Samplers – real proper, really old ones – are a marvel to behold. Montacute House in Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Somerset is the home of the Goodhart Collection – one man’s gathering of 17th and 18th century needlework gems.

Needing a breath of fresh air on Boxing Day it was a treat to discover that Montacute House was open, not just the garden and grounds, but the house itself.

Since the last visit (it featured in a post way back in 2011) the samplers have moved from a dark corridor into a room all of their own. There are more out on display with better lighting and more information.

And they are a joy. A multitude of silk stitched motifs on panels of linen. The stitches are tiny.


The mermaid was a popular motif. Here she is with her comb and mirror.


There she is again, this time worked in needle lace – but you can still just about make out the comb and mirror.


And again on another needle lace sampler, looking more than a little bit spooky.


Just below the mermaid are this man and woman with amazing fingers.

When linen was expensive the motifs are crowded together…


…there is no sense of any overall design – this was just for practise and training, testing out designs and using every square inch. There are 76 separate motifs on this piece.


These chaps, by Jane Young in 1728, are called Boxers. Not sure what happened to their arms. By this period linen was cheaper and the work is more spaced…


…but the stitches are still minute and the attention to detail is exquisite.

If you like your needlework this collection is an inspiration.