a firescreen for Papa.
In the second story, Caroline’s Secret Message, I needed to think of a way that Caroline might be able to pass some important information to her father—right under the nose of a British soldier! Caroline’s map provided the perfect opportunity.
Caroline’s embroidered map has captured the imagination of many readers. In the stories, working on the map helps calm Caroline’s nerves when she’s worried, and helps her solve a problem that had stumped the adults.
Embroidery also lets Caroline be creative. Do you have any similar hobbies? How do they make you feel?