The Case of the unfinished sampler
The sampler was often used as a tool to teach girls embroidery. A bouquet of naturalistic twining flowers, including roses, honeysuckle and chrysanthemum tied with a ribbon, was a popular choice of imagery in the late eighteenth century. Similar floral designs appeared on printing patterns produced at Spitalfields, London, and were laden with symbolism. The colourful butterflies placed at random add a note of personal whim to this half-finished piece, perhaps chosen from a pattern book such as John Overton’s A Book of Insects, or copied from life.
It is a mystery as to why Mary Richardson discontinued this work. Perhaps she became seriously ill or perhaps she simply could not be bothered completing the labour-intensive black background.