These are the 'orphans' of the sampler world...usually crowded with alphabets and numerals, with minimal motifs and colors, they don`t appeal to everyone...but I have always been attracted to their graphic simplicity.
Stitched by, as the name suggests, orphans, they display their skills in a monotone pallet..I have seen them done in two colors, but not more (not to say they may not exist, I just haven`t seen it). Usually done in black, with the odd bit of red thread, the linen is always packed solidly with letters and numerals...not a square centimeter of space was wasted...linen was very expensive, after all, and they had no parents to buy their stitching supplies. They were stitching samplers not as a 'diploma' to announce their skills to a prospective husband, or to be proudly displayed by doting parents of their childs accomplishments, but as preparation to earn a living for themselves, as a means of support. Sewing was one of the few job opportunities for women of the time, either that or entering 'service' (domestic), and as a maid in a household of the time, they had to be able to sew...from mending to labeling of the linens to insure they were properly rotated, sewing and embroidery were essential.
I always look at these samplers in awe...for the very fine linen (sometimes as high as 70 threads/inch) and the skill with which they were produced...it speaks to the unbreakable human spirit..these children were facing a very bleak future indeed...a life of constant work and struggle...and in circumstances very different from those of most of us today.
Pictured above is the Augusta Bristol Orphanage sampler, circa 1870...available from The Essamplaire as a kit in either stranded cotton floss or silk threads.