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.

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

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

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

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

When linen was expensive the motifs are crowded together…

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…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.

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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…

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

If you like your needlework this collection is an inspiration.