Below is an image of an embroidered map from the collections of the Geography and Map Division. The name of the embroiderer, Sophia Mason, is stitched at the bottom of the map; the year 1802 is printed beneath her name. From the 18th to the early 19th century, American and British school girls received their geographical education by embroidering maps on pieces of cloth. Girls were educated at home or sent to boarding schools or dame schools headed by single women. Needlework was considered an important part of the curriculum for girls and they embroidered maps as part of their formal education. The embroidered maps were often elaborate with floral borders; however, map samplers that were stitched at Quaker boarding schools were less decorative. The use of map needlework for geographical education started to decline during the 1820s.
Dr. Judith A. Tyner, a cartographer and historian, conducted extensive research on antique map samplers. Dr. Tyner is the author of the book Stitching the World: Embroidered Maps and Women’s Geographical Education. Before her book was published there was very little available information about the use of map samplers to educate young women in geography.
According to Ms. Tyner, research on embroidered maps was overlooked because cartographic historians did not consider them to be true maps. Some considered them cartifacts; a cartifact is an object with a map on it that is used primarily for decorative purposes. In my opinion they are true maps; note the accurate placement of the counties and bodies of water on the detailed sampler that is featured in this post. I think that map embroidery must have been a very effective method for learning geography.
The mapmaker who embroidered this map was British. We do not know her age or the name of the school that she attended. Many of the antique map samplers that exist today do not include the names of the embroiderers; some only include their initials. The young mapmakers who stitched them will always remain anonymous. Many existing map samplers are in a state of deterioration and some embroidered maps were discarded because of their condition. Fortunately, the one held in the Geography and Map Division includes the name of the embroiderer and it has been carefully preserved by the staff of the Library of Congress Preservation Directorate. All map samplers that were embroidered during the 18th and 19th centuries are cultural artifacts that should be preserved. We are fortunate to have this map sampler in the Library’s collections; embroidered maps are an important part of cartographic history.
Read an in-depth history about embroidered maps and globes in Stitching the world : embroidered maps and women’s geographical education by Judith A. Tyner. The book includes an extensive history about women’s geographical education during the 18th and 19th centuries and 46 plates of embroidered maps and globes.