Caroline’s Map

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.

Sarah Kurtz was 9 years old when she made this sampler in 1804.
(Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of American History.)

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.

This map made by Catalina Juliana shows New York and neighboring states.   (Smithsonian Institution/National Museum of American History Collection.)

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.

This map was stitched by Cecelia Lewis of New York in 1809.
(Wisconsin Historical Society Online Collection.)

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.

A talented seamstress at American Girl embroidered this map to represent the one described in the Caroline stories. Isn’t it wonderful?  The K marks the British town of Kingston.  SH, of course, shows Caroline’s home in Sackets Harbor.

Caroline plans to finish her map and make it into a firescreen for Papa.

This old fire screen features a lady or girl’s beautiful stitchery. People in Caroline’s day sometimes used firelight to read by, and screens shielded them from the worst of the fire’s heat.  (Private collection.)

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.

This display from American Girl Place in Chicago shows Caroline’s basket packed for the trip across Lake Ontario with Mama.

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.

That’s me showing the map at the American Girl store in Minneapolis.

Embroidery also lets Caroline be creative.  Do you have any similar hobbies? How do they make you feel?

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3 Responses to “Caroline’s Map”

  1. Pam DeVoe Says:

    This is both charming and fascinating! No wonder you want to include it in your story.

    Love your posts.

    Best, Pam

  2. Labyrinth-Living Says:

    So much fun to learn about the sampler maps, as I had not heard of them before. I love how you learn about the different kinds of handcrafts to go with all your stories. I thought about you yesterday when you were in Seattle area – I almost came over to say hello but didn’t quite make it. Happy Thanksgiving!

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