Needlework has long been a traditional part of women's work and education. Beginning at very young ages, girls were taught to embroider; they would need this knowledge when they were preparing their own household linens. The creation of samplers evolved into an education tool over time. Samplers, or Sam Cloths as they were originally called in England, came into existence as early as the 14th century in Spain as a mode of transferring and preserving embroidery patterns. The American tradition, however, borrows mostly from the English and German customs.

Sampler, Mary Jarvis, 1820.Beginning in the 17th century and continuing through the early 20th century, samplers were an educational device for young girls to learn and practice the intricacies of needlework. Many young women were not formally taught to read during the early centuries of our country; therefore, the creation of samplers offered an indirect avenue for learning to read and write. After mastering lettering techniques, girls moved on to embroidering biblical passages, poetic verse, family records, maps, and decorative designs, such as landscapes, floral patterns, elaborate borders, houses, human figures and animals. The predominant technique used in samplers was cross-stitch, a continuous series of X-shaped stitches offset with straight and back stitches and French-knots. Samplers also served as a "showplace" for young women to display their talent. Many samplers are amazing examples of intricate needlework.